“Persistent” Perennials

Glossy evergreen European Ginger with fallen Acer foliage in early November.

I’m already missing the technicolor foliage of early November, but so it is and it’s not ALL brown out there. During this morning’s garden stroll my gaze caught sight of  various shades of green, silver, and even gold…not only from conifers but from perennials with persistent foliage.

Helleborus foetidus

It’s good to remember there are perennials that retain handsome foliage into winter. Some are considered semi-evergreen as their leaves may finally succumb once the temperatures drop into the low teens.  In order to extend their attractiveness, consider planting in a protected spot, perhaps close to the house or at the base of larger evergreens.   

Of course there are the Hellebores. There is Helleborus foetidus which begins to set bud in mild December weather, and the legendary Christmas Rose (the hybrid clones ‘Jacob’ and ‘Josef Lemper’ can begin flowering by Thanksgiving).  The many Helleborus orientalis clones retain their leaves but won’t set buds until March in our area.

Cyclamen coum

Another shade lover is Asarum europeanum commonly called European Ginger,  with its glossy dark green round foliage persists all winter. By spring it will need a cut back to welcome fresh new growth.  It doesn’t increase that quickly but is hardy in zones 4-8.

Hardy Cyclamen bloom in autumn, but their attractive foliage persists through winter. They love dry shade and actually do well at the base of trees with root competition. The two species to try are C. coum and C. hederifolium, both of which are hardy in zones 6-10.

Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’

A walk about the garden offered Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’,  other wise known as Lords and Ladies, which pops up in the October garden from summer dormancy and remains until late spring.

Rhodea japonica foliage in December.

Rhodea japonica (Japanese Sacred Lily) is grown for its evergreen lustrous dark green strap-like  foliage . We’ve had this in the garden for 20 years, a testament to its hardiness.

Very happy Epimedium ‘Domino’ foliage.

Many Epidemium are considered semi evergreen here in southern New England. ‘Domino’ , pictured above, looks especially sturdy despite last night’s temperatures in the mid 20’s.

More shade area candidates: Disporopsis pernyi is commonly referred to as Evergreen Solomons Seal.  It will form nice thicket in a shady protected bed. Of the persistent ferns, I especially like the Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern).

Sedum reflexum 'Angelina'

Sedum ruprestre ‘Angelina’

Don’t forget that Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks) and a number of Sedum species keep their foliage year round.  There’s golden leaved Sedum ruprestre ‘Angelina’ which takes on amber tones.  Another evergreen little creeper is Sedum album ‘Coral  Carpet’. Cold temperatures will bring out coral red tints to the dark green succulent leaves.

Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’

Many gardeners have a disdain for Yucca, but I celebrate its ability to put up with hot sunny dry conditions, produce bayonet stalks with white lily flowers which attract hummingbirds and pollinators, and  for the their architectural form in winter.  Yucca ‘Color Guard’  boasts  yellow variegation that glows.

Euphorbia myrsinites

Other candidates for a sunny well drained spot are some of the Euphorbia (Spurge).   Euphorbia myrsinites, above, perpetuates by self sowing in poor gravelly soil.and is hardy in zones  5-9.

I do try year after year to winter over outdoors the Euphorbia x martinii hybrids such as Ascot Rainbow’ ,  not always with success. They are listed as being hardy in zone 6, but I stress this is only in a protected spot with great drainage. The ascending stems will bear showy flower bracts come early spring (flowers are formed on last year’s stems), but that is only if they do not get blasted by arctic winds.  Plants may not die, but the top growth will need to be cut back hard. The plants will break ground with new foliage growth in the spring.

There are many evergreen Euphorbia native to the Mediterranean  which are hardy to zones 7-8.  We are in zone 6B (I won’t say 7 yet).  I think with climate change upon us, we may soon be able to grow more Euphorbia species here in Southern New England.

Please share which persistent perennials you have in your garden.

11 thoughts on ““Persistent” Perennials”

  1. I love the texture of bergenia to anchor a planting, and also their indestructible nature. The rosettes of foxgloves and primroses will stay green for most of the winter. Culinary sage and thyme will hang in there for quite a while. I have several types of heuchera that do pretty well, especially the deep purple ones. But the deer will eat them. I am also growing Juncus ‘Blue Dart’ for the first time, which is supposed to be evergreen. And the self sown seedings of nigella are completely cold hardy, and will just hang out there until spring. I garden in NY, zone 5b-6.

  2. A “better” epimedium is E. sempervirens ‘Violet Queen’ which has lovely burgandy red color leaves in the winter. Also, not “persistent,” but snakebark maple var. Flamingo has red bark (sort of like the japanese maple Sango Kaku).

  3. I have Geranium ‘Biokovo’ which still has persistent leaves with a tinge of bronze color in zone 6. Also all of the Thymus varieties , upright and groundcovers are persisting. And of course, all types of the lavendula are a nice frosty gray. Best of all, all three are not bothered by deer (yet)!

  4. Yes, Karen H! Thank you for the added suggestions…the spreading, low Cranesbills are good examples of persistent perennials, as are Lavender and Thyme…I was also going to add Hieracium (Mouse Ear Hawkweed) for its silver felted foliage.

  5. Thank you Linus for reminding me of ‘Violet Queen’. The species name “sempervirens” means always green, and that is a clue when we are looking for persistent perennials.

  6. Amanda, Thank you for sharing your favorite persistent perennials. I almost included an image of the rosettes of silver leaved Verbascum thapsus, common Mullein, which looks pretty fabulous in our gravel garden. Bergenia has always struggled in our zone 6 garden, except for the deciduous species. I keep trying them in a more protected spot…perhaps it’s our soil type. Juncus sounds like a great addition..haven’t grown this one. We’ve had good luck with some of the Ophiopogon ‘Pamela Harper’ and the species O. chingii (gets surreal blue berries) in protected spots as well.

  7. I have a few Hellebores Niger”Jacob”, which I bought in Trader Joes about 5 years ago for my Christmas table. They were so gorgeous that I decided to plant them! They’ve been blooming every year starting around Thanksgiving, and bloom for many weeks. I’ve since added more varieties and paired them with Carex “ Evergold”, as seen in an article at Gardenia.net, which suggests planting schemes for particular plants. I must say it looks smashing!!

  8. It’s the beginning of December, and Carex ‘Bowles Golden’ is still shining here in zone 6. Just love that plant. Really peps up indoor arrangements, too.

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