Best Perennials and Ornamental Grasses

By June Hutson


Actaea matsumurae 'White Pearl'
bugbane
Herbaceous perennial

This plant's pure white blooms can really light up a shady corner in the garden. It also has a very pleasing vertical habit.
Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant'
bugleweed
Herbaceous perennial

I find this plant to be a great choice for St. Louis' heat and humidity. It withstands our summers better than most.
Amsonia hubrichtii
blue star
Herbaceous perennial

This is a good plant with showy foliage. It is an enjoyable addition to the summertime garden.
Amsonia tabernaemontana
blue star
Herbaceous perennial
 
The bright yellow fall foliage on this plant is one of its best characteristics in my book.
Anemone x hybrida 'Königin Charlotte' QUEEN CHARLOTTE
Japanese anemone
Herbaceous perennial
 
I love this plant for its pink color which shines brightly in fall foliage. It tends to flop a little so you may need to stake it to keep it looking tidy.
Aquilegia flabellata var. pumila
fan columbine
Herbaceous perennial

I've found this columbine to have fewer problems with leaf miners. It lives longer than other columbines.
Asarum canadense
wild ginger
Herbaceous perennial

If you are looking for a good alternative to euonymous ground cover, this is the one. It will not remain evergreen though.
Asclepias tuberosa
butterfly weed
Herbaceous perennial

This plant requires patience since it takes forever to return in the spring, but it's worth the wait.
Astilbe chinensis var. pumila
Chinese astilbe
Herbaceous perennial

This Plant of Merit spreads very rapidly and will turn into a large, showy clump in no time.
Astilbe 'Deutschland'
astilbe
Herbaceous perennial

This is a wonderful long-time favorite. It still gives one of the best shows in the spring garden.
Astilbe 'Sprite'
astilbe
Herbaceous perennial

I like to use this plant for its shiny foliage which remains handsome long after it has finished blooming.
  Baptisia australis
blue false indigo
Herbaceous perennial

The attractive, stately form is just one reason why this plant earned the title of Plant of Merit.  Since the clump gets very wide quickly, give it lots of room to show off.

Baptisia bracteata
false indigo
Herbaceous perennial

I plant this plant for its different flower color. Make sure you visit it often because the blooms don't last quite as long as other baptisias.

Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana
hardy begonia
Herbaceous perennial

I love having a perennial begonia in my garden. Remember not to pull it up in the fall but just prune off the foliage at ground level.
Blephilia ciliata
Ohio horsemint
Herbaceous perennial

Every garden needs something unexpected. Plant this one for its exotic look. It will reward you by naturalizing very easily.
Boltonia asteroides var. latisquama 'Snowbank'
false aster
Herbaceous perennial

Invite nature into your garden by using this Plant of Merit. The bees and butterflies simply love it.
Brunnera macrophylla
Siberian bugloss
Herbaceous perennial

Once you discover this plant you will understand why it is a true Plant of Merit. To keep it vigorous you must provide it with soil rich in organic matter.
Calamintha nepeta
calamint
Herbaceous perennial

This is a wonderful plant but requires a watchful eye and a little work to keep it in bounds.
Callirhoe involucrata
purple poppy mallow
Herbaceous perennial

This Plant of Merit has the unique quality of being able to weave itself happily amongst the rest of the flowers in the garden. It will give your garden a relaxed, natural look.
Centranthus ruber
red valerian
Herbaceous perennial

One of my favorite plants to give your garden that "heirloom" look is centranthus. It also has a delightful habit of repeat blooming all summer.
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
plumbago
Herbaceous perennial

This is a nice addition to the perennial garden. Make a note not to remove its foliage during your fall cleanup.
Chelone glabra
turtlehead
Herbaceous perennial

This plant is a good choice for a really wet spot or even a bog garden.
Chelone obliqua
turtlehead
Herbaceous perennial

I recommend trying this plant in your garden. You can either weed out or share the seedlings since it self-seeds easily.
Clematis heracleifolia
clematis
Herbaceous perennial

