Perennials are a wonderful addition to any garden. Here are six of our favorites--ones we like especially because of their relatively long bloom period.
Our first three nominees for the longest bloom are right at home in any sunny situation. They reward the eye particularly when massed in sweeping drifts, when blended in the border, or when left to fend for themselves in the wild garden. And they're drought-tolerant.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and other varieties) offers up showy yellow-orange petals and bronze-brown central cones that make it ideal for cutting, especially considering the flowers' 3- to 4-inch-wide span. The bloom show typically starts in midsummer and continues through autumn, especially if the plant is deadheaded (old, faded flowers removed).
Coreopsis 'Moonbeam' is an award-winning perennial that shows off an almost constant display of lemon-yellow daisy-shape flowers all summer long, especially if you shear the plant back by a few inches after the heavy flushes of bloom.
'Moonbeam' and other varieties of coreopsis make good cut flowers and can also be grown in large container gardens.
The "red" in Penstemon 'Husker Red' refers not to its flower but its dramatic bronze-red foliage (and the Husker comes from the fact that the plant was developed at the University of Nebraska). Another floriferous toughie, this 30-incher sends up a score or more of airy flower stalks topped with hundreds of tubular white flowers. It's a top choice of butterflies and hummingbirds.
Coaxing flowers from the shade is not really the bugaboo it's cracked up to be. While you can always rely on hostas and ferns to thrive under your trees, many other plants will readily blossom and brighten shady spots. Here are three perennials that go one step further, blooming for an extended period to provide color for up to three months:
Astilbes, with their feathery plumes, appear in a range of candy colors -- red, pink, cream, white, salmon, even peach -- and grow 1 ot 3 feet tall, depending on type.
There are a couple of species of astilbe; it's helpful to pay attention to which type a particular variety is because it influences the bloom time. Astilbe japonica selections typically bloom in late spring and early summer; Astilbe chinensis cultivars typically bloom in mid- to late summer. Select both types to enjoy astilbes practically all summer long.
Hellebores (Helleborus) grow about 15 inches tall and start blooming in late winter through early spring. After the petals fade, the sepals stay on the plant, making it look like it's still in bloom; that display can continue through midsummer.
Hellebores bloom in shades of pink, red, purple, white, and green; some are double or feature speckled petals. The plants are highly poisonous, but that means they're also deer and rabbit resistant.
Fernleaf bleeding hearts (Dicentra) grow about 1 foot tall and wide. Most fernleaf bleeding hearts can bloom on and off all spring, summer, and autumn in cool-summer climates. Varieties are available with pink, red, or white flowers.