Even though there aren’t as many plants offered this year as usual, there still are several stunners in the Class of 2016.

Share story

NOT AS MANY plants are being introduced this year, due to breeders and growers pulling back when the market fell off during the Recession. Due to the production cycle, it takes several years to get enough quantity in the pipeline to introduce anything new. But it seems to me that every spring we have plenty of new plants to covet and experiment with … especially when it comes to herbaceous perennials and vines in this winning new lineup for 2016.

Clematis ‘Boulevard Parisienne’ smothers itself in large lavender flowers from spring through summer. Its stems are sturdy and sufficiently compact at only 3 to 4 feet long, so this beauty of a vine works as well in containers as in the garden.

There’s a new perennial dianthus (AKA pinks or carnations) that transcends the cottage-garden category these familiar florist plants usually fall into. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve often bought Dianthus barbatus ‘Green Ball’ as a cut flower, not even realizing this textural puff of a flower is a dianthus. Now that I know it’s a hardy perennial, I plan on planting dozens of them, as few flowers are as outstanding in bouquets. In the garden, it’ll no doubt be mistaken for the first green allium. The oh-so-appropriately named ‘Green Ball’ grows about a foot high, likes plenty of sunshine and blooms late spring into summer.

We’re all looking, or should be, for plants that require less supplemental water, like the new Russian sage Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Denim ’n Lace’. These long-blooming perennials thrive on sun and neglect, but many grow tall and leggy, and flop over. Not ‘Denim ’n Lace’. It’s shorter than the species, with strong stems and an upright habit. The colorful flowers attract hummingbirds. The fragrant foliage makes it deer-resistant.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Also in the non-fussy, sun-loving category is an airy new switch grass with rose-pink suffused leaves and flowers. Panicum virgatum Prairie Winds ‘Apache Rose’ grows in an upright dense clump 3 to 4 feet tall, and blooms late summer through autumn.

The most unusual new perennial I could find is, believe it or not, a milkweed, beloved by birds, bees and butterflies. Asclepias ‘Monarch Promise’ might be the plant irresistibly showy enough to launch a great many butterfly gardens. The green and white leaves are tipped in red, orange and pink. And the vivid red-orange flowers attract bees and hummingbirds as well as butterflies.

Another flower that draws pollinators to the garden is Monarda, and ‘Leading Lady Plum’ is a new cultivar in a vibrant shade of violet. It’s a perfect front-of-the-border plant, growing only a foot high. This leading lady loves sun, moist soil and, like all monardas, needs good air circulation to prevent mildewed foliage.

And what would summer be without a new coneflower or two? I’d guess that one of the best (and perhaps this is only because I’m so taken with the color) might turn out to be Echinacea ‘Rainbow Butterfly Marcella’. It’s compact enough for smaller gardens, drought-tolerant, and a bee and butterfly magnet. Its coloration is intense and ever-changing through the season. The buds come on a deep tangerine orange, mature to raspberry pink and fade to a pastel rose that lasts until frost. If you resist cutting them down in winter, even coneflower skeletons draw birds to the garden.