As staff horticulturist, part of my job is to plant and maintain a display garden. I grow many of the newest perennials on the market and evaluate them here in zone 5. Improved varieties of some North American native plants were among the most outstanding plants in the garden during the 2007 growing season.
One of the most exciting groups of native perennials is heuchera (HUE-ker-ah), also known as coral bells. Low-growing rosettes of lobed leaves look great from early spring right through autumn. The wiry flower stalks hold dozens of sweet little pink, red, or white bell-shaped flowers. The new varieties come in a smörgåsbord of descriptive leaf colors, such as Caramel, Tiramisu, Ginger Ale, Peach Flambé, and Lime Rickey.They grow best in partly shady spots, but the fuzzy-leafed Heuchera villosa varieties also tolerate full sun in cool climates. For help getting started with these and other shade-loving plants, read Gardening in the Shade.
Black Adder agastache (a-guh-STA-key), another native, received lots of favorable comments from garden visitors, too. These sun-loving perennials bloom for months. The brushy, blue-violet flower spikes attract hummingbirds and flocks of butterflies. My favorite varieties are Black Adder, Blue Fortune, and kiwi-green Golden Jubilee. I bought potted plants, but seeds are available, too. Established plants sailed through our droughty summer with no watering and still looked great in September. As an added bonus, deer leave the anise-scented foliage alone.