Perennials can bring great variety and pomp to your garden

Opt for More Natives, Fewer Invasives
E. Spencer Toy

Perennials–those nonwoody plants that come back year after year–offer almost endless variety in color, texture, shape, and size, making them suitable for virtually any garden location. Many are prized for their flowers; aster and phlox are just two of these. Others, such as ferns and hostas, are valued for their foliage.

Unlike shrubs and trees, perennials do not have permanent woody parts. But while some die down completely at the end of each growing season, then reappear at the start of the next, others spend the winter as low tufts of foliage, ready to grow when weather warms. And a third type is truly evergreen, with foliage nearly unchanged throughout winter.

All perennials have a minimum lifespan of more than 2 years–but beyond this, longevity varies enormously. Some grace the garden for only a few years, while others survive much, much longer (peonies, for example, can live for generations).

Though flowering perennials are often grown in borders, you’ll also find them just about everywhere else. They may replace the front lawn or fill a parking strip; they may be used in the vegetable garden to add color and edge planting beds. Some gardeners set them among established shrubs to provide variety and add a touch of color to a predominantly green, leafy planting.