May 2015

If I could only have one perennial for these spots

Epimedium. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Epimedium. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I get asked a lot of the time what my favorite flower is and my response is “whatever is blooming.”

But what if you could only have one of something, what would your choices be? Here are some of my picks:

Hydrangea – the oakleaf (H. quercifolia) would be my choice, but most are very large shrubs, usually in the 6-8 foot tall and wide range. That size is fine for larger properties. Because I have a small yard, I prefer Sike’s Dwarf, Pee Wee or Ruby Slippers, which are closer to 3-5 feet tall and wide.

Native in the southeast United States, oakleaf does best in part shade or dapple shade, but tolerates full sun if given adequate water. It begins blooming in June with white cone-shaped flowers that turn red as they age through the season. The leaves turn a deep, wine red in fall and persist through winter.

Sike's Dwarf oakleaf hydrangea. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Sike’s Dwarf oakleaf hydrangea. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Bishop’s cap (Epimedium), commonly called barrenwort or bishop’s cap, is my choice for a shade-loving perennial. This is nearly a four-season plant, beginning with delicate, wiry flowers in early spring, followed by reddish-tinged, leaves. The leaves are dark green in summer, and in fall, become leathery, deep maroon. I cut this plant back to the ground in February. Epimedium thrives when given adequate moisture, but is tolerant of dryer sites. Start with two vigorous (but not invasive) cultivars: the yellow-blooming (E. x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’) and red (E. x rubrum).

'Magnus' purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Photo courtesy

‘Magnus’ purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Photo courtesy

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) would earn space in a sunny spot. Another eastern United States native species, this long-blooming perennial is favored by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds in summer and in winter, the finches devour the seed heads. There are a lot of garden-worthy cultivars available, but to me, the best performers are the straight species or ‘Magnus’. Somewhat drought tolerant, purple coneflower appreciates a good soaking of water during dry periods. Coneflowers are usually 24-30 inches tall and form a clump about 12-inches wide. They can self-sow a bit, but are not invasive.