Vaughn’s View: Distinctive and resilient perennials with visual impact — part 1 By Vaughn Fletcher

New and current perennials are showing off in trials, meeting the demands of consumers with extraordinary retail appeal.

I began my 2022 summer trial visits and plant evaluations in early March and finished in mid-September. The perennial trial sites I visited were Costa Farms, Dallas Arboretum, Colorado State University, Walters Gardens, Raker-Roberta’s, Penn State, Metrolina, University of Georgia/Athens, Aris/Green Leaf and the Trials at Ball. There were hundreds of varieties in the summer trials. In this and the following article next month, I will highlight current and new perennials that were in multiple trial sites and demonstrated myriad attributes including uniformity, durability, unique flower colors and stability, improved habits, extended flowering period, and heat tolerance.

My evaluation and description of these varieties was in mid-to-late summer at the pinnacle of their development and maturity. Many of them fall into the classification of stand-alone varieties, precursors to a new series or new colors within a series. My first GPN article on new perennials was six years ago, and since that time the number of perennial trial entries and new introductions has expanded significantly. Perennial breeders are augmenting and diversifying their perennial portfolios to meet the demands of the consumer by providing differentiated new and improved perennial introductions with exceptional retail appeal.

1. HELIOPSIS ‘LUNA ROJA’

Concept Plants

(Shown above) There were numerous heliopsis (false sunflower) varieties in the trials last summer from multiple breeders. This has become a popular genera for its hardiness, durability, drought and heat tolerance, extended flowering, and pollinator attraction. The end of season performance ratings were outstanding for all trial entries, and I was particularly enamored by the new ‘Luna Roja’ for many reasons. This is the shortest variety in the market, maturing at 14 to 16 inches with a compact, rounded habit. The fiery bicolor orange/red flowers, strong stems and dark foliage are what distinguishes this variety from the competition. This variety is hardy to Zone 3 and flowers from July to October. It has consumer application in sunny perennial beds and large patio containers. The accompanying photograph is from the Metrolina trial in late August 2022.

2. SEDUM ‘ROCK ‘N GROW BACK IN BLACK’

Walters Gardens

Some plants are worth waiting for, and this stonecrop variety from the Rock ‘N Grow collection was introduced following 10 years of breeding and development. Back in Black is the tallest selection, maturing at 20 to 24 inches. The attributes of this sedum variety are the dark nonfading foliage, durable stems, large flower heads, and late summer bicolor flowers with garnet colored centers and creme petals. The accompanying photograph is from the Penn State two-year trial bed on Aug. 30, 2022. It was rated 10 out of 949 trial entries last year and received a rating of 4.86 on a 5.00 scale. This is a Premier Selection for 2023 and a collection best seller. It is in the Proven Winners perennial program, and a Proven Winners label and container are required.

3. ECHINACEA ‘SOMBRERO POCO RED’

Darwin Perennials

Darwin has introduced three new Poco varieties for 2023: Hot Pink, White and Red. The colors are stable and nonfading, with excellent flower coverage, and demonstrate a strong, upright habit. This tissue culture, first-year flowering series is compact, maturing at 16 inches and is hardy to Zone 4b. The series will offer exceptional production application, instant impact at retail, and versatility in landscape sites and large mixed patio containers. I was impressed with the color stability and vividness of Red in the late-season trials, as depicted in the accompanying photograph from the Aris/Green Leaf trial garden on Aug. 31, 2022.

4. DELOSPERMA ‘DELMARA RED’

Green Fuse Botanicals

When I began my horticultural selling career in the early 1980s, delosperma varieties were nonexistent. In 2000, three delosperma varieties were on the market: ‘Cooperi’, ‘Starburst’ and the species herbeau. Multiple breeders now offer five series, and more than 30 varieties are available from domestic liner and offshore suppliers. The Delmara series offers large, vibrant, vivid, star-shaped flowers, a prolific flower canopy, drought and heat tolerance, a low growing habit, and hardiness. The Delmara series, consisting of six colors, was entered in multiple trials last summer; all the colors were vibrant and red was extremely eyecatching in the trials. The series is hardy to Zone 4, matures at 4 to 6 inches, and has application in rock gardens and sunny borders. The accompanying photograph of ‘Delmara Red’ is from the Trials at Ball in mid-August 2022.

