Perennials matter

Features - 2010 Breakthrough

Multiple uses, good sell-through potential make perennials an important crop.

August 23, 2010

Hemerocallis ‘Ruby Spider’
Photo courtesy of Walters Gardens
If you’re still on the fence about adding perennials to your production schedule – or beefing up your availability – see what these perennials proponents have to say.

Multiple-Season Interest
Perennials provide interest to landscapes for the spring, summer and fall, said Karin Walters of Walters Gardens in Zeeland, Mich.

They also make excellent anchor plants for several types of designs such as water gardens, formal gardens or rain gardens, she said.

Perennials require little maintenance once established – a selling point that should be touted to garden center and landscape contractor customers.

Some must-have varieties include brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ for shade, dianthus Fruit Punch series for heat and humidity tolerance and hardy hibiscus for a tropical look, even in USDA Hardiness Zone 4, she said.

Some perennial stars in the making are Hemerocallis ‘Ruby Spider’ with spoon-shaped flowers, phlox ‘Shockwave’ for its flowers and foliage, and hosta ‘American Hero,’ she said.
For more: Walters Gardens,

A mix of color and textureVarious Landscape Uses
Perennials are versatile in the landscape, whether in the ground or in containers, said Freya Wellin, perennials manager at Chalet Nursery in Wilmette, Ill.

“Perennials are a steady sell throughout the season,” Wellin said.

Pay attention to tags when selling and marketing perennials to independent garden centers and landscape contractors, she said. But ultimately, color sells.

“The fuller and more lush the plant the better.”

Wellin suggested landscapers try a white garden that by mid-summer includes a splash of color with a hot pink daylily.

Her go-to perennials include salvia, hosta, astilbe and echinacea, while hellebores are a “fantastic” plant that many growers don’t offer, she said.

For more: Chalet Nursery,

Try newer varieties for better branching and flowering habits.
Filling Gaps in Production

Perennials have a long blooming period, they overwinter very well, and they come in thousands of varieties, said Rick Watson, owner of The Perennial Farm in Glen Arm, Md.

“Perennials add another dimension to the production schedule because of differing bloom times and growth rates,” Watson said. “If growers have additional capacity at different times of the year, perennials are a great fit for those gaps in production.”

And for the grower who’s been offering the same varieties for many years, Watson suggests expanding to newer selections.

“These can be easier to grow because of better branching and flowering habits, more disease resistance and faster growing times,” he said.

The Perennial Farm created a Landscaper’s Choice line, which includes ferns, hosta, festuca, pennisetum, imperata, calamagrostis, miscanthus, echinacea, rudbeckia, sedum, delosperma, salvia, coreopsis, verbena and hemerocallis.

Give retailers and landscape contractors marketing tools to help boost perennial sales, Watson said. The Perennial Farm developed two websites, and, to aid its customers and the end consumer.

Perennials help extend the flowering time of any garden – a good selling point for your retail garden center and landscape contractor customers.

“Mix the different flowering colors, flowering times and heights. With this, you can create any type of garden such as cut flower, butterfly and hummingbird, long blooming, colorful foliage, drought tolerant, shade tolerant, and deer and rabbit resistant,” Watson said.

For more: The Perennial Farm,

Echinacea ‘Pink Double Delight’ and ‘Coconut Lime’ used as “drifts” in the landscape.
Photo by Susan Martin, Walters Gardens
Sell Mini-Themed Gardens

Perennials are long-term additions to a garden. Perennials also are wildlife friendly -- attracting bees, birds, butterflies, hummingbirds and other vital pollinators to the home landscape. “This is very important for sustainable gardens and for the future,” said Angela Treadwell-Palmer, president of Plants Nouveau in Baltimore, Md.

For increased sales to independent garden centers, market perennials for mini-themed gardens, such as a pink garden, a butterfly garden, a cutting garden, a hummingbird garden, she said.

To help sell-through to landscapers, suggest using perennials as large drifts of two or three plants in contrasting colors or textures, she said.

“I see huge possibilities for this in commercial landscapes,” she said.

Some staples that growers should have in their production mix include, Phlox paniculata, echinacea, Baptisia australis, Perovskia atriplicifolia, Tiarella cordifolia and Helianthus × multiflorus. Some lesser-known varieties that growers should try include Rudbeckia maxima, Stokesia laevis and Amsonia hubrictii.

For more: Plants Nouveau,

Hypericum Hypearls Olivia
Repeat Performers in the Landscape

Nurseries should consider adding perennials for the opportunity of increased sales in a growing market, said Chris Kelleher, marketing manager at Aris.

One of the primary marketing points for perennials is their repeat performance in the landscape. For landscape customers, suggest using perennials to create “rivers” of a long-blooming plant such as geranium ‘Rozanne’ that flows through the landscape to draw attention to a focal point in the design, she said.

Kelleher suggests most perennial programs should have some of these essentials -- achillea, coreopsis, dianthus, hardy hibiscus, penstemon, phlox and rudbeckia. Other A-listers that aren’t always on the top-10 lists include Helianthemum Hartswood Ruby, Eryngium ‘Big Blue’ and Hypericum Hypearls series. 

For more: Green Leaf Plants, a division of Aris Horticulture,