Try planting this one for something different. It is definitely underutilized and very attractive.
Clematis recta 'Purpurea'
clematis
Herbaceous perennial

An attractive feature to this plant is that the new foliage is purple. Be sure to provide it with support so it does not flop over.
Conoclinium coelestinum
blue mistflower
Herbaceous perennial

Some nice perennials have the not-so-nice habit of spreading all over. You will need to keep an eye on this one.
Coreopsis verticillata 'Grandiflora'
threadleaf coreopsis
Herbaceous perennial

This delightful plant will bloom all summer without being deadheaded. What could be better?
Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'
threadleaf coreopsis
Herbaceous perennial
 
Every perennial gardener should make a spot for this easy plant. If you provide it with an acid soil, it will reward you many times over.
Cunila origanoides
common dittany
Herbaceous perennial

I value this plant for its wonderful pungent foliage.
Dicentra 'Luxuriant'
bleeding heart
Herbaceous perennial

The foliage of this plant is a great treat in the spring perennial garden . It may not stay attractive as the summer heats up.
Dicentra spectabilis
bleeding heart
Herbaceous perennial

Bleeding heart is an old-fashioned spring tradition with its softly arching flower stalks and wonderful deeply cut foliage. Summer heat will make this plant go dormant and may cause root damage too.
Echinacea pallida
pale purple coneflower
Herbaceous perennial

This species of coneflower grows happily in even drier soils than the ever-popular purpurea variety. Finches will love the seed heads if left to ripen on the plant.
Echinacea paradoxa
yellow coneflower
Herbaceous perennial

If you have a rock garden, this is the coneflower for you. This hardy species has been used as a parent to many of the new cultivars on the market.
Echinacea purpurea
purple coneflower
Herbaceous perennial

This great drought-tolerant plant is a butterfly magnet when in bloom. The petals reflex giving it an instantly recognizable look.
Echinacea tennesseensis
Tennessee coneflower
Herbaceous perennial

If you love mysteries try this variety of coneflower. It crosses readily with other coneflower species so who knows what jewel you might discover.
Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum'
bishop's hat
Herbaceous perennial

If this outstanding plant tried out for the "Survivor" series it would surely be a winner. How many plants can happily tolerate dry shade and spread to form an attractive ground cover too? A 2005 Plant of Merit, this hybrid has proven to be the most reliable of the genus and will survive some sun too!
Epimedium x warleyense
bishop's hat
Herbaceous perennial

Who wouldn't love a plant that tolerates dry shade? This unusual hybrid has beautiful orange flowers in spring, too.

Eryngium yuccafolium
rattlesnake master
Herbaceous perennial
 
If you are interested in adding a desert look to your garden, this plant is a nice addition. It will seed abundantly so plan on it spreading in the future.

Galium odoratum
sweet woodruff
Herbaceous perennial

This is a handy plant to add to your garden as it grows reliably under deciduous trees and shrubs. Especially nice under azaleas and rhododendrons.
Geranium maculatum
wild geranium
Herbaceous perennial

To keep this geranium looking tidy, cut it back after blooming to promote a new flush of handsome foliage.

Geranium sanguineum
bloody cranesbill
Herbaceous perennial

This is the hardiest of all the perennial geraniums and will earn its spot in the garden. The delicate foliage will turn an attractive red color in the fall.

Geum triflorum
purple avens
Herbaceous perennial

Don't try to spoil this plant, it doesn't like the attention. Provide it with lean soil to keep it happy.
No image Glandularia canadensis
verbena
Herbaceous perennial

Try substituting this plant in place of annual verbenas since it suffers less from insects and diseases.
Helianthus salicifolius
willow-leaved sunflower
Herbaceous perennial

This Plant of Merit boasts better drought tolerance. It has attractive narrow leaves on smoother stems. For best performance, prune back by one-half in spring.
Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra 'Sommersonne' SUMMER SUN
ox eye
Herbaceous perennial

