University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article

CHOICE PERENNIALS
 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
A hellebore, lungwort, perennial geranium, sedum, and joe-pye weed are among my favorite new or underutilized hardy perennials. All have proven hardy in my USDA zone 4 (-20 to -30 F) garden for several years.

Ivory Prince hellebore (‘Walhelivor’ as it is known by its patent cultivar name) is one of my favorite perennials in recent years, with its creamy white flowers emerging from red buds in early spring.  Unlike many hellebores, this British introduction has many flowers held upright.  Hardiness can be a problem with many other new hellebore introductions.  This hellebore performs best with cooler summer temperatures.

Plant Ivory Prince in a moist organic soil for best growth.  It grows well in part to full shade, but can tolerate sun in the north if sufficient moisture.  Once established, though, it does show some drought tolerance.  Also unlike many hellebores, this one doesn’t show much winter leaf injury.  If leaves are brown, prune off in late winter prior to bloom.  New ones will appear in the spring. 

‘Berries and Cream’ is a relatively new lungwort, attractive with its very silvery leaves and contrasting flower colors of raspberry pink and blue.  Like its many of its other relatives, the
flowers change from pink to blue with age, a signal of aging flowers to their pollinators.  This trait gives rise to the common name for lungworts of “soldiers and sailors”.
 
Cultural conditions are similar to the hellebore, although this plant wilts or browns if too dry, and can rot if too wet.  It is more resistant to the white powdery mildew disease on leaves than many related cultivars (cultivated variety).  If older leaves turn yellow, just pull off (de-leaf).

‘Espresso’ is a relatively new native perennial geranium, selected from woods nearby to a nursery in southeastern Pennsylvania.  Its name is from the chocolate colored leaves, the main attraction of this plant.  Best leaf color is in full sun, but this plant will take some shade.  Leaves may turn crispy brown on the edges if the soil gets too dry.  The lavender flowers make a nice contrast with the leaves over several weeks in early summer.

Sedum or stonecrop is a popular genus, ‘Matrona’ being one of the choice new cultivars.  It has attractive bluish-green leaves on burgundy stems.  It is one of the upright sedum, getting up to two feet high.  Flowers are clusters atop the stems in late summer and early fall, the dull red turning chocolate brown in winter.  This plant really needs full sun, getting straggly in shade.  Hot and humid conditions may lead to some leaf spot diseases. 

Joe-pye weed is a wildflower native to eastern North America, often seen in moist ditches along roads in late summer.  ‘Gateway’ is a cultivar with larger and denser flowers than the species, held on wine red stems.  It can reach six feet tall, and form clumps to three feet across.  Cut back by half in early summer if you want a shorter plant.  This perennial will tolerate occasionally wet soils.  Leaves may turn brown if soils get too dry. 

Look online on my Perry’s Perennial Pages for more information on these and other choice perennials (perrysperennials.info).  
 

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