The Best Perennials for Your Yard

Every year a group of plant breeders, nurserymen, and garden writers select a top-performing perennial as Perennial of the Year. Here are their picks since 1990; these plants are sure to be winners in your garden, too!

Justin W. Hancock


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Brunnera 'Jack Frost'
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2012: Brunnera 'Jack Frost'

    A stunner for the shade, Brunnera 'Jack Frost' offers silver-variegated leaves that look good from spring to fall. At the start of the season, the foliage is accented by wonderful clusters of sky-blue forget-me-not flowers.

    Name: Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'

    Size: To 2 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 3-7

    Plant it with: Lungwort, white daffodils, and bleeding heart

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2011: Bluestar

    This plant would seem to have it all! Bluestar is a North American native that offers pretty spring flowers, great fall foliage color, and is deer and rabbit resistant to boot. It does best in full sun but tolerates part shade.

    Name: Amsonia hubrichtii

    Size: To 3 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant it with: Peony, iris, and lilies

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2010: Baptisia australis

    One of my favorite perennials of all time, baptisia seems to have everything going for it: It's heat, drought, deer, and rabbit resistant; it doesn't need to be divided; the seed heads are lovely if you don't deadhead it; and the blue-green foliage looks great in the garden from spring to fall. It thrives in sun but tolerates part shade.

    Name: Baptisia australis

    Size: To 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide

    Zones: 3-9

    Plant it with: Siberian iris, giant allium, and perennial geranium

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2009: Japanese Forestgrass

    Here's the perfect plant to brighten shady spots in your yard. Japanese forestgrass bears screamingly chartreuse foliage in a gracefully arching mound that looks good from spring to fall.

    Name: Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

    Size: To 14 inches tall and 16 inches wide

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant it with: Red astilbe, golden corydalis, purple-leaf bugbane, or gold-leaf hosta

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2008: 'Rozanne' Geranium

    I fell in love with this plant at first sight. It offers gorgeous lavender-blue flowers from early summer all the way to frost, attractive variegated foliage, and it's a cinch to care for. 'Rozanne' is definitely a winner!

    Name: Geranium 'Rozanne'

    Size To 1 foot tall and 3 feet wide

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant it with: White shrub roses, yellow coreopsis, or perennial hibiscus

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2007: 'Walker's Low' Catmint

    Excellent heat- and drought-tolerance make this catmint a top pick for tough, sunny sites. And even better, it's typically ignored by even the hungriest deer and rabbits. 'Walker's Low' looks good, too, thanks to its gray-green foliage and violet-blue flowers.

    Name: Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

    Size To 3 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 3-9

    Plant it with: Yellow or pink roses, penstemon, or Russian sage

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2006: 'Fire Witch' Dianthus

    Bearing bright pink fragrant flowers in mid-spring and continuing off and on through fall, 'Fire Witch' dianthus packs a lot of color in a small plant. This selection is wonderful for the front of the sunny border, to edge a pathway with, or to be a rock-garden superstar.

    Name: Dianthus 'Fire Witch' (also called 'Feuerhexe')

    Size To 8 inches tall and 2 feet wide

    Zones: 3-9

    Plant it with: Purple-leafed heuchera, balloon flower, or peach-leaf bellflower

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2005: Hellebore

    Among the first perennials to bloom, hellebores offer beautiful flowers and foliage that stays evergreen in all but the coldest Zoneszones. This tough drought-, deer-, and rabbit-resistant perennial loves shade, too!

    Name: Helleborus selections

    Size To 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide

    Zones: 4-9

    Plant it with: Epimedium, bleeding heart, or spring-blooming bulbs

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2004: Japanese Painted Fern

    This is the loveliest of ferns -- and also one of the best behaved, so you won't need to worry about it taking over your shade garden. (Though you might wish it would grow faster and offer more of its beautiful silvery fronds marked with burgundy and green.)

    Name: Athyrium nipponicum 'Pictum'

    Size: To 1 foot tall and 3 feet wide

    Zones: 4-8

    Plant it with: 'Burgundy Glow' ajuga, yellow corydalis, or purple-leafed bugbane

10/24
2003: 'Becky' Daisy

    'Becky' deserves a place in every garden. It bears bright white flowers with cheery yellow centers from midsummer to fall. Strong stems make this daisy among the best for bouquets, too.

    Name: Leucanthemum 'Becky'

    Size: To 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide

    Zones: 4-9

    Plant it with: Foxglove, purple coneflower, or 'Moonbeam' coreopsis

11/24
2002: 'David' Phlox

    If you've had bad luck with phlox because of powdery mildew, a disease that can ruin phlox's foliage before the end of the season, try white-flowering 'David'. This stunning selection is more mildew-resistant than most -- and offers pretty pure-white flowers to boot.

    Name: Phlox paniculata 'David'

    Size: To 3 1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide

    Zones: 4-8

    Plant it with: White coneflower, perennial hibiscus, or gaillardia

12/24
2001: 'Karl Foerster' Feather Reedgrass

    This ornamental grass has become a garden favorite for its great performance and stiff, upright habit. 'Karl Foerster' is ideal for creating a low screen or hedge, and giving a soothing backdrop for more colorful perennials.

