Expert bloggers' favorite perennial picks

I've been trying to deny the calling of the seed catalogs and the desire to peek at the vernal witch hazel and the warmest corners near the house where the bulbs come up first (it is only January, after all) but there is only so much a gardener can do during an unseasonably warm winter.

That's why I called on some of my favorite gardening bloggers to share with their favorite perennial. These three ladies are experienced and creative gardeners so I knew they'd bring an interesting perspective.

First up is Genevieve from North Coast Gardening. I've written about Gen before because I love her blog North Coast Gardening which is full of great tips and product reviews.

Gen's pick: Korean tassel fern

My favorite perennial is one that often gets overlooked in the shade section, tassel fern. Anyone championing it would have an uphill battle from the start, since its botanical name is nearly unpronounceable—Polystichum polyblepharum. Say that three times fast! But tassel fern is easily the most elegant, easy-to-grow plant I know for shade. Its foliage has a glossy sheen that looks great against pretty much any shade shrub, and the rich green color softens rock walls or other strong hardscape elements. It's even evergreen! You can buy it at Plant Delights if your local nursery doesn't carry it.

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Isn't that fern lovely? And evergreen would be lovely! Plants Delight lists it as being hardy to zone 5b (which more of us are in now that the plant hardiness zone map has been adjusted) so I'd definitely love to try it. By the way, if you really do want to know how to pronounce some of those tongue-tying plant names, check out Fine Gardening magazine's pronunciation guide.

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Next up is the tireless Kylee who blogs at Our Little Acre, gardens in Ohio, writes for a couple gardening magazines and is the book review editor for Horticulture Magazine. She's also an excellent Words with Friends player.

Kylee's pick: Toad lily

As Erin said to me, asking me to name my favorite perennial is akin to asking me which is my favorite child. It all depends on when you ask. If it’s June, I might say Astrantia; ask me in July and August and I might say Orienpet or Oriental lilies. (Who doesn’t love their fragrance?)

Then there are ones that have such intricate features that are fascinating when you examine them up close, like my Five-leaved Akebia (Akebia quinata ‘Alba’), with its white blooms every so lightly striped with purple.  Or the Chinese globe flower (Trollius chinensis ‘Golden Queen’)—so lusciously fringy.

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Akebia quinata ‘Alba’

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Chinese globe flower

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But ask me which perennial I most look forward to seeing and which one I’d miss if I didn’t have it and I’ll tell you toad lilies. Such an ugly common name for such a beautiful flower! Botanically, it’s Tricyrtis, with various species names tagging along behind.  (hirta, amethystina, formosana, etc.)

It’s not the showiest plant in the garden, at least not for most of the summer. It’s a little later to emerge in the spring than some perennials, and it’s definitely later to bloom, but that’s one of its best traits. When September and October come along and 80% of the garden is waning, Tricyrtis is putting on the best show of its life.

Each bloom looks like a little spotted orchid. There are some that aren’t spotted too, such as ‘Togen’ (often misspelled ‘Tojen’), which happens to be my favorite bloom among my collection of a dozen or so different cultivars. I like ‘Dark Beauty’ too, for its sea of blooms and ‘Miyazaki Hybrids’ for the way they bloom at the leaf axils up and down the stems.

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Tricyrtis 'Togen'

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Tricyrtis 'Miyazaki'

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The blooms aren’t the only sway they hold over me. The foliage can be just as varied. ‘Lightning Strike’ is streaked, while several cultivars have subtle green-on-green spotting. And did I mention they do all this in the shade?

I think these work better as a specimen plant, perhaps because the blooms are diminutive. Seeing them planted en masse wouldn’t necessarily pack the punch that other plants do. But a few clustered here and there in the shade garden will cause you and your garden visitors to take notice. They’re generally hardy in Zones 5-8/9, maybe colder, although since they bloom so late, in colder zones the flowering time may get cut short by early frosts.

By the way, I love both of my two daughters the best.

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Kylee (middle) with her two equally loved daughters Kara and Jenna.


Would you believe I have NO toad lilies in my garden? Sounds like I'm going to need to change that.


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And last but not least is Linda who blogs at Each Little World. Linda gardens in my old stomping grounds of Madison, Wisconsin, and I hope to be able to stop in and see her amazing gardens in 2012. I think Linda and her husband Mark do garden structure better than almost anyone. They have that whole "backbone of the garden" thing down.

You might be surprised to see what Linda sent to me as her favorite perennial. I didn't tell any of the contributors what plant the others were writing about (and I didn't know until they sent it either). What I love is that while Kylee focused on the beautiful blooms of Tricyrtis, Linda loves them for their interesting foliage. I have to admit. I once saw them on her blog for a Foliage Follow-up post (on the 16th of every month), and I had to ask what they were because I was so taken by the amazing foliage.

Linda's pick: Toad lilies

If I look in my plant files it’s easy to discover my favorite perennials by noting which plants have multiple listings. By the numbers, I’m currently growing 17 Epimediums, 18 Geraniums and 22 Hemerocallis, to name just a few. They’re all wonderful plants, but to rise to the level of “favorite perennial,” that plant is the one that I wait for the longest: toad lilies (Tricyrtis species). I think the anticipation of watching a clump get fatter and taller as the season stretches on is guaranteed to turn that plant into a favorite. Fall bloomers like toad lilies (I’m growing 11 varieties) are there in the garden almost from the start of the spring, patiently waiting for their moment. Even though they’re not blooming, they put on a show all season with their arching stems and bright green, gold and patterned foliage. And they keep my attention to the very end: either wondering if they will flower before the first frost arrives or basking in their beauty as their tiny orchid-like blossoms sway amidst the falling leaves.


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That last photo makes me swoon. Yes, I'm totally sold on toad lilies.

 

Are you growing any of these? What's your favorite perennial (and, like I told the great contributors, you HAVE to pick)?

Thanks again to Gen, Kylee and Linda for participating. Your blogs are a continual source of inspiration to me!