perennial

Justin W. Hancock

Cool Plant of the Day

Leptinella 'Platt's Black'Do you know what this plant is? If not, don’t worry — you’re not alone.

It’s a super-cool groundcover called brass buttons (Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’). Hardy in Zones 4-10, I have it thriving in my garden on the east side of the house, where it’s protected from the afternoon sun. The plant grows about half an inch tall and creates a delightful spreading carpet of purple-and-green foliage that looks kind of ferny. When friends visit my garden they’re almost always fascinated; many say “it looks like little worms!”

Brass buttons is a low-care plant that does best in moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. It doesn’t like drought, and can be walked on a little bit without harming it too much.

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Justin W. Hancock

For the Love of Lavender

LavenderI have a bit of an odd relationship with lavender (Lavandula). On one hand I love it: The plant looks good, smells great, and has attractive foliage that fits in well with just about everything I’ve ever tried to plant around it. Plus you can cook with it; try strawberry-lavender ice cream for a tasty summer treat or lemon-lavender cookies any time of hte year. Yum!

But sometimes lavender annoys me. Why? because it gives so many of you (my readers) trouble. The other BHG garden editors and I get a ton of reader questions through Garden Doctor about this beautiful plant.

The most common mistake most people seem to have when growing lavender is that they grow it too wet. This herb wants full sun and likes to stay on the dry side, especially in winter. I’ve actually had great luck with it on the edge of the rain shadow created by the eaves of my house.

Lavender is also a perfect choice for containers; they give you the advantage of being able to move it around, so if you’re having a party on your deck you can place pots of lavender where your guests can easily brush by to release that wonderful, relaxing fragrance.


Justin W. Hancock

Pic of the Day

Geum 'Koi'

Just a quick shot of Geum ‘Koi’, a wonderful heat- and drought-tolerant plant in the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden.


Justin W. Hancock

Thank Goodness for Geraniums (the Perennial Ones)

I love easy-growing perennials, fun foliage, and the color blue. So it’s really no surprise that perennial geraniums (also called cranesbills for their beak-shaped seedheads) are among my favorite flowers.

The mourning widow geranium (Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’) is currently in full bloom in my shade garden. This beauty grows about a foot tall and has clusters of dark purple-black flowers rising above the mounds of purple-splotched foliage. It’s a real winner because the foliage looks great from spring to fall.

It’s not blooming yet, but I’m already appreciating the tidy mound that is bloody geranium (Geranium sanguineum). I know its may sound a little morbid, but the moniker actually stems from the fact that the foliage turns bright red in autumn. This great perennial puts out a big flush of purple, pink, or white flowers in early summer, then continues to offer a spattering of bloom until autumn.

The real winner among perennial geraniums, though, is ‘Rozanne’, the stellar selection pictured here. ‘Rozanne’ offers lovely blue-purple flowers in late May or early June and continues to be in constant bloom all the way until frost. Plus it has marbled foliage that looks great in the garden while you’re patiently waiting for its blooms.


Justin W. Hancock

Bodacious Baptisia

Looking for a big-impact, low-care perennial for your landscape? Try baptisia!

Also called false indigo, baptisia is North American native plant that bursts into bloom in late spring/early summer — usually about the same time as the peonies, Siberian iris, and ‘Globemaster’ alliums.

Here are some things to love about baptisia:

  • Deer and rabbits leave it alone (at least that’s always been my experience).
  • The lovely blue-green foliage looks great from spring to fall.
  • It tolerates heat and drought like a champion.
  • The seedpods, which start chartreuse and eventually turn charcoal-black, are fun decorations!
  • It comes in a range of colors (from dark purple Twilite Prairieblues to silvery Starlight Prairieblues to golden ‘Carolina Moonlight’).
  • It’s not too fast growing (so you don’t need to worry about it taking over your garden like you do some native prairie plants).

If you try baptisia out, be sure to give it plenty of room. The plant usually looks really small and scrawny in pots at the garden center, but within three or four years, they can mature into stunning 4-foot-wide mounds.


Justin W. Hancock

Grow Great Foliage

Last autumn I planted some spring-bulb combinations that I thought would be stunning. But because of our relatively weird spring weather, the bulbs didn’t bloom together. (Hopefully next year!)

But that’s a great lesson: You can’t always count on flowers to give you the show you want. Happily, though, you can rely on foliage.

Look for plants with great leaves to give your yard spring-to-fall beauty. Coral bells are among the finest foliage plants. Thanks to plant breeders, you can get coral bells in shades of chartreuse, coral, peach, tan, purple, and even nearly black.

Try them together or add more interest by mixing in other types of leaf textures. For example, a purple coral bells like Dolce Blackcurrant would look amazing with Japanese painted fern, brunnera, and Burgundy Glow ajuga. And best of all, they’ll look as great in early spring together as they do in early fall.

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