    Name: Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster'

    Size: To 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant it with: 'Rozanne' geranium, black-eyed Susan, or purple coneflower

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2000: 'Butterfly Blue' Scabiosa

    'Butterfly Blue' scabiosa flowers from mid-spring to fall, making it one of the longest-blooming perennials you can find. It's perfect in the front of the border -- and be sure to include it in your butterfly garden.

    Name: Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue'

    Size: To 15 inches tall and wide

    Zones: 3-8

    Plant it with: 'Firewitch' dianthus, 'Chameleon' euphorbia, or 'Pink Mist' scabiosa

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1999: 'Goldsturm' Black-Eyed Susan

    A superstar of the late-season landscape, this black-eyed Susan fills the garden with gold. It blooms from midsummer to fall and even tolerates clay soil. Be sure to cut some of the flowers and bring them indoors for cheery bouquets.

    Name: Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'

    Size: To 2 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 3-8

    Plant it with: 'May Night' salvia, 'Laura' phlox, or 'Diabolo' ninebark

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1998: 'Magnus' Purple Coneflower

    Perfect for bouquets, attracting butterflies, and standing up to heat and drought, 'Magnus' purple coneflower bears magenta-pink blooms from mid- to late summer. Bonus: Many gardeners find this plant to be deer and rabbit resistant.

    Name: Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'

    Size: To 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide

    Zones: 3-8

    Plant it with: 'Franz Schubert' phlox, 'Harvest Moon' coneflower, or 'Wine and Roses' weigela

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1997: 'May Night' Salvia

    'May Night' salvia adds contrast to the garden. Its dark purple spikes look amazing against light-colored flowers or white-variegated foliage. This plant is an award-winner because it performs well, too -- holding up to heat, drought, deer, and rabbits.

    Name: Salvia 'May Night'

    Size: To 2 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant it with: Lamb's ears, 'Fragrant Angel' coneflower, or guara

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1996: 'Husker Red' Penstemon

    One of the easiest perennials you can grow, 'Husker Red' penstemon bears purple-red foliage and white flowers all summer long. It's native to areas of southeastern and central North America, so it stands up well to heat and humidity.

    Name: Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red'

    Size: To 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide

    Zones: 2-8

    Plant it with: 'Dart's Gold' ninebark, 'Karl Foerster' feather reedgrass, or gaillardia

18/24
1995: Russian Sage

    I can't think of a finer plant for the late-summer garden than Russian sage. It thrives in hot, dry spots and produces silvery foliage topped with clouds of lavender-blue flowers at the end of the season. The foliage is nicely scented, too, which also makes it unappetizing to deer and rabbits.

    Name: Perovskia atriplicifolia

    Size: To 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide

    Zones: 4-9

    Plant it with: Black-eyed Susan, 'Palace Purple' coralbells, or asters

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1994: 'Sprite' Astilbe

    Fill your shade garden with charm and color with easy-growing 'Sprite' astilbe. This selection features pink, feather-like plumes in early summer over finely textured rich green foliage.

    Name: Astilbe 'Sprite'

    Size: To 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide

    Zones: 4-8

    Plant it with: Hosta, bleeding heart, or Canadian wild ginger

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1993: 'Sunny Border Blue' Veronica

    Add rich blue tones to your garden with 'Sunny Border Blue' veronica, an easy-growing perennial that blooms all summer long. The upright flower spikes create contrast with mounding perennials.

    Name: Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'

    Size: To 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide

    Zones: 4-8

    Plant it with: 'Moonbeam' coreopsis, cushion spurge, or 'Sweet Kate' spiderwort

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1992: 'Moonbeam' Coreopsis

    Tuck 'Moonbeam' coreopsis anywhere in your garden. Its soft yellow color and finely textured foliage look wonderful paired with anything. And its low-care nature means it'll tolerate any spot but deep shade.

    Name: Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'

    Size: To 18 inches tall and wide

    Zones: 3-8

    Plant it with: Gaillardia, 'Walker's Low' catmint, or perennial hibiscus

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1991: 'Palace Purple' CoralBells

    Make garden drama with the bronzy foliage of 'Palace Purple' coralbells. This low-growing, rabbit-resistant perennial is perfect to edge beds or plant at the front of the border.

    Name: Heuchera 'Palace Purple'

    Size: To 1 foot tall and wide

    Zones: 4-8

    Plant it with: Armeria, asters, or 'Sweet Dreams' coreopsis

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1990: Creeping Phlox

    This groundcover is native to areas of central North America -- so you can be sure it stands up to tough, growing conditions. It blooms in spring with clusters of charming purple flowers creating a carpet of color in the shade.

    Name: Phlox stolonifera

    Size: To 6 inches tall and 12 inches wide

    Zones: 4-8

    Plant it with: Ajuga, Japanese painted fern, or fern-leaf bleeding heart

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