As promised last month, I’m dedicating this post to the top five plants that have added some real pizzazz to my narrow perennial beds. I’m listing them alphabetically so as not to show any favoritism; I really do love them all.
- Hibiscus moscheutos, Hardy Hibiscus. Although late to emerge in spring, this native shrub-like perennial is well worth the wait. Its large, dinner plate-sized flowers are the obvious draw. But the foliage can be pretty showy as well. H. moscheutos looks tropical, but it’s not – it’s perfectly hardy in our area. It’s also easy care (although mine have occasionally been attacked by the pesky hibiscus sawfly, which can wreak some serious havoc if not caught early and controlled with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil). There are plenty of cultivars to choose from, and all will pack a punch in your border from mid-summer until frost.
- Hydrangea paniculata, Panicle Hydrangea. I’m finding that I just can’t get enough of the panicle hydrangeas. They have showy, long-lasting blossoms that change colors as the season progresses. They’re very hardy. And — unlike other hydrangea species — they can take a lot of sun. Interestingly, the very late hard freeze we experienced this past April zapped the new growth on all of my hydrangeas, regardless of species. The mophead hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) – all Endless Summer hybrids — have yet to flower this season, and I don’t suppose they will. But my panicle hydrangeas recovered quickly and have been going strong since late June. I’ve found the more compact varieties to be just the right size for a small or narrow space.
- Panicum, Switchgrass. It’s been fashionable to add grasses to mixed plantings for a while now, and I’m a huge supporter of the trend. I grow a lot of different grasses, but when looking to add some drama to my narrow borders, I turned to the large native switchgrass cultivars. A single specimen of P. virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ has been fabulous in my sunny back border, growing to about 6 feet when in flower but otherwise behaving itself nicely. I’ve also planted a cluster of three switchgrasses in my front entry border that top out at around 5 feet when in flower. Labeled as P. amarum ‘Dewey Blue,’ I don’t think they are. But from mid-summer on, they serve as a striking vegetative gateway to my front path.
- Rudbeckia, Coneflower. I’ve always liked our black-eyed susans, even the oh-so-commonly planted Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm.’ So it’s probably no wonder that I also love their souped-up cousins, R. maxima and R. lacinata ‘Autumn Sun.’ Both send up tall, fairly see-through stems that are topped by flowers with dramatic cones and bright gold petals. Goldfinches love to sit on the cones and eat the ripening seeds after the petals have dropped. The key difference between the two (in my mind, at least) is that R. maxima blooms earlier from a more distinctive basal clump of large, rounded, silvery leaves.
- Yucca filamentosa, Adam’s Needle. This native yucca is one plant that people seem to either love or hate. I, of course, love it and have planted it in every one of my sunny gardens. Not only does it sport dramatic, sword-like evergreen leaves but it also sends up a striking spike of waxy white flowers in early summer. I’ve grown the straight species with greyish-green leaves, but for even more oomph I’ve planted the green-yellow variegated cultivars. I’ve found they blend surprisingly well with grasses and flowering perennials. And they also provide some much-needed form and color throughout the dreary winter months.
So there you have it: my top five Drama Queens. They’ve all proven to be tough, reliable plants that are easy to grow, rarely requiring feeding, spraying, dividing, staking or supplemental watering. Each attracts its own entourage of beneficial wildlife. And, unlike other divas, they play surprisingly well with others – even their fellow Drama Queens.
Image features Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’