by Nancy Oakes
For the last few years, the acquisition of new perennials has taken a back seat to the daylilies, but last spring the mania began again, albeit in a more controlled fashion. Here a few of my favourites from last year.
Artemisia lactiflora `Guizhou' would not, for most, be readily identified as an Artemisia, which is primarily associated with silvery foliage. It's dark purple stems, purple-tinged foliage and white flowers explain its common name of Purple Ghost Plant. Unlike most of the other plants in this genus, it likes a fair amount of moisture and at 4' tall, it makes a wonderful backdrop plant. Finely cut foliage and clouds of white flowers in mid-summer give it an ethereal quality.
If you like very dark foliage try Eupatorium rugosum `Chocolate.' At a bit over 4', it's considerably shorter than the species and in the fall round heads of white flowers top the purple stalks. It's also less aggressive than the species, so more suitable for smaller gardens.
For an extreme contrast try Hosta `Fried Green Tomatoes.' Bred for living in full sun, its huge leaves are a soft green. But it's in September that it really shines. I'd never associated fragrance with Hostas, but this one's large white flowers could be smelt throughout the garden.
There's been an explosion of new Huechera cultivars, and their mottled silvery to purple leaves are a welcome addition to the gardens' greenery. Most of the new ones have white flowers and I much prefer the pinks and reds which are much loved by hummingbirds. So I was thrilled to find `Lovely Rose' with its dark smoky purple leaves and wonderful deep rose flowers which are it produced with alarming speed all summer.
If you like really strange plants, look for Juncus effusus `Unicorn' or `Curly Wurly.' Rushes are bog plants, but they can easily get by in soil that's amended to hold moisture. This Corkscrew Rush is aptly named as it's 12" cylindrical leaves spiral up and out.
I must admit to having a real dislike for Sedum `Autumn Joy' and refuse to have it in my garden. I was overjoyed to find a new cultivar with the same habit, but with dark purple foliage and pale pinkish-white flowerheads. Europeans have named Sedum `Matrona' as their `Perennial of the Year' for 2000 and deservedly so. It makes an excellent contrast with all the orange and yellows which we have come to associate with fall gardens. And even now they make a wonderful display in the snow.
And my favourite from last year? Of all things an annual! I first saw these Coleus about five years ago in Barbadoes and I have been trying to find a source ever since. Bred for full sun, they are stunning in a mass planting. Leaves range from the deepest burgundy with lime green edges to finally cut leaves in shades of coral. At about $4.00 per plant they may seem a bit extravagant, but cuttings root very easily, so one or two plants can quickly turn into a dozen. I've since found a source for more varieties, including trailing ones. Sounds like I may be in a bit of trouble here...