Vaughn’s View: Distinctive and resilient perennials with visual impact -part 2 By Vaughn Fletcher

Breeders are focusing on unique traits for new varieties — and it’s showing in the bright colors and better growth habits of these top perennial picks.

I selected these perennial varieties as “The Chosen Ones” to highlight the traits that distinguished them throughout the summer in the trials and ultimately will provide performance and value for the consumer. What do we mean by adding value? It is a term that is often discussed when promoting a new variety or series. The perennial varieties I selected demonstrated resilience, heat and disease tolerance, unique flower colors, floriferousness, improved habit, and foliage durability.

Perennial breeders are diversifying their portfolios to breed, trial, and introduce new selections that are adaptable and responsive to challenging biotic and abiotic pressures. Genetic improvements make the grower successful in production, provide excellent shelf appeal, and meet customer interest and demand with season-long performance, aesthetics, and flexible planting application.

New perennial introductions must offer multiple attributes that elevate them to a higher standard from current varieties in the market and offer the consumer a superlative perennial. The varieties I have highlighted have undergone years of extensive trialing and testing before they were entered in the summer trials and eventually reached the consumer.


Darwin Perennials

(Shown above) The introduction of new delosperma series in the last 10 years has been impressive; the new selections offer drought, heat and frost tolerance, low maintenance, a long flowering season, a prolific flower count, and vibrant and intense flowers. The Ocean Sunset series consists of three colors: Orange Glow, Orange Vibe and Violet. The series is hardy to Zone 5a and matures at 4 to 6 inches. This series will have color impact at retail and multiple applications in rock gardens and perennial borders. The accompanying photograph is of ‘Ocean Sunset Violet’, which was the most colorful and vigorous variety in the Metrolina trial in late August 2022.


PanAmerican Seed

This new Black-eyed Susan seed variety, rudbeckia ‘Goldblitz’, received the distinguished Fleuroselect Gold Medal last year for its numerous attributes. It flowers three weeks earlier than ‘Goldstrum’, is first-year flowering, available as primed seed, can be flowered as an annual crop, and has a tight, upright compact habit and golden ray flowers with a dark chocolate-brown cone. The foliage is a lustrous green with horizontal flower petals creating a colorful canopy. In the southern and northern trials, it was prolific and flowered until late in the trial season. It is hardy to Zone 3 and matures at 24 to 28 inches. The accompanying photograph is from the Trials at Ball in mid-August 2022.


Walters Gardens

The new agastache collection, consisting of Queen Nectarine and Royal Raspberry, is in the Proven Winners Premier Selection program for 2023. I highlighted the floriferousness, branching and durability of Royal Raspberry in my Costa Farms perennial trial article early last summer. In the northern trials later in the summer, both varieties demonstrated consistent performance and a striking presence in the trial beds. I was enamored of Royal Raspberry because of its dark foliage, abundant burgundy calyxes and rosy purple florets. This series matures at 26 to 32 inches, is hardy to Zone 5, and provides a colorful heat- and drought-tolerant plant with outstanding retail appeal and application in rock gardens and xeriscape plantings. As I mentioned last month, we have a wide assortment of varieties in the market, and the demand for summer hardiness, deer resistance and pollinator-friendly varieties increases every year. This series, with prolific flower canopies and unique colors, is worthy of consideration. The accompanying photograph is from the Metrolina trial in late August 2022.


Darwin Perennials

I saw this new standalone delphinium for the first time at California Spring Trials last year, and I was astonished by the exceptional and captivating color intensity of the double coral-red florets. ‘Red Lark’ is a breakthrough in delphinium hybridization — the flower color is unique to delphiniums, it is sterile and it requires no staking. The flower racemes are stately and durable, the florets are extra large, and the habit is mounded with glossy green foliage. It is a long day facultative plant with optimum performance in full sun. It is hardy to Zone 5a, matures at 24 to 28 inches, and should be grown in a 1.5 or 2 gallon container for March sales in the South and April to May in the northern regions. The flowering window will be very similar to the standard elatums in the north — June through July. The accompanying photograph is from the Trials at Ball in mid-August 2022. Walters Gardens will offer ‘Red Lark’ for the 2023-24 growing season.


Walters Gardens

Perennial breeders are focusing on the introduction of new varieties that are unique and distinguishable from the competition. Astilbe ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, introduced in 2022, offers the first dark leaf astilbe with dark chocolate foliage and rosy purple panicles. This new selection will offer season-long interest, foliage stability, and a mounded habit, and is adaptable in sun or shade. It matures at 20 to 22 inches and is hardy to Zone 4. It is part of the Proven Winners perennial collection and is a Premier Selection for 2023. It received the 2023 Green Thumb Award from the National Garden Bureau in the perennial category. The accompanying photograph is from the Walters Gardens trial in mid-August 2022 and, even though it was out of bloom, the upright habit, foliage color, and striking dried seed heads demonstrated the impact of this new selection in the garden.


