June is Perennial Plant Month, and whether you’re a plant nerd or a novice gardener, perennials are a wonderful addition to any home landscape with their dependability, seasonal versatility, and low maintenance. Perennials also provide nectar, pollen, and nesting materials for pollinators. Here we’ll cover a few perennials that take the cake in performance, bloom longevity, and overall presentation.
First up, the peony. These romantic blooms are extremely hardy and thrive on a proper winter. In order to ensure optimal performing peonies in our region, select early to mid-season varieties over later-blooming varieties. Japanese or single flower forms perform best of all here in the South, compared to the species with more petals on the flower that increase the likeliness of disease.
Two species of peonies that I recommend are: Paeonia ‘Paula Fay’ with hot pink, fragrant semi-double flowers surrounding golden stamens, this bloom absolutely glows, beckoning on lookers to come closer. Flowering in late April, before the humidity and extreme heat threatens, ‘Paula Fay’ is a recommended cultivar for Middle Tennessee.
Paeonia ‘Cora Louise’ A striking design, ‘Cora Louise’ is a must-have for any peony enthusiast. White flower petals transition into bright purple flames surrounding a golden center.
As Tennessee’s state flower, Cheekwood would be remiss not to grow plenty of irises. Available in almost any combination of colors imaginable, and with more than 200 species alone, you can be sure to choose an iris you love. Two types we are currently loving at Cheekwood are: Iris sibirica The Siberian iris is very upright in habit and illustrates a certain amount of class, lending to its common use in formal garden designs. It’s more resistant to rot and borer than bearded irises. The amount of water it receives determines the size of its blue-purple flowers.
Iris ‘Lenora Pearl’ Iris ‘Lenora Pearl’ is a salmon-pink flower with tangerine beards that will bloom in spring and again in the fall. To prevent overcrowding, divide ‘Lenora’s Pearl’ every two to three years, taking only the outside rhizomes of the plant.
Lastly, salvias are a favorite because of their high tolerance of heat, humidity, and drought, as well as their ability to attract pollinators. There are so many species and varieties, but I have managed to narrow it down to these two that reside in Cheekwood’s Wills Perennial Garden, our mecca for pollinators of all kinds. Afterall, what’s a summer stroll through the garden without plenty of buzzing bumblebees?
Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ Stems of ‘Caradonna’ are dark purple and the blooms are violet. Flowering extends from early spring to late summer but will continue to flower longer with proper deadheading. Butterflies go wild over ‘Caradonna’. Reaching two feet tall with in full bloom, consider this salvia for a mid-level border plant.
Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ Very recognizable, the habit of this salvia is bush-like, and it can grow quite tall- up to 4’ tall. The red and white blooms come alive with bees. Hummingbirds appreciate the flower’s rich nectar, too.
Perennials plants have many virtues. While they can provide many years of enjoyment, they can also multiply and give us more to share with friends or to spread to other areas of our yard. We can use their blooms to make beautiful bouquets to mark celebrations. Perhaps more importantly, during the bleak and cold days of winter, garden perennials give us something to look forward to when warmer days arrive.
Written by Shanna Jones, Plant Collections Manager, Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, Nashville, TN 615-356-8000 www.cheekwood.org