In the Garden:
Daylilies go with everything.
Like the friends you can count on to serve with you on every committee, some perennials are both reliable and rewarding to have around. Think daisy shapes and tubular blossoms to ensure their attraction as a source of nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. Then add strong leaf shapes to carry the season even when the flowers aren't in bloom.
Finally, focus on color. Go with a particular color theme, such as blue and white, use one color surrounded by others, or simply plant a rainbow. Prepare a well-drained, fertile garden bed with half a day of sun or more for these perennials.
Daisy-shaped lantana and daylilies provide contrasting forms with their round and tubular flowers, respectively, and they come in every color combination you might seek. 'New Gold' lantana will carpet the space in front of the daylilies, while the taller, classic 'Butter and Eggs' should be used to their rear. Iris are an obvious choice, for color and sword-shaped leaves. Carry the yellow theme with yellow flag iris and the lovely Louisiana iris that bloom later in the spring. Then let black-eyed Susans take center stage for summer's yellow, followed by perennial sunflowers that will last well into fall.
For Bolder Colors
Perennial verbena, salvia, and hibiscus are known more for their bolder red, purple, and blue colors. Sometimes it's difficult to tell the annual and perennial types of these plants apart, but it is important to do so, as the annuals are much less reliable. Perennial verbenas are generally named and sold in quart or gallon-sized pots, while the annual varieties are usually sold in 4-inch pots, hanging baskets, or six-packs.
The annual salvias are the dark green, pointy-leaved plants with spikes of red, cream, purple, or white flowers. They are usually less than a foot tall overall. 'Lady of Spain' is a notable exception; though technically an annual, it often returns for several years in our gardens. Perennial salvias seldom look alike (as the annuals do). Heights range from less than 2 feet for the Nymph series to midsized 'May Knight' and huge Mexican sage.
After years of finding only tropical (and so not reliably hardy north of zone 9) hibiscus, the perennials are making their largest push into the market in twenty years. Back then, it was the garden-sized Belle series -- shorter and thus more versatile, with flowers that covered a dinner plate. The latest offerings boast a much wider range of flower colors, with the trademark matte green leaves of all perennial hibiscus.
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