The word “perennial” suggests something that lasts forever. If you were looking for a synonym, you’d choose a word like “enduring” “everlasting” or “eternal.” But not all perennials are long-lived perennials. In fact, the dictionary definition of the word suggests that any plant that lives for more than two years qualifies as a perennial. For a perennial gardener, however, two years–no matter how beautiful the flower and the plant–is never long enough. Here are some of my favorite long-lived perennials. I call them Grandfathers of the Garden. Take good care of them and they may outlast you!
Paeonia or Peonies have an astonishing long life–even more than a hundred years–and require very little attention. Perennials with persistent long-life genetics are the backbone and sustaining strength of the flower garden. Insuring the long life of perennial Grandfathers is the same as for every other perennial. They must be planted in their comfort zone. Peony’s comfort zone is amended, well-drained soil in full sun. Without a site like this, they will dwindle and may die. Some long-lasting perennials demand a damp shady location for them to persist. The ancient ferns that appear in rock and fossil records from millions of years ago grew in shady, damp areas and we would not be blessed with ferns today had their only environment been in full sun.
To insure the abiding qualities of these tenacious perennials, begin by planting them where they are programmed to grow and add deep compost. This nutrition must be available for a long time. Long-lived perennials are slower to establish, needing extra time to develop root systems.
Daffodils, symbols of spring, are favorites because of their carefree, sunshiny demeanor. Planting daffodil bulbs in fall (at least ten-inches deep to slow down the Rocky Mountains freeze/thaw situations in spring) will add to longevity and maintain larger blooms. Year after year, daffodils bloom in spring, go dormant in summer and sleep all winter. Dormancy and resting may be their key to long life.
Dictamnus, or gas plant takes forever to get established but will provide years of showy pale flowers with dark veins on hardy pest- and deer-resistant plants. Gas Plant grows as a medium sized shrub-shaped perennial with excellent green waxy foliage and adds class in either the front or middle of the flower bed.
Wild Geraniums are not only long-lived but dependable and trouble-free. Their long tap roots give them drought tolerance and they are pest and deer-resistant. Wild geranium grows best with a touch of shade in the higher elevations.
Ornamental grasses add grace, magnificence and longevity to the garden. They furnish four seasons of interest with their low-maintenance, deer-resistant majesty. The secret to healthy ornamental grasses is a limited use of fertilizers, which will shorten the life of the plant.
Hemerocallis or daylilies are permanent, attractive, tough and extremely adaptable perennials that thrive anywhere in the United States. Large clumps can be divided in spring and replanted to insure the plant’s longevity.
Sedum, ‘Autumn Joy’s common name is live forever and the name describes the long life of this marvelous perennial. ‘Autumn Joy’ is wearing its silvery summer foliage in the above picture but the blooms will turn a deep rusty pink as fall arrives.
Short filipendula resembles a fern and stays in this perfect shape all season. In June, tall, graceful, creamy white blooms will rise up on wiry stems adding a much-needed pop of white to the garden. These are only a few of the Grandfathers of the garden. Aconitum, aruncus, hosta and pulmonaria are also noted for their longevity. It’s interesting that information of the life span of a perennial is never included on tags or labels and rarely mentioned in perennial catalogs but all of these are hardy and long-lived in the Rocky Mountains.
More Great Long-lived Perennials
The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum demonstration gardens show many more sun-loving, long-lived perennials. Take a look at some of these: