I am often asked, “What is your favorite flower in the King’s Garden?”, and usually the answer is different every time. It is difficult to pick just one favorite when there are so many to choose from! The twelve plants listed below are the perennials that I enjoy most and recommend to many gardeners.
Anchusa ‘Dropmore’ is a dramatic plant with vivid, deep blue flowers and hairy stems. This 1905 selection is still widely available today and is best suited for the back of the border. While it can be challenging to grow, the reward is worth the effort.
Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’
Bearded iris ‘Iris King’ remains in the King’s Garden from the 1920s. While there are several varieties here, the history behind this one pushes it to the top of my list. I could not live without bearded irises in my garden. The sword-shaped foliage is attractive and the vibrant blooms atop long, slender stems make them a garden stand out. It is easy to share varieties with gardening friends by dividing the clump of rhizomes every few years.
Iris hybrid ‘Iris King’
Dahlia tubers are unassuming when you plant them in spring. It is amazing how much flower power is in that small root! Our dinner plate dahlias steal the show in late summer and early fall when their large, colorful flowers are displayed against the garden’s brick walls. There is a size and color dahlia that will suit any garden. As with all tropical natives, lift and store your dahlia tubers in autumn.
Dahlia hybrid ‘Otto’s thrill’
Delphinium is a well-known flower of cottage gardens with its tall, stately spikes of color. Many hybrids are available in shades of white, violet, blue and pink. This garden classic mixes well with both soft and bold colors. This plant is fussy, so give it lots of attention to keep the oohs and aahs coming.
Delphinium x elatum
Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’ is a plant that once you discover it, you will always want it! It blooms in late summer and autumn when many other plants have finished flowering. Also known as White snakeroot, the fuzzy white flower clusters attract butterflies with their vanilla scent, while the deep colored foliage makes a statement of its own. Use it at the back of the border or as a specimen plant where its tall and wide habit can enhance your display.
Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’
Globe thistle is a plant I grew up with and have admired for a long time. My grandmother grew it at her farmhouse. The texture is fantastic; spiky steel-blue flowers appear over several weeks in summer on sturdy four-foot plants. This adaptable, deer resistant, easy to grow plant is as tough as it is interesting.
Hollyhocks are an old fashioned flower whose popularity has not waned. Many people get a feeling of nostalgia remembering a garden in their past that contained hollyhocks. This tall, colorful, and showy biennial, used at one time to screen outhouses, comes in a rainbow of colors in single and double forms. I leave some seed heads to mature and find new plants happily growing where they have self-seeded.
Lady’s Mantle makes the list because it is attractive throughout the seasons and easy to grow. The mounded foliage is clean and coarse, while the chartreuse flowers are light and airy. After a rain or on dewy mornings, beads of water remain on the foliage, glittering like diamonds. I love this plant in the front of the border in combination with bold colors.
Lavender cannot be ignored as an outstanding addition to any perennial border. While fussy about soil and location, once established you will enjoy this woody perennial for years. The aromatic leaves and flowers can be dried for use in sachets or potpourri. The foliage fades from gray-green to silver-gray in our cold climate where it adds winter interest to the garden setting.
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’
Lupine shines in the late spring garden with its spires of purple flowers in robust clusters. This member of the pea family actually improves your soil by fixing nitrogen. The compound foliage is attractive all season and lupine will bloom later on if faded flowers are removed. Someday I will get to the Lupine Festival in New Hampshire where the wild form blooms in meadows and along roadsides in June.
Lupinus polyphyllus ‘Russell series Governor’
Peony plants act like shrubs in the perennial border. After the large, heavily scented flowers have passed by in June, the deep green, glossy foliage remains. Peonies survive for decades with little care but cutting them back in late fall. This classic favorite will add beauty to your sunny or partly shaded garden.
Sneezeweed does not cause allergies, so don’t worry about adding it to your perennial display. The rich, warm-colored blooms brighten the autumn garden and continue until frost. The perfect compliment to asters, their stems tower to five feet on well-branched plants. Many cultivars are available, including shorter varieties for smaller garden spaces. This is an indispensible plant for late season interest.
Heidi teRiele Karkoski
Director of Horticulture