5. KNIPHOFIA ‘GLOWSTICK’

Darwin Perennials

When I entered the industry in 1971, only a handful of kniphofia (Red Hot Pokers) were available from domestic suppliers. The list at that time included ‘Flamenco’, ‘Royal Standard’ and ‘Goldmine’. Since that time we have seen extensive breeding, resulting in a wide range of series, collections and hybrid varieties. The genetic improvements are impressive, resulting in assorted colors and sizes and increased hardiness. The stand-alone variety I have highlighted is ‘Glowstick’ from Darwin Perennials. The name is appropriate for this new distinctive and vivacious introduction. ‘Glowstick’ was entered in multiple trials and did not disappoint with its lance-shaped spikes of bright yellow tubular flowers and tufted finely textured foliage. This is a statuesque variety, and it made a striking statement in the summer trials. This variety matures at 26 to 30 inches, is hardy to Zone 6a, and is a season extender, flowering July through October. It is also a pollinator magnet with its nectar-rich flowers. The accompanying photograph is from the Colorado State trial in mid-September 2022.

6. MONARDA ‘UPSCALE LAVENDER TAFFETA’

Walters Gardens

We have innumerable exciting and colorful monarda series and varieties available. I have highlighted many introductions in previous articles, but the one variety that caught my eye last summer was monarda ‘Upscale Lavender Taffeta’. Upscale is a new Proven Winners series for 2023 consisting of three varieties: ‘Pink Chenille’, ‘Red Velvet’ and ‘Lavender Taffeta’. Walters Gardens offers five series, and the Upscale series is the tallest, averaging 24 to 30 inches at maturity. The flower colors are vibrant, fluorescent and stable. The series will produce a second flush of flowers in late summer, which was evident in my visit to the Walters Gardens trial in mid-August, as shown in the accompanying photograph of ‘Lavender Taffeta’. This series had excellent mildew resistance and is hardy to Zone 4. A Proven Winners label and container are required for this series.

7. PEROVSKIA ‘PRIME TIME’

Walters Gardens

It’s not surprising that the breeding and introduction of perovskia varieties has been extraordinary the past few years. The species has so many benefits for the consumer: aromatic foliage, drought tolerance, rabbit and deer resistance, a long flowering season, and pollinator attraction. The new selections offer a diversity of sizes and various shades of blue, violet, and purple calyxes and flowers. The new ‘Prime Time’ is an upgrade to ‘Rocketman’, with improved earliness and a denser habit, upright architecture and more prolific flowering, as depicted in the accompanying photograph from the Walters Gardens trial in mid-August. This variety matures at 30 to 36 inches and is hardy to Zone 4. It is available from Walters Gardens and in unrooted form from Darwin Perennials.

8. GAILLARDIA ‘SPINTOP ORANGE HALO IMPROVED’

Dümmen Orange

We have now had a wide range of gaillardia vegetative and seed varieties in the market with a diverse assortment of colors, flower forms, and habits. There are seven vegetative and two seed series available this year, represented by six flower breeders. We have seen significant breeding developments since gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’ was introduced in 2005, and it was an All-America Selections and Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner. Since that time, the breeders have introduced a wide assortment of gaillardia varieties with improved traits including earliness, a longer flowering window, mounded and compact habits, minimal lodging, heat and drought tolerance, and increased floriferousness. Many of these new series have been in the trials the past few years. I am highlighting the Spintop series in this article and the Lunar series (Green Fuse Botanicals) next month. The Spintop series consists of five varieties with a wide range of striking bicolor flowers, and the summer performance has been outstanding. ‘Orange Halo Improved’ was exceptional in multiple trials with its tight internodes, outstanding flower placement and striking red flowers with yellow tips. The accompanying photograph is from the Aris/Green Leaf trial garden in August 2022.

