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Tried & True With A Twist: Improved Garden Favorites

By David Salman

There are many tried & true genera of hardy perennials that gardeners, landscapers, and landscape designers know to be reliable garden performers. Over many years, these plant groups have demonstrated their ability to adapt to a wide range of soil types and different climates found across the US, while providing outstanding floral displays with a minimum care.

Below are several improved selections from some of our favorite tried & true perennials. Like their older relatives, you can count on them for low-maintenance color in your garden, while attracting a wide variety of pollinators to their nectar-rich flowers.

Every time I see Rudbeckia triloba in bloom, it brings a big smile to my face; the small golden-yellow black eyes flowers are just so darn cute. Held in clusters high above the foliage, the flowers of this durable native perennial appear in mid-summer and last for several months. In bloom, the plant is especially attractive to butterflies. Normally considered a biennial or short lived perennial, ‘Blackjack Gold’ is an improved perennial version of the species created by breeders at the German seed company, Jelitto Seeds. Blooming the first growing season, the new cultivar has excellent vigor and a marvelous display of those adorable flowers that will bring a smile to your lips as well.

Recommended companion plants for Rudbeckia: Panicum ‘Shenandoah’ (Prairie Switch grass), Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’ (Stonecrop) and  Lavandula angustifolia ‘Sharon Roberts’ (Twice Blooming English Lavender).

Nepetas are a popular group of Old World perennials known for their long blooming display of flowers in shades of lavender-blue. They have an iron-clad constitution and thrive under the toughest of growing conditions. The flowers have plentiful nectar that feeds all types of bees, and they grow in most any soil type, including heavy clay.  Here in Santa Fe, NM where they have been widely planted for many years, they seem to readily hybridize between themselves to create improved individual plants.

A few years ago, I spied a planting of what looked to be the variety ‘Walker’s Low’ but with a twist; the flowers were an extraordinary shade of deep blue.  I took cuttings and tested the plants in my own garden. The plants are awesome, and so I propagated the selection and named it ‘Walker’s Deep Blue’. Basically identical to the very popular catmint ‘Walker’s Low’ from England, ‘Walker’s Deep Blue’ has a very long-blooming display of deep blue when grown in challenging hot, full sun conditions - with no pampering. When cultivated in part shade or in rich soil with plenty of water, the flowers will be more pale and resemble the original lavender-blue flowers of ‘Walker’s Low’.

The genus Monarda is native to North America, and they're some of our most popular native and native hybrid perennials. Their large showy clusters of long tubular flowers bloom in the summer and are highly attractive to hummingbirds and bees.

For the xeric gardener, many selections of Beebalm are of limited use, because most of the ones in cultivation require a rich, moist soil -- not so with ’Peter’s Purple’.  A garden hybrid discovered by Texas native plant guru, Peter Loos, it’s a cross between the Mexican Monarda bartlettii and the American Monarda fistulosa 'Claire Grace'. Peter’s Purple Bee Balm has rich lavender-purple flowers and is much better adapted to drier growing conditions.  It also has extraordinary mildew resistance, which is a big plus for gardeners growing it in hot, humid summer weather.

The Oriental Poppy has long been an essential perennial in American gardens. Long lived, they bloom reliably in late spring, coloring the garden with their large, extravagant flowers. ‘Prince of Orange’ has huge 4-to-5-inch-wide tangerine-orange flowers with a black spotted center, different from the scarlet-orange flowers of the variety ‘Brilliant’. Oriental Poppies are extremely cold tolerant (USDA zone 3) and should only be grown in zone 7 and colder winter climate areas. They don’t do well in mild winter regions with stifling summer heat.

Recommended companion plants for Oriental Poppy: Use tall growing perennials to cover up the poppy foliage as it goes dormant after blooming, such as Achillea Moonshine (Yellow yarrow), Centranthus ruber ‘Coccineus’ (Red Valerian) and Salvia ‘May Night’ (European Sage).


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