Reliable Favorites

An inviting walkway in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

An inviting walkway (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Each spring brings opportunities-and a little inspiration-to take on chores we put off over the winter. Perhaps it’s the sun’s warmth that inspires us after the long winter, or possibly just the change of seasons that makes us want to shed old “stuff” and reinvent ourselves in some small way. We might do a thorough house cleaning to refresh our spirits, paint one of our rooms a bright, cheerful color, or simply update some curtains. And for those of us whose spirits are longing to be outdoors, we may pick a few new plants to lift our spirits and celebrate the coming summer. If plant inspiration is something you’re thinking about this spring, here are a few of the long lived (in Zone 5 New England) beauties that give me great joy each year that they return.

Peonies & poppies heat up spring in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Peonies & poppies heat up the spring (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Herbaceous Peonies: A New England garden is not complete without a few fragrant peonies, Paeonia sp., bursting open at the end of May. Peony blooms are among the most cherished and gorgeous flowers in existence, and are recognized for living a very long time (some over a century). You will often find peonies in established gardens created decades ago, but they always defy their actual age by looking fresh and youthful. A mainstay in every perennial garden, fabulous for bouquets, low maintenance and deer resistant; peonies are a garden must have. (Zones 3-8, 2-3 feet tall, some staking required, full sun to part shade)

Bearded Iris have incredibly detailed blossoms in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Bearded Iris have incredibly detailed blossoms (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Iris: For detail and intricacy unlike any other plant, look for the colorful flowers of iris; specifically the bearded beauties which earn my top vote. Iris are another plant that flower from early May through mid-June in my garden (some have fragrance), with a few repeat bloomers (in fall), offered in a range of colors from the deepest purple to tangerine orange. Iris are named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, which explains why they come in such a bewitching smorgasbord of colors, many that cause me to slip into a trance while staring at their spectacular blossoms. (Zones 3-9, 1-3 feet tall, sunny, well drained site, foliage may brown and require tending)

Phlox 'Nora Leigh' and Friends in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Phlox ‘Nora Leigh’ and Friends (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Variegated anything: My dear followers know I’m a varigata-phobe unable to resist anything with stripes, and one plant that has been with me from the beginning is my Phlox paniculata ‘Nora Leigh’, whose creamy white and pine green accented leaves reliably reach over a foot high by mid-May. Although the flower (late July-September) is a pale pink and not terribly dramatic, the foliage is a scene stealer from May ’til winter, illuminating the garden any time during the growing season. This phlox remains mildew free for me, while complementing any and all of its nearby garden mates. (Zone 5-8, 3 feet tall, no staking, part shade to full sun)

Geranium 'Bevan's' & 'Ingwersen's Variety' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevan’s’ & ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Bigroot Geranium: Of all the low growing plants in my garden, Geranium macrorrhizum‘s ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ (pale pink flower) and ‘Bevan’s Variety’ (rose pink flower) have remained some of my all time favorite geraniums. Although they prefer more shade than my full sun garden gives them (and often pout by wilting during the hottest days) if you tuck them under shrubs and trees, allowing them to wander at will, you will have small drifts of these aromatic (spicy, minty scent) perennials throughout any area you desire.

The darker flower of 'Bevan's Variety' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The darker flower of ‘Bevan’s Variety’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Yet, unlike bullish roamers that take over the garden and are impossible to dig out (roots to China and all that) bigroot geranium is easily controlled with a gentle tug of its rhizomatous root. The plants live peacefully around the base of shrubs and roses-without competing-and have the added bonus of deterring unwanted critters as well. Oh, and did I mention red fall color? (Zone 4-8, pink flower in spring, 8 inches tall, spreads, part shade or protected full sun)

Eryngium yuccifolium reaches skyward in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Eryngium yuccifolium reaches skyward (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Commonly called “Rattlesnake Master” (due to its former use as a treatment for rattlesnake bites), Eryngium yuccifolium is the boldest and most unusual of the sea hollies (actually, it is a member of the Apiaceae or parsley-carrot family). It gets quite tall (up to 5 feet) in summer, with spiky, prickly looking greyish-green foliage topped with oval flower heads in a hue of pale pistachio, guaranteed to stimulate conversation from any visitor to your garden. Eryngium yuccifolium is a host plant for Swallowtail butterfly larvae and provides nectar for many pollinators. (Zone 3-8, treat as temperennial and save some seed, tolerates dry and hot conditions, full sun)

Wild Quinine's pearly flower clusters in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Wild Quinine’s pearly flower clusters (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Wild quinine: As a lover of white flowers in the garden, this is one perennial I would simply not do without. Named for its huge leathery leaves, which were once used in tea to reduce fevers, Parthenium integrifolium generates a prominent statement with erect stems and pearly flower clusters the size of sand dollars (from June through September). Incredibly effective for a moon garden setting, the flowers dry naturally and remain sturdy and textural until cut down in winter. Wild quinine is native to dry prairies and as such tolerates all the bad things Mother Nature dishes out; from drought and baking sun, to the coldest winters. (Zone 4-8, 2-4 feet tall, full sun)

Spring is the perfect time to select new additions to your garden, enjoy the process and the results ♥


  1. I love the pale pink big root geranium and and am having difficulty finding it. Most nurseries carry only the magenta or blue “Roseanne”. Do you know of any local sources?

    • Hi Jean, I found my Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ many years ago at a small local garden center that is no longer in business. Interestingly enough, it morphed on its own and now I have some of the darker ‘Bevan’s Variety’ that I never planted! In all these years, I have only spotted macrorrhizum once in a local nursery – but it is listed on line if you’re comfortable with mail order plants, try: North Creek Nursery or Bluestone Perennials. If you’re willing to drive to my garden in Sherman, I would be happy to dig up and share a few plants!

  2. Phlox paniculata ‘Norah Leigh’ is on my top ten list for perennials. I don’t know where JCB lives but I’ve been seeing G. macrorrhizum around this season at a few CT nurseries. I got ‘Bevans’ at Natureworks a month or two ago but I know I’ve seen both in other places. Perennial selection at nurseries seems to be getting worse all around-especially if you like the more unusual plants.

    • Thanks for this info, Sue. I’m not a fan of buying plants on line, so hopefully Jean will be able to find something locally! You know, I never see Phlox paniculata ‘Norah Leigh’ anywhere either!!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

A Garden for All