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A Peek at Perennial Premiere Plants

It’s finally here!  Perennial Premiere is this weekend, and I can hardly wait.  In the four years since I started working at the IMA, the perennial plant sale has grown into an event for the whole family, and it’s something I always look forward to.  Every year on this Saturday morning as I’m walking out the door for a day of work inundated with exciting plants my husband always reminds me exactly how much is remaining in my plant budget.  Well, I suppose the next best thing to buying plants for your own garden is sharing your knowledge and excitement with someone else who can grow it in theirs!  There will be many tempting plants this weekend, but I get to share just a few with you that I think are worth getting really excited about.

Japanese sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’) is a great option for getting a little bit of chartreuse into the landscape without going overboard.  It is a grass-like perennial, similar to a Siberian iris, which prefers a bit of moisture, even having the ability to grow in boggy conditions. If you site this in sun to part shade and in consistently moist soil, it will be a fairly low-maintenance perennial that will spread slowly.  The flowers are pretty insignificant, so grow this one for the lovely, tufted, gold-variegated foliage that will reach about a foot tall and provide a fine-textured accent for bold-leafed perennials.  It could also be quite effective as a groundcover for a smaller area, such as next to a water feature, or used as an accent in a container.  In any garden, Acorus ‘Ogon’ is a very graceful, versatile plant.

Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (in front)

There are many bugelweeds to choose from; all have that great blue flower in the spring and are effective and quick-growing groundcovers.  The one that I’ve been the most impressed with for looking great even after it has finished blooming is Ajuga ’Chocolate Chip,’ and I’m going to be sure to nab a few of these for my own home garden this year!  ‘Chocolate Chip’ is shorter than other bugleweeds at only 2” tall (3-4” with the flower spike), with lovely bronze to deep green foliage that retains its healthy vigor throughout the growing season.  Some of the other Ajugas have flowers that tend to look a bit weedy after blooming, but it has been my observation that ‘Chocolate Chip’ maintains its neat appearance throughout the growing season.  Site this little guy in a sunny or fairly shaded location between stepping stones or as a border edge; it won’t let you down!

Ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip’, photo courtesy of Classy Groundcovers

Dwarf goat’s beard, Aruncus aethusifolius, is another lovely, compact perennial only reaching about 12” tall.  It has an overall appearance similar to that of Astilbe, but its ferny foliage will not shrivel up and turn crispy brown in the drier spells of summer, allowing the opportunity for a nice yellow-orange leaf color to develop in the fall.  It has white flower plumes in early to mid-summer, and would be a great, underused alternative in shady conditions for those who are looking for a good companion with Hosta, Epimedium or Brunnera.

Aruncus aethusifolius, photo courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.

Tired of cute little dwarf-sized plants?  Definitely consider tall, handsome Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Apollo.’  This Culver’s root is an exciting cultivar of a native prairie plant that can fit in well in many different styles of gardens, from formal borders to cottage gardens to rain gardens.  It does best in full sun, reaching a good 3-5’ in height when in bloom.  If the foliage starts to look a little tired in late summer, chop it back and let it flush back out with fresh basal growth.  V. ‘Apollo’ has bold, lavender flower spikes that resemble speedwell flowers (Veronica) atop whorled stems in early to mid-summer, a nice alternative to the white spikes of the straight species.  As icing on the cake, it received top ratings from the Chicago Botanical Garden Veronicastrum trials in 2004.  This would be a good plant to use as a unique accent amidst mounding plants where those great flower spikes can be appreciated, or used en masse to great effect to look like a giant candelabra.

Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Apollo’, photo courtesy of Avant Gardens

Hmmm…beginning to wonder how many of these I could squeeze into what little space I have left in my garden!

Don’t let the name fool you into thinking there will only be perennials at Perennial Premiere!  There will also be a number of great shrubs for sale, and I’m excited to share that there will be a couple of Fothergillas available.  While they may not be the most show-stopping choice for color in the garden, I am truly beginning to appreciate their quiet beauty and grace.  I love the white, bottle-brush blooms in the spring that turn the shrubs into fluffy white clouds, but their interest extends into three solid seasons of show, with heavily-textured, scalloped leaves in the summer that evolve into brilliant balls of fire in the fall.  Reaching 3-5’ and happy in sun or part shade, they are easy-care shrubs that have just about everything going for them.  Fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’ and ‘Red Licorice’ will be available for sale, both of which had solid reviews from the Longwood Gardens Fothergilla trials in 2008.  It will be difficult to choose between them, with ‘Mount Airy’ having top ratings for fall color and ‘Red Licorice’ rated as having the most outstanding summer foliage…I think it’s safe to say you can’t go wrong in either case.  Eeny-meeny-miny-moe!

Fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’

Goodness…there is so much more, but you’re just going to have to come see for yourself.  And don’t forget that there will be new things coming to the Greenhouse for the next couple of weeks, so you just might have to schedule another visit so you don’t miss anything.  Like the Geranium ‘Dragon Heart’ that will be coming in a couple weeks, a boisterous, hardy Geranium that is supposed to have magenta flowers with a black center.  Yum.  Really?  Magenta?  I can’t wait to find out!

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