There's something reassuring about flowers that return year after year. You anticipate their spring emergence like friends coming back from an extended vacation, rested and ready to get to work.
And there's a whole passel of them to choose from. You can find a perennial for just about any location; they're varied and extremely versatile. Here are some of our best bets for steadfast, dependable color, and answers to some common questions about perennials.
Do flowers last all summer?
Some, such as candytuft and 'Bath's Pink' dianthus produce flowers lasting only several weeks. Others continue for most of the summer. 'Miss Huff' lantana, false aster, and the numerous verbenas flower continually.
There are also steadfast bloomers that offer color for several months at a time. When they finish blooming, just cut them back. Be sure, however, to plant with a succession of blooms in mind. Irises anchor the spring border, then, coneflowers -- like the purple variety pictured at left -- take on summer, with perennial sunflowers rounding out autumn.
Do the plants live forever?
The honest answer is no, but read on. Every perennial has its own personality, and once you know what to expect, success is easy. The stunning mid-summer combination at left includes 'Common Purple' summer phlox, yellow coneflowers, and sun-loving chartreuse coleus. The original 'Miss Huff' lantana has been going strong for almost 50 years in the same location, and peonies last a very long time with minimal maintenance.
Other perennials are more transient and must be rejuvenated every few years to stay vigorous. Short-lived choices such as ox-eye daisies (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) and gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta) live 2 to 3 years. They need to reseed or be replaced to perpetuate. On the other hand, a daylily might live 10 to 12 years but should be divided every 3 to 5 years.
Here are some best bets for steadfast, dependable color.
• 'Hortensia' false aster (Kalimeris pinnatifida 'Hortensia')
• Daylily 'Stella de Oro' and 'Happy Returns'
• (at left) 'Goldsturm' yellow coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida sullivantii 'Goldsturm')
• Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
• 'Common Purple' summer phlox (Phlox paniculata 'Common Purple')
• 'Miss Huff' lantana (Lantana camara 'Miss Huff')
• 'Autumn Joy' sedum
• 'Indigo Spires' salvia
• Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)
For knockout, low-maintenance color, this perennial combination really packs a punch. Large sweeps of gold daylilies, purple and white Japanese irises, and pink lythrum help bring a vivid, unified front of this home.
The landscape architect even planted 15 'Morden's Pink' lythrum, a clump-forming version of the loosestrife that grows wild throughout the eastern United States. This mix of 'Gateway' Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum 'Gateway'), spike blazing star (Liatris spicata 'Kobold'), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), and threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb') was not originally what the homeowners had in mind. They were interested in Southern signature evergreens. But the landscape architect advised that after many of the trees were cleared, the slope would be more suited to a colorful perennial border. Now, that glorious display renews every year in a blaze of color.