9. PULMONARIA ‘RASPBERRY FROST’

Terra Nova Nurseries

Terra Nova offers a wide selection of pulmonaria hybrids with assorted flower colors and variegated leaf patterns. Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash’ was introduced a few years ago. This was a remarkable introduction with splashy raspberry-coral flowers and well-defined silver-spotted foliage. Terra Nova has followed up with its counterpart, the new ‘Raspberry Frost’ for 2023. This variety was trialed at Colorado State, but I did not see it until early August and again in early September, so I missed its flowering stage, but the green midrib and the silver-edge margin of the foliage was distinctive and well-defined with intense contrast. This striking leaf pattern will definitely illuminate the shade garden. The habit was compact and tight. The coral-red inflorescence will offer a unique color to the current pulmonaria selections. The variety is hardy to Zone 4 and matures at 10 to 13 inches. The accompanying photograph is from the Colorado State trial in mid-September 2022.

10. AGASTACHE ‘CRAZY FORTUNE’

Concept Plants

The breeding, trialing and introduction of agastache from multiple breeders has been significant, and we now have a wide assortment of new series and stand-alone varieties available. The genera has myriad attributes: bee and butterfly attraction, heat and drought tolerance, aromatic foliage, colorful and dramatic flower spikes, and a long blooming cycle. ‘Crazy Fortune’, a variegated sport of ‘Blue Fortune’, was in several trials last year, and I was impressed by the erect, long flower spikes, stable variegation, upright habit, floriferousness, and striking two-lipped light blue flowers. The variety matures at 26 to 30 inches and is hardy to Zone 3a. The accompanying photograph is from the Aris/Green Leaf trial garden on Aug. 31, 2022.

11. RUDBECKIA ‘AMERICAN GOLD RUSH’

Intrinsic Perennial Gardens

The accolades for this vegetative rudbeckia are plentiful and well-founded. It was an All-America Selections winner in 2020 and won the Perennial Plant of the Year award for 2023 from the Perennial Plant Association. This is an interspecific cross, is naturally compact, matures at 22 to 26 inches, is hardy to Zone 4, and is a prolific bloomer July through September with dark eye disc florets and yellow ray florets. The single attribute that distinguishes and differentiates it from other rudbeckias in the market is its Septoria leaf spot resistance. This variety offers multiple environmental benefits, which are drought tolerance, disease resistance, long flowering cycle, prolific flower canopy and large 3-inch flowers. It was in multiple trials last summer, and its exceptional performance was consistent in the southern and northern trials that I visited in August and September. The accompanying photograph is from the Aris/Green Leaf trial on Aug. 31, 2022.

12. SALVIA ‘PINK PROFUSION’

Walters Gardens

Salvia ‘Pink Profusion’ is the most popular salvia in the Proven Winners program, and it demonstrated its excellence in trials last summer. I visited the Walters Gardens trial in mid-August, where it was the most eye-catching salvia in the trial with its prolific flower canopy of contrasting dark pink flowers with darker pink calyxes. I traveled to the Metrolina trial in North Carolina a week later, where it manifested this same performance with prolific flowering, color stability and reblooming potential. The salvia Profusion series includes four varieties: Perfect, Violet, White and Pink. This nemorosa series is characterized by a rounded and dense habit, consistency, heat and drought tolerance, flower positioning above the foliage, floriferousness, and outstanding reblooming potential. The series matures at 14 to 16 inches and is hardy to Zone 3a. ‘Pink Profusion’ is the Proven Winners National Perennial of the Year for 2024. The accompanying photograph is from the Walters Gardens trial in mid-August 2022.

For an enhanced reading experience, view this article in our digital edition by clicking here.

Vaughn Fletcher

Vaughn Fletcher is president of Fletcher Consulting. He has been in the horticulture industry since 1971, working in many areas including landscaping, garden center and greenhouse production, greenhouse, and nursery sales and sales management. He can be reached at vfletcher9@gmail.com.



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