A little while ago I read an article from Better Homes and Gardens listing “no-fail” perennials for different regions across the U.S. When I looked at the list for the Pacific Northwest, I had to laugh because NOT ONE was a plant I’d recommend to people. Maybe it’s just me and the way I garden, but I have had experience with most of them and they failed. The ones that didn’t were boring or the wrong color (okay, not really a fail, but work with me here, k?).
Here’s the list of plants from BHG and my thoughts on them, followed by the perennials I would recommend.
Not so No-Fail Plants
- Shasta Daisy– I’m willing to admit it’s a classic and that I even have them in my garden, but they stink (just try bringing them indoors!), they need staking, and worst of all- they bloom for a few short weeks and then look pretty ugly. Three strikes, you’re out.
- Dahlia– Is this even a perennial? It’s a tuber/bulb in the PNW that has to be dug up each season if you want to guarantee that you will have them the next spring. If you leave them in the ground, they will turn to mush in a cold winter (like all mine did last year). That doesn’t sound too “no-fail” to me. They also require major staking and are always covered in earwigs- ugh.
- Sword Fern– Duh. It’s like, everywhere here, so yes, I guess that means it won’t fail. However, since it grows on the roadsides and in areas with trees naturally, it’s pretty boring.
- Soloman’s Seal- This cracked me up, even though I’ve never grown it. Why? It’s a “moist shade” plant. I don’t know what kind of place you have to live in where there’s moist shade, but where I live isn’t it. The roots of Douglas Firs and Pines suck up any amount of moisture there is, leaving it bone dry under them. My no-fail plants must like dry shade.
- Primrose– At first I thought they meant the little primroses you buy in early spring. I actually like them and plant them in my garden and they always surprise me by blooming again in the fall (I have some blooming right now in fact). But they are talking about the Evening Primrose (oenothera) that from all I read is pretty invasive. I don’t have the nerve to plant it.
- Wild Ginger groundcover- this again is a moist shade plant, so…no.
- Cardinal Flower (lobelia)- This the only one that I agree is probably a nice, no-fail perennial, but I wouldn’t know for sure because I’ve never (knowingly) grown a red plant in my life. I also don’t plant orange. If you do, this might be for you.
- Lupine– they grow wild around here and are breathtaking in the spring, but in the garden there’s one word that describes their problem: bugs. They decimate the leaves so that they look awful about mid-bloom and after, leaving no choice but to cut them back early.
Actual No-Fail Perennials You Will Love
1. Hardy Geranium– there are many varieties and some bloom longer than others, but all usually bloom a couple months. The plant pictured above regularly blooms June through mid-October for me! This is a variety called “Monster” and it does get huge, but it’s easily sheared back. I’ve been able to get lots of starts from this one plant, although the others in full sun don’t bloom as long as this one. But something that blooms for almost 5 months? That’s no-fail!
2. Yarrow– I like the rosy ones and the pastel mixed, and even have a yellow one for the times you just need yellow. They are happy in poor soil, take drought well, and bloom reliably. They also readily bloom again when cut back. I would always have these somewhere.
3. Heuchera– I think these plants are wonderful and I love that they’ve created so many different varieties from the humble “coral bells” that grandma grew. This one with the dark, silvery leaves survives and blooms in semi-dry shade and gives a nice contrast to the green of it’s companions. This is one plant that I think the flower spikes look good even after they’ve bloomed, so I leave them.
4. Hebe– I just discovered this three years ago and I love it for areas like this under a Japanese Maple that takes most of the available water (dry shade again…) and still blooms for a long period. It blooms mostly in the summer, but you can see the little light purple blooms that it’s still sending out now in October. They sometimes don’t make it through harsh winters, but are such a great dry shade option that I’d always have at least one in my garden.
5. Brunnera– This is my favorite for dry shade and I LOVE it! In the spring it sends up spikes of blue, forget-me-not like flowers for a few months. But then it continues to look good with it’s heart shaped leaves and glowing foliage. This is a variegated one and there is a silver-leafed one called “jack frost” that’s very popular. I like them all and am happy when it reseeds- I’ve gotten about five new little plants from these.
6. Japanese Anemone– It starts blooming it’s head off the end of August and goes until frost kills it. This is a joy to me since this is the time when others are giving up the ghost. I also like how it spreads to fill in gaps, but in a totally nice way. And it comes in both white and pink- score!
7. Aster– Last but not least is the humble aster. Yes, it’s just a bush for most of the season. But it’s a nice-looking green background for the spring and summer bloomers. And, oh, the color it brings to the fall garden when it starts blooming! Plus, talk about no-fail: I have some growing in the shade, sun, poor soil and good soil, and it thrives just about anywhere. That, my friends, is a plant we should all have.
Now, I’d really love to hear what your favorite perennials are and why you like them – there’s always room for one more plant…