Herbaceous Perennials: Earlier this year, we talked about perennials, focusing largely on how to germinate them, but also touching briefly on their versatility. Herbaceous perennials are particularly useful, growing in a variety of different textures, colours, and sizes. Some have colourful flowers, others have bright foliage, some grow wide, some grow tall, and some thrive in the shade.
Despite going dormant every winter, herbaceous perennials are often the common threads in a landscape, tying together otherwise disparate garden elements.
What are herbaceous perennials?
Perennials are defined as any plant that lives longer than two years in its current climate. There are three different types of perennials: woody, evergreen, and herbaceous.
- Woody perennials are plants and shrubs that have above-ground woody stems – including trees and shrubs. Common examples include:
- Bearberry (kinnickinnick uva-ursi)
- Salal (gaultheria shallon)
- Salmonberry (rubus spectabilis)
- Evergreen perennials are non-woody and have foliage and stems that remain through the year. Common examples include:
- Lilyturf (liriope muscari)
- Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia)
- Coral bells (heuchera)
Differing from woody and evergreen perennials, herbaceous perennials are non-woody plants that have foliage and stems that grown and bloom in the spring/summer, but die back into the ground during fall/winter. They’re incredibly versatile, with lots of great options for any areas of your yard.
Here are some of our favourites.
Our 11 Favourite Herbaceous Perennials
Ferns (various types)
A PNW classic, ferns – which include sword ferns, deer ferns, maidenhair ferns, and more – are an excellent shade-friendly option that looks great in virtually any circumstance. Planted close together, the can act as a groundcover, filling bare or unused garden spaces with unique textures and foliage.
Plantain Lily (Hosta sp.)
Another shade-friendly perennial, hostas come in a range of different colours including yellow, green, and blue, with broad, often variegated leaves and small white flowers in the spring and summer. In the right conditions, they can grow up to four feet in diameter, and look great planted near a garden’s edge at the base of taller plants.
Daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.)
Another great option for a perennial groundcover, daylilies are a staple in many gardens. Flowers can be very colourful, and they attract pollinators in the spring and summer. They’re hardy, but prefer sunny areas.
Astilbe (Astilbe sp.)
With bright flowers and slender, fern-like foliage, astilbe are another excellent option for a shaded area. Where other shade-tolerant perennials tend not to flower (or else flowers are very small), astilbe are bright and vivid, making your shady areas look like a full-sun pollinator garden.
Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra)
Most grasses are extremely versatile; they can be used as groundcovers, accents, feature plants, and more. Even among other grasses, though, hakone grass stands out. With bright green foliage that grows in a dense mound, it stands out especially well when it foregrounds darker-coloured plants.
Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)
Another perennial classic, black-eyed susans are sun-loving, with dense green foliage and tall black and yellow flowers. If you’re looking for pops of bright summer colour in your landscape that don’t distract from your feature plants, clusters of these herbaceous perennial are an amazing option.
Coneflower (Echinacea sp.)
With similar overall shape to black-eyed susans, echinacea grow tall and pink with a flower the slightly resembles a badminton birdie. They’re excellent for attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies, and they thrive in sunny areas.
Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum)
With simple clusters of white flowers, shasta daisies are an unassuming addition to any landscape, adding flowery clusters of sun-friendly interest.
Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora)
For a light vertical texture, look no further than feather reed grasses, which grow thin plumes of unassuming, wispy foliage. They’re low maintenance, hardy, and they look great.
A fragrant and aromatic pollinator plant, salvia grows thin purple flowers from clusters of bright green foliage. Plant near rocks and boulders to make them really stand out.
Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica)
A summery favourite, blood grass is a spreading grass that can be used simultaneously as a feature or an ornamental groundcover. With vivacious crimson blades, blood grasses are an amazing space-filler that adds bright colours and unique textures to your garden.
General Maintenance of Herbaceous Perennials
As a general rule, we like to cut herbaceous perennials back to the ground once the start to show signs of browning – usually in mid-late fall (November). As always, though, each plant has different needs, so make sure you’re researching each individual plant you’re installing before installation!
Herbaceous perennials, when added to a garden, can brighten your landscape dramatically, adding unique summer appeal to any area – as long as you know where best to plant them and how best to maintain them! Thankfully, they’re naturally low maintenance, requiring little supplemental watering or fertilizer.
If you’re in need of more garden design advice, or if you’d like help selecting perennials, consider getting in touch! We’ve love to hear from you!