New plant hybrids are released every year, promising the latest and greatest bloom, color, form or disease-resistance. It’s hard to narrow down a list of perennials to just 10 of my favorites. But it’s also an excellent exercise to really think about why I love these plants. Having designed landscapes for over twenty years, planting design is an ever-evolving exercise in creativity and problem-solving.  That being said, I have a palette of perennials that are proven tough, hardy and reliable performers in zone 4 gardens.  The common thread is these species require very little TLC to thrive, giving back so much more than they ask for. And they all have that extra something special that makes them stand out from the rest of the crowd.  If you aren’t familiar with them already, I encourage you to give any or all of these a try in your own personal landscape.

Allium tanguticum ‘Summer Beauty’

In the ornamental onion family, this striking plant has grass-like foliage with nodding lavender globe flowers in early summer.  Truly unique and deer/rabbit resistant.

Anemone sylvestris ‘Snowdrop’

Cheery white flowers with bright yellow centers create a joyful moment in the garden in late spring/early summer.  Some might not agree, but I love that it self-seeds and pops up throughout the perennial bed year to year, creating unexpected plant combinations to great natural effect.

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

A vibrant specimen perennial, the Aralia’s large size and bright chartreuse foliage demand your attention and your respect.

Astilbe japonica ‘Delft Lace’

There are so many Astilbes to pick from, but I have great fondness for Delft Lace’s burgundy tinged foliage and its deep red flower buds opening to soft pink blooms.

Asarum canadense  – Wild Ginger

This woodland groundcover is a tough Minnesota native.   Its kidney-shaped leaves create masses of billowy soft green foliage.   Added fun in the spring is to look for the red tubular flowers hidden under the foliage.

Athrium ‘Ghost’ – Ghost Fern 

This hybrid is a sophisticated addition to any shade garden.  You get the beautiful silver/blue/burgundy foliage of the Japanese Painted Fern with the greater height of Lady Fern.

Echinacea ‘Pixie Meadowbrite’ – Coneflower

A dwarf version of the native Purple Coneflower, you get all the same flowers in a tidy compact plant.

Geranium ‘Biokovo’

You can use Biokovo as a specimen planting, but its best value comes planting it in mass as a spreading groundcover in both sun or part shade.  The heavily-lobed foliage is as beautiful as its whitish-pink violet-like flowers.  A bonus is the foliage turns red in the fall.   A hard-working plant.

Perovskia ‘Little Spire’ – Russian Sage

A dwarf version of the traditional Russian Sage, this plant gives you a big bang of lacy blue flowers while staying tidier and more upright than the original.

Polygonatum falcatum ‘Variegatum’ – Variegated Solomon’s Seal

One of my all-time favorite shade plants, the Solomon’s Seal tall, arching form is the perfect foil for all your hostas.  It will thrive anywhere a hosta does, so plant it with confidence.  The plant might not look like much when you bring it home, but after two growing seasons the plant will have expanded to a hefty clump of stems.  The variegated foliage brightens any corner in your garden, and the fragrant white flowers dangling underneath the arching stems are a delightful surprise to uncover.