“HOW On Earth” – Published in Pink Magazine – May 2011



“Perennials are the ones that grow like weeds, biennials are the ones that die this year instead of next, and hardy annuals are the ones that never come up at all.”…Katherine Whitehorn, Observations (1970)


The very first lecture I gave was on the topic of perennials. I was so nervous to the point of feeling ill. My friend Carol helped me prepare the night before, going over a series of slides for the presentation. My mother flew down as a surprise, bringing me a lovely long linen dress. Her presence was both touching, appreciative, and sickening. Fear of public speaking coupled with insecurity about knowing enough about my subject matter, loomed in my mind. The much anticipated and dreaded day arrived. I vowed I would never commit to lecturing again. My nausea however turned into elation upon completing my presentation. A new passion was born.  An initial question asked by a woman in the front row I will never forget. I simply had to laugh. All of my preparation, anxiety, and uncertainty could not have prepared me for her inquiry. She simply asked, “What is a perennial?”

And so, let me begin by stating, a perennial is a plant that has a life cycle lasting more than two years. More specifically, I am referring to flowering plants that typically go dormant each winter, returning in the spring, and have differing seasons of bloom.

Designing with perennials is a bit like putting a puzzle together. Heights, color, texture, form, and bloom time are orchestrated into an ever changing plant palette. I like to start with a group of dependable, easy, and colorful perennials that are known to thrive in our area. I have created a Top Twenty List of perennials that I use often, with great success. 

I invite you to give perennials a space in your garden to grow, thrive, and return each year rejuvenated by their winter nap.

Paprika Achillea
Name Size/ Habit Sun/Shade Special Qualities/ Notes
Achillea millefoliumYarrow 18”- 3’ to Var. ‘Paprika’ and ‘Summer Pastels’ are my favorites. Deer resistant, butterfly plant, and good for cut flowers.
Agastache x ‘Blue Fortune’Blue Fortune Anise Hyssop 3’ to Very dependable, bees love this plant. Deer resistant, butterfly plant, good for cut flowers, and salt tolerant
Brugmansia x candidaAngel’s Trumpet 8-15’ to Great focal and container plant. Deer resistant, fragrant flowers, salt tolerant
CannaCanna Lily to Will create large clumps, likes ample water, hummingbird attracter, tropical, great foliage.
Cestrum aurantiacumYellow Shrub Jessamine 3’- 6’ to Loves our heat! Attracts butterfly and hummingbirds, good for cut flowers, salt tolerant, drought tolerant
Coreopsis grandiflora 12-16” ‘Lanceolata’ produces masses of flowers and ‘leavenworthii’ will reseed. Attracts butterflies, good for cut flowers, deer resistant, and drought tolerant
Gaillardia grandifloraBlanket Flower 1’- 2’ Attracts butterflies, good for cut flowers, deer resistant, salt tolerant, and drought tolerant. Will tolerate dune plantings.
Gaura 18”- 3’ This plant works best in large drifts with sprays of pink or whit delicate flowers. Attracts butterflies, good for cut flowers, deer resistant, and drought tolerant
Helianthus debilisBeachDune Sunflower 12”-16” to My favorite ocean front dune planting plant. Blooms all summer through fall. Self sows. Salt and drought tolerant
HibiscusTropical Hibiscus 7’- 12’ to There are so many Hibiscus, ranging from tropical to hardy species. ‘Mutabilis’ is the Confederate Rose, and old fashioned favorite. ‘Moy Grande’ has 12” rosy-red blooms. Tropical and salt tolerant and quite dependable.
Lantana 2’- 6’ Hands down, super tough and very easy to grow provided you have full sun and excellent drainage. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, deer resistant, salt tolerant, and drought tolerant. Try some of the taller multi-colored varieties.
Leonotis leonurusLion’s Head 4’- 6’ to I love the orange flowers of this dependable easy plant. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, good for cut flowers, and salt tolerant, deer resistant.
Leucanthemum x superbumShasta Daisy 12”- 3’ to There are numerous cultivars of daisies, ‘Becky’ being a favorite. Attracts butterflies, good for cut flowers, and deer resistant
Odontonema cuspidatumFirespike 6’ to Blooms late in the season which is why I like this tall vivid red beauty. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, good for cut flowers, and salt tolerant
Plumbago auriculata 3 ½’ Sky blue flowers on this cascading shrub-like plant. Attracts butterflies, good for cut flowers
RudbeckiaBlack-Eyed Susan 6”- 30” ‘laciniata’ is tall variety (5’) that is a show stopper and can handle wet soils. ‘fulgida’ has smaller flowers than most but is a profuse bloomer and very easy to grow. ‘Indian Summer’ has some of the largest and showiest blooms. Attracts butterflies, deer resistant, drought tolerant, and good for cut flowers
RuelliaMexican Petunia 6”- 20” to Purple petunia flowers adorn this plant all summer through fall. Can be very invasive. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds
SalviaSage 12”- 36” to If I had to pick one perennial that is super tough, long bloom season, deer don’t eat, pest and disease free, Salvias would be my choice. ‘Indigo Spires’ and its shorter cousin ‘Mystic Spires’ I use over and over in gardens. ‘Madrensis’ is a late blooming yellow variety that can handle some shade. ‘ulignosa’ or bog sage is great for wet areas and is covered in soft blue delicate flowers. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, drought tolerant, and deer resistant
SetcreaseaPurple Heart 12-18” to Purple foliage plant that combines well with many other perennials. Great in containers. Salt and drought tolerant
Tulbaghia violaceaSociety Garlic 12-15” to Very common in the median strips, this plant is one of the toughest. Deer resistant, salt and drought tolerant, pungent tolerant