This tall beauty will charm you through the heat of summer with her dancing daisy-like flowers of yellow-orange. It is happiest among other tall perennials or when grown with some support for the best display.
Helleborus orientalis
hellebore
Herbaceous perennial

No garden should be without hellebores to grace the dawn of each new season. Nothing is more welcome than walking along a path where the nodding flowers greet you in the chilly air of spring. When left to mature this Plant of Merit forms colonies and the foliage stays evergreen in mild winters.
Heuchera americana
coral bells
Herbaceous perennial

An excellent addition to a native garden, this heuchera is underused primarily due to the fact that it has solid green leaves.
Heuchera 'Montrose Ruby'
coral bells
Herbaceous perennial

With its beautiful red coloring, this heuchera is hard to find but worth the effort since it is so reliable to grow.
Heuchera 'Purple Sails'
coral bells
Herbaceous perennial

The maple-like leaves of 'Purple Sails' adds such a nice touch to the front of the border. It is not susceptible to mid-summer rot like many of the coral bells.
Heuchera x brizoides 'Chatterbox'
coral bells
Herbaceous perennial

One of the older varieties of heuchera, the airy coral sprays of flowers dry well for a long-lasting display.
Hibiscus coccineus
scarlet rose mallow
Herbaceous perennial

This species is called swamp hibiscus for a good reason - it loves wet soil. Not only will this plant stop traffic but hummingbirds will be waiting in line for a chance to visit it too.
Hibiscus lasiocarpos
rose mallow
Herbaceous perennial

This is an handsome relatively unknown species with long wooly leaves.
Hylotelephium 'Herbstfreude' AUTUMN JOY
stonecrop
Herbaceous perennial

I love the fact that the color of 'Autumn Joy' goes with almost anything. It's a very versatile plant.
Hylotelephium spectabile 'Brilliant'
hylotelephium
Herbaceous perennial

This is a great plant. Leave the blooms on all winter to add winter interest to your garden.
Kalimeris mongolica
double Japanese aster
Herbaceous perennial
 
One very desirable feature of this plant in that it will flower all summer. That makes it a winner in my garden!
Leucanthemum x superbum 'Alaska'
shasta daisy
Herbaceous perennial

This is an old variety but still one of the best. It does become floppy though, and is hard to stake in an artistic manner.
Liatris pycnostachya
prairie blazing star
Herbaceous perennial

I love this plant because it is a great plant for attracting butterflies.
Liatris spicata 'Kobold'
blazing star
Herbaceous perennial

A great plant but rabbits can be a problem as they always seem to like to nibble at its bulbous base.
Limonium platyphyllum
sea lavender
Herbaceous perennial

I find the airy mass of flowers very charming. It does need staking, however.
Liriope muscari 'Big Blue'
lily turf
Herbaceous perennial

As the name suggests, this is a larger growing plant but it is very sturdy. A winner in my garden.
Liriope muscari 'Variegata'
lily turf
Herbaceous perennial

I've always found this plant to be a very hardy standby that makes a good, tough ground cover.
Liriope spicata 'Gin-ryu' SILVER DRAGON
lily turf
Herbaceous perennial

Has proven quite hardy and I love its unusual white (with some green) foliage. Parts of the plant may revert. Dig these parts out so you don't lose the variegated part of the plant.
Lobelia cardinalis
cardinal flower
Herbaceous perennial

I've always found this to be one of the best plants for hummingbirds. It's only drawback is that its flowering period is short.
Lobelia siphilitica
blue cardinal flower
Herbaceous perennial

Once you've had this wonderful plant it should come back year after year and will spread, controllably, by reseeding itself.
Lonactis linariifolius
stiff aster
Herbaceous perennial

This is a wonderful, little-used plant that is a nice addition to the front of the border.
Lychnis coronaria
rose campion
Herbaceous perennial

Parents of the plant can be short-lived, but I've had very good luck in having the plant reseed itself so I'm never without it.
Manfreda virginica
false aloe
Herbaceous perennial

