Consider perennials for planting in spring
I’m sitting here in my little office reading a perennial plant catalog instead of doing laundry. I like discovering what’s new each spring. What I’m perusing now is a list of a dozen perennials being offered for the first time by Babikow Greenhouses, a wholesale grower in Baltimore that supplies plants to garden centers and landscape contractors throughout the Washington area.
All but one on this year’s list are ornamental native plants, which means they are happy and reliable in their habitat with minimum need for water beyond normal rainfall. They generally are resistant to insects and diseases.
Many on the list are new varieties of old favorites. So it is with the hosta, the classic perennial for shade and the one on the list that is not a native plant, but which requires as little maintenance.
Babikow offers 20 varieties of hosta with reliable summer flowers and pretty foliage. The new variety is hosta Kapitan. It is different from most others, which have huge, heart-shaped leaves. Kapitan has narrow, ruffled leaves with dark green borders and bright yellow centers. It has violet flowers in July on 12-inch stems, shorter than other hostas, which can grow to 2 or 3 feet. The Kapitan grows in dense mounds, ideal for borders.
The good news is that hostas come back year after year and are easily divided to give you more. The bad news is that deer gobble them up.
Three perennials on Babikow’s new-for2012 list are varieties of the native verbena. These are verbena hastata Blue Spires, Pink Spires and White Spires. They are clumpforming upright perennials for sun with flowers of dark blue, bright pink or clear white from July until September, 3 to 4 feet tall.
Babikow describes them as a “short-lived perennial that readily self-sows where happy.” Plants that spread from seeds can create an informal cottage-garden look, but it might take a few seasons for the seedlings to flower. An ornamental grass on the list is panicum virgatum Rotstrahlbusch, a red switch grass for sun, 3 to 4 feet tall and tolerant of any soil type and wet or dry conditions. Babikow says its “red foliage becomes more intense as summer advances and is outstanding in the fall.” It blooms in August.
For an early spring wildflower garden, Babikow offers a variety of the dwarf iris cristata with larger flowers called Powder Blue Giant. It blooms in April or May in part sun and has pale blue flowers 6 to 8 inches tall, with deeper blue accents and yellow crests. Others on the list are:
Agastache aurantiaca x Tango, a hybrid for full sun with 14-inch fiery orange flower spikes and gray-green aromatic foliage. It attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and honeybees. It blooms June to October.
Aster spectabilis, a native aster for sun that has violet flowers with yellow centers 12 to 24 inches tall. It does well in dry, sandy soil and grows in fields and along roadsides.
Astilbe Delfi Lace, a midsummer bloomer for part shade. Babikow says it has “clusters of deep salmon-pink buds that open to a soft apricot pink” with “waxy, deep-blue-green foliage with a light silver overlay.” It grows 36 inches tall and is among 23 astilbe varieties Babikow grows. Astilbes prefer rich, moist soil.
Echinacea purpurea is the native purple coneflower with rose pink flowers all summer in sun. Tough, reliable, drought tolerant, easy to grow in average to dry soil, it attracts butterflies.
Pachysandra procumbens, called Allegheny spurge, it is the native variety of the old-fashioned ground cover. It has variegated foliage and pink flower spikes in April, and bronze fall foliage. It likes shade and moist soil.
Spigelia marilandica is a tal, native perennial for sun with trumpet-shaped flowers in reddish pink with yellow throats that bloom all summer.