Staying power

Staying power

Growers and greenhouse managers weigh in on which perennials will be popular this year.

March 20, 2015

Although typically not quite as colorful or dramatic as annuals, perennials are desirable for their hardiness and their consistent return with each new season. They can often be sold as a way to provide a lot of “bang for the buck” since they do come up again and again. Perennials provide a wonderful backdrop or base for plant beds, to which annuals can be added for that extra “pop.” We spoke to growers and greenhouses nationwide to get their take on what perennials are going to be popular in this coming season.

Enhancing aesthetics.

Suzie Wiest, marketing representative for Village Nurseries in Orange, Calif., says that both Agapanthus ‘Gold Strike' and Erigeron 'Sea Breeze' will be top perennial picks this year and both can add some pop.

Erigeron, of the daisy family, is a very floriferous compact perennial that showcases pink blooms with a vibrant yellow center.

As a drought-tolerant perennial, Wiest suggests these plants as an excellent choice for rock gardens, though they perform equally as well in containers.

Agapanthus also can provide year-round interest with its deep blue buds which open dark and light blooms from April through September. As another drought-tolerant choice, once Agapanthus is established it’s very low-maintenance, Wiest says.

Laura Hess, owner of Hickory Grove in Callicoon, N.Y., has also seen an increased interest in butterfly gardening and perennials that attract bees and birds. “There’s been a trend toward attracting wildlife to one’s property,” Hess says.

“I’m definitely seeing a lot of interest in lavender, which is a perennial that bees love. I think people like the idea of adding interest to their properties – though wildlife like deer which will eat the plants are a different story.”

Deer resistance remains an ongoing trend and one that likely isn’t going away any time soon. “In a region like ours, which has a lot of deer, clients still want a garden they can enjoy so deer-resistant varieties are a must,” Hess says.

The maintenance factor.

Drought tolerance and low maintenance remain two of the biggest trends in plant selection and there are many perennials that can meet these needs.

Hess says clients like the fact that they can “leave something in the ground or in a container and come back and it will still look like it’s been cared for – when it hasn’t.”

With people's busy schedules, this has been an ongoing trend.

“Perennials like succulents and sedums are popular because they are easy to care for and don’t need a lot of maintenance,” Hess adds. “Things that are easy to maintain are always going to be popular.”

In the dry, hot days and cool nights in Colorado, Patti Pfeifer, program manager for the finished program at Center Greenhouse in Denver, says that perennials do really well. But it’s the ones that perform well with “minimal maintenance” that are the best sellers among landscapers. Landscapers like the varieties that are known to be reliable, she says.

“These include things like Salvia May Night, Galium Odoratum, Dianthus Fire Star, and Sedum Autumn Joy.”

Selling to landscapers is a big portion of Center Greenhouse’s business so they tend to keep a lot of standbys in stock.

But Pfeifer says garden centers are a little more interested in something new and different so they’ll also try some new varieties each year.

“Ball, Bartles and Planthaven are great sources of new breeding in the main varieties like phlox, subulata and gaura,” Pfeifer says. “But we try to keep those numbers conservative until we see the market response and performance.

"Landscapers are a big part of our market and they do like the tried and true varieties best.”

Hardy and long-lasting. With unpredictable weather these days, hardiness is also a big trend. Ko Klaver, director of sales and marketing for Botanical Trading Co. in Hockessin, Del., says hardy perennials like hostas or heuchera are popular right now as customers appreciate their ability to tolerate more extreme weather conditions.

“The nice thing about heuchera is that they have heat resilience and sun tolerance,” Klaver says. “And the Coral Bells that have the Villosa blood line are even hardier and can handle conditions all the way up to New England, where weather can be more extreme. They’re beautiful and they’re hardy so it’s a win-win. The Pink Pearls are really quite beautiful and there are many other beautiful varieties.”

“Hostas are definitely popular where we are and one of the reasons is the fact that they’re so hardy,” adds Shane Weaver, sales manager with Sunshine Growers in Lakeland, Fla. “They also attract butterflies and hummingbirds which make them enjoyable.”

Weaver says Sunshine has also been growing a lot of coreopsis and salvia. “People really like those resilient flowers that can hold up to some harsh weather conditions,” he says. “Coreopsis is cold hardy and can take the wind or the sun. Plus it’s easy to install.”

While Weaver says there are definitely some perennials that top others in popularity each year, he also believes it’s “cyclical.” “Just like furniture or clothing I’ve watched plants go in and out of style,” he says. “Something might be really popular one year and then trail off for a bit, but it always comes back around.”


The market on perennials

We surveyed 150 growers and greenhouse representatives about which perennials were popular last year and which they see as being top sellers in 2015. Ornamental grasses are expected to continue to dominate in 2015, along with day lilies and hostas. But respondents were surprised that phlox, which less than 1 percent said was a top seller in 2014, was not more popular in 2014. It doesn’t look like that will change as only 5 percent said they expect it to be a top three seller in 2015.


Something different.

While most growers and nurseries do report that landscapers prefer to go the “tried and true” route, Klaver says that he is seeing a bit more creativity in recent years. For one, he’s definitely seeing a return of more three-dimensional landscape designs.

“For a long time, everyone wanted plants that were short and compact, even though you lost that vertical dimension,” Klaver says. “But now we’re seeing more requests for three-dimensional depth. They want to get some height in there. The taller hybrid lilies are a popular choice to add that depth.”

It’s not always easy to try something new, particularly in harsh or unpredictable climates. But Klaver suggests landscapers do a little bit of research to find out about some of the other varieties out there. “It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and ask for the same old perennials each year,” Klaver says. “With a little bit of study, landscapers might find something new that they really love and haven’t used before.”


The author is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.