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New Garden Faces Among My Old-Time Perennials

Daisy-like Flowers of DoronicumAs they say in marketing, “I’m an early adopter.”  If you are one of those gardeners who want to try everything new just because it is new, just like me, then you may as well stop reading this article right now.  However, I beg to differ and suggest you read on — because what’s old, can sometimes be just as exciting as what’s new — at least when it comes to gardening.  For this is the story of perennial varieties that have been available for at least fifty years or longer.  

Primrose English CowslipThey are superior to and distinctly different than standard varieties, and quite hardy if you are living in a colder climate.  New perennials, to be worth planting at all, should be lasting, or at least able to endure longer than one or two brief seasons — at least that is my mindset, given the price of plants these days.

Lapham’s Blue PhloxLooking over my own gardening purchases of recent years (and yes I keep a gardening diary), I was startled to discover how many so-called “perennials” in my gardens had turned out to be transient — or had failed to survive even a year.  Some of the newer perennials, however, are among my favorites, simply because I feel I got my monies worth.  Why?  

Some of these are “new” only in the sense of being barely known or seldom used by nurseries and gardeners today.  Others are, in one way or another, genuine improvements when it comes to perennials.

Here Are Some Of My Favorites New/Old Perennials For Early Spring

 Lenten Rose

  1. Lenten Rose — (Helleborus orientalis) — a real novelty if you are not familiar with this variety.  It is rarely seen, but has for years bloomed and unfailingly endured in many of a seasoned gardeners garden.   The heavy, waxy foliage is spectacular and will remain evergreen (even in sub-zero temperatures).  Anyone visiting your garden will have great curiosity over the blossoms because they resemble Orange blossoms and range in color from pale orchid-green with tints of brown to dark red-purple.   I’ve even seen them blooming in snow and they are so sturdy that they will even do well in a vase of water for at least a week.  In the past, they were very popular choices for corsages.
  2. Snowy Rock-cress (aka Arabis) — This is another early spring perennial (Arabis alpina flore-plena), that requires little care to get it to return year-after-year.  It’s a wonderful plant to decorate on borders with its tiny double white blossoms, that resemble miniature roses among gray-green foliage.  It is also popular for rock gardens.
  3. Lungwort Pulmonaria saccharata — I love its blue-purple with red-faced foliage spotted with silver.   It makes a pleasant garden companion for grape-hyacinths and other spring bulbs.
  4. Laphamia (aka Lapham’s Blue Phlox)Phylox divaricata ssp. laphamii — Heavenly blue flowers that are the perfect visual foil for daffodils.
  5. Primrose English Cowslip — Primula veris — Large flowered in shades of yellow are among my favorites.
  6. Doronicum (aka Leopards-bane) — An early flowerer, they can bring great joy especially when paired with dwarf purple irises, blue phlox and narcissus.

 Snowy Rock-cress (aka Arabis)