Walters Gardens

Walters Gardens offers seven echinacea collections in its catalog, including the new Double Dipped collection. The two new introductions are Rainbow Sherbet and Strawberry Mousse. I saw this series for the first time in the Walters Gardens trial beds in mid August 2022. I was impressed by the well-branched habit, durable stems and the large double pom-pom flowers. My favorite was Strawberry Mousse, with its dark pink centers and overlapping lighter pink ray petals. This is a vigorous series maturing at 24 to 28 inches in the garden, hardy to Zone 4, and flowers in middle to late summer. The accompanying photograph is from the Walters Gardens trial bed.


Bull Plant Genetics

The SunMagic Vintage series has been in multiple trial sites the past few years with exceptional performance results. The series is comprised of eight varieties for 2023, and liners are offered from multiple perennial suppliers. The series offers unique colors, tight branching and a compact habit, maturing at 18 to 24 inches with Zone 4 hardiness. What stands out is the horizontal orientation of the flowers, the prolific flower canopy and the eye-catching color assortment. The accompanying photograph of ‘SunMagic Vintage Fuchsia’ was taken at the Colorado State trial in late July 2022. The flowers were impressive with large, striking brown cones and pinkish-fuchsia ray petals.


Terra Nova Nurseries

One of the breeding goals of perennial breeders is the development and introduction of new perennials with value-added options of colored foliage, unique flower colors, drought and heat resistance, multiple design applications, and impactful retail appeal. ‘Conga Line’ exemplifies the traits that are in demand. It has strong, upright branching, transitional flower colors of peach/coral/creme, and multicolored foliage that transitions from dark green to purple and burgundy tones later in the summer. This will be a dynamic low-maintenance perennial in the garden or when used in containers. It is hardy to Zone 4 and matures at 16 to 18 inches. The accompanying photograph is from the second year trial at Penn State the last day of August 2022. It was consistent all summer in the trial, received a 4.80 out of 5.00 rating, and a Director’s Select award as one the top perennial performers.


Green Fuse Botanicals

We have witnessed an explosion of new gaillardia series, offering improved branching, resistance to splitting, disease resistance, unique colors and flower forms, and flower longevity. Many of these series have been trialed throughout the country since their introduction and are currently in the market. I have highlighted many of the new selections in previous articles; one series that has been ubiquitous in summer trials is the Lunar series. There are five colors in the series: Honey Moon, Blood Moon, Eclipse, Harvest Moon and Orange Moon. What is exemplary about this series is the uniformity, vibrant color range, tightly packed internodes, color retention, resistance to lodging and flowering longevity. This uniform series matures at 10 to 12 inches and is hardy to Zone 5. The varieties are also used as components in the Green Fuse perennial compatible mixes. The accompanying photograph of ‘Lunar Honey Moon’ is from the Metrolina trial in late August 2022, where it demonstrated floriferousness, excellent flower presentation, and outstanding heat tolerance and durability.


Walters Gardens

The choices in perovskia are numerous, and the differences are in specific traits. As you review the descriptions of the varieties in the market, the variations are habit, mature size, flower timing, leaf size and flower shades. The attributes shared by all introductions are heat and drought tolerance, rabbit and deer resistance, minimal insect issues, durability, pollinator attraction, and low maintenance. Perovskia ‘Sage Advice’ was in multiple southern and northern trials last summer, and was consistent in summer hardiness and extreme floriferousness. What distinguishes this variety is the dramatic upright habit, strong stems, early flowering and the dark lavender/purple flowers, which were the darkest purple shades of any perovskia in the trials last summer. The series is hardy to Zone 4 and matures at 32 to 36 inches. As a part of the Proven Winners perennial collection, a Proven Winners tag and container are required. The accompanying photograph is from the Colorado State trial in early September 2022.


Darwin Perennials

This sedum stonecrop variety is new for 2023, and it received superior ratings in multiple trials last summer. I was impressed with the striking contrast of the dense, mounded, dark green foliage and the prolific bright and vibrant star-shaped yellow flowers positioned well above the canopy. These attributes will provide a dynamic perennial in the sunny landscape and on the retail bench. The plant matures at 7 to 10 inches, is hardy to Zone 5a and flowers throughout the summer. It is a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant sedum that will have versatility in rock gardens and sunny borders. The accompanying photograph of ‘Yellow Diamond’ is from the Metrolina trial in late August 2022.


Darwin Perennials

Skyward is a very descriptive name for this new veronica series for 2023. The two new colors, ‘Skyward Pink’ and ‘Skyward Blue’, were ubiquitous in the spring and summer trials. They were in flower when I visited the Costa Premier trial in March and April 2022, and I highlighted ‘Skyward Blue’ in my late summer Costa perennial article. Both colors were entered in multiple Midwest, East and Rocky Mountain trial sites. The series is characterized by the statuesque architecture, durability, prolific flower canopy, long flower spikes, powdery mildew resistance and naturally compact habit. Vernalization is not required for this series, which is hardy to Zone 4 and matures at 14 to 18 inches. I could have chosen a photograph from many trial sites, but I selected ‘Skyward Pink’ from the Colorado State University trial in early September 2022.

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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