A Bad Rap: Garden Plants That Are Misunderstood

Pervoskia Blue SpiresPervoskia Blue Spires
Pervoskia Blue Spires

by David Salman, Founder and Chief Horticulturalist of High Country Gardens

Having spent my career gardening in challenging climate and growing conditions here in Santa Fe, at the intersection of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains and the Colorado Plateau. I have planted, ripped out and killed thousands of different kinds of plants in my quest for gardening success. But my expertise and understanding of what different plants can and can't do, has become extensive. Based on my experiences, I now understand that it's easy to make assumptions about what we expect them to do for us without really knowing their true nature.

Many years ago, when I first saw some of the first plantings of beautiful Russian Sage (Perovskia) in summer bloom, I was smitten and made the assumption that it could be used where ever I needed a big blue, ever-blooming shrub. I decided that it would be a perfect fit in the corner, right next to my favorite chair on the front portal. But two growing season later, I cursed it because it has suckered and spread, running over my favorite clump of Pineleaf Beardtongue (Penstemon pinifolius).

I now know that if I'm going to plant Russian Sage, I don't want to place it where it needs to stay compact and confined to a small space. Plant it where it has room to be itself. I also learned that its spread can be controlled by annually digging the suckers out in late spring. I'm also sure to only buy 'Blue Spires' because I know it won't reseed, suckers only mildly and has a great deep blue flower. I have observed other Russian Sage plants that sucker so vigorously that no amount of late spring maintenance will keep it in bounds. So there are garden-friendly selections of Perovskia and there are garden thugs.

The lesson of this blog is that we don't want to lump all the varieties of an ornamental plant into one basket, assuming that the characteristics of one "bad boy" variety are true for them all. And often the cheap, commonly available generic plant is the weedy one, because it is easy-to-propagate. (An unfortunate occurrence in the nursery industry as a whole.)

At High Country Gardens, we take the time to source and propegate plants that generally behave well. We take the time to propegate with cuttings, to ensure that you can have a well-balanced garden that's easy to maintain. Below is a short list of perennial genera that have good and bad plants. Avoid the "bad boys" and seek out the garden stars. Remember that plants will sometimes behave very differently in different parts of the country. One gardener's weed is another gardener's star. But in general, the recommended perennials below are the best of each genus.

Nepeta (Catmint):

Buy - 'Select Blue', 'Walker's Low', 'Six Hills Giant'
Avoid - Nepeta racemosa, N. grandiflora, any seed grown Catmint

Achillea (Yarrow):

Buy - Achillea ageratifolia, 'Moonshine', 'Cornation Gold', 'Terra Cotta', 'Red Velvet'
Avoid - Achillea filipendulina 'Parker's Gold' (seed grown), A. millifolium 'Colorado Mix' (seed grown), any seed grown Yarrow

Perovskia (Russian Sage):

Buy - 'Blue Spires' , 'Lacy Blue'
Avoid - Many un-named varieties (especially if grown from seed)

Salvia (Garden Sage):

Buy - Salvia nemerosa 'May Night', 'Marcus', 'Blue Hill', 'Caradonna'
Avoid - 'East Friesland' (vicious re-seeder that crosses and reseeds with other Salvia too)

Text and Photos By David Salman © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission.

Shop Our Most Popular Plants

  1. Rose Swamp Milkweed

    Asclepias incarnata ‚Rose‚ (Swamp Milkweed) is a showy pink blooming Asclepias species that is a food plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for ad...

    Learn More
    Rose Swamp Milkweed Rose Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata
    As low as $13.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Asclepias incarnata 'Rose' (Swamp Milkweed) is a showy pink blooming Asclepias species that is a food plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for adult butterflies. Also known as Swamp Milkweed, it grows best in moist or wet soils.
  2. Sedum Autumn Fire, Dark Pink Sedum, Autumn Fire Stonecrop

    Sedum telephium ‚Autumn Fire‚ (Stonecrop) is an improved form of Sedum ‚Autumn Joy‚ that is larger growing, has larger flower heads and is longer blooming. Th...

    Learn More
    Autumn Fire Sedum Autumn Fire Sedum Sedum 'Autumn Fire'
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Sedum telephium 'Autumn Fire' (Stonecrop) is an improved form of Sedum 'Autumn Joy' that is larger growing, has larger flower heads and is longer blooming. The flat heads of rose-pink flowers appear in late summer. Leave the faded flowers on the plant for added winter interest.
  3. Verbena peruviana

    Verbena peruviana ‚Red Devil‚ (Perennial Verbena) is a perennial variety that grows as a groundcover and blooms all summer with a dazzling display of brilliant red flower...

    Learn More
    Red Devil Perennial Verbena Red Devil Perennial Verbena Verbena peruviana
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Verbena peruviana 'Red Devil' (Perennial Verbena) is a perennial variety that grows as a groundcover and blooms all summer with a dazzling display of brilliant red flowers. 3" tall x 15-18" wide.
  4. Gray Creeping Germander, Teucrium aroanium

    2-3„ tall x 18-24„ wide. Teucrium aroanium (Gray Creeping Germander) blooms with fragrant honey scented pink flowers in summer that are held over equally fragrant thin li...

    Learn More
    Gray Creeping Germander (Teucrium) Gray Creeping Germander (Teucrium) Teucrium aroanium
    As low as $10.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    2-3" tall x 18-24" wide. Teucrium aroanium (Gray Creeping Germander) blooms with fragrant honey scented pink flowers in summer that are held over equally fragrant thin linear gray leaves. The plant is an excellent small scale groundcover for hot, sunny sites in well drained soil. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).