This is a great substitute for yucca and has attractive seed heads to boot.
Mazus reptans
mazus
Herbaceous perennial

I love to use this plant between stepping stones. Keep it watered during dry periods as it doesn't like to get too dry.
Mertensia virginica
Virginia bluebells
Herbaceous perennial

Wonderful for spring flowers but the foliage will die down in late spring. I like to plant it between hostas as hostas come up later and the leaves of hosta will then cover the space left by the dying bluebell foliage.
Nepeta subsessilis
nepeta
Herbaceous perennial

I find this a very useful plant as the gray foliage is attractive when the plant is not blooming.
Origanum laevigatum 'Herrenhausen'
ornamental oregano
Herbaceous perennial

I love to use this plant in containers where its weeping flowers can be appreciated close-up.
Pachysandra terminalis
Japanese pachysandra
Herbaceous perennial

Very common, but still one of the best evergreen ground covers in my book.
Paeonia lactiflora 'Sarah Bernhardt'
peony
Herbaceous perennial

This is still one of the best peonies and you can always count on the foliage looking good.
Penstemon cobaea
dew flower
Herbaceous perennial

You will fall in love with the robust, lovely lavender flower of this reseeding biennial as I have.
Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red'
beardtongue
Herbaceous perennial

I think the most attractive feature of this hardy perennial is its foliage color. It can flop, however, so plan on staking it.
Perovskia atriplicifolia
Russian sage
Herbaceous perennial

This is certainly one of the best long-season bloomers for our area.
Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firetail'
mountain fleece
Herbaceous perennial

'Firetail' is a robust grower that needs lot of room.
Phlox pilosa var. ozarkana
prairie phlox
Herbaceous perennial

This is a great plant for a rocky soil. It is best to cut it back after it has bloomed.
Pollia japonica
pollia
Herbaceous perennial

I love to include this plant in a garden for its tropical look. The lovely blue fruit is as lovely as it is unusual.
Polygonatum biflorum
Solomon's seal
Herbaceous perennial

I like this plant because it is the smallest of the group and makes a very nice ground cover.
Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum 'Variegatum'
Solomon's seal
Herbaceous perennial

You'll love this plant for its very architectural habit and its season-long clean foliage.
Pulmonaria longifolia subsp. cevennensis
pulmonaria
Herbaceous perennial

Probably the best lungwort for standing up to our summer heat and winter wetness.
Pycnanthemum tenuifolium
slender mountain mint
Herbaceous perennial

I find that the pungent scent of the foliage is this plant's best attribute.
Ratibida pinnata
grey-head coneflower
Herbaceous perennial

The reflexed petals add a lovely look to this plant, which will reseed readily in your garden.
Rodgersia pinnata
rodgersia
Herbaceous perennial

A wonderful plant but give it a humusy soil and don't let the soil dry out.
Rudbeckia missouriensis
Missouri coneflower
Herbaceous perennial

I like this plant because it is less invasive than R. hirta. It is also more delicate.
Ruellia humilis
wild petunia
Herbaceous perennial

Can reseed itself all over the garden, but I find that a plus. Won't emerge until late in spring.
Salvia azurea var. grandiflora
blue sage
Herbaceous perennial
 
The flowers are a lovely shade of blue but it can have quite a sprawling habit if not grown with tall partners.
Salvia transsylvanica
sage
Herbaceous perennial

This salvia holds up well to summer heat and blooms periodically.
Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain'
lilac sage
Herbaceous perennial
Never covered in flowers, but still nice.
Salvia x sylvestris 'Blauhügel' BLUE HILL
wood sage
Herbaceous perennial

The flowers of BLUE HILL are smaller than other varieties but the bushy habit of the plant makes it desirable.
Scutellaria incana
skullcap
Herbaceous perennial

I love this plant because it is long blooming in either sun or shade.
Sedum album 'Coral Carpet'
white stonecrop
Herbaceous perennial

This plant makes a good ground cover and you'll love the unusual foliage.
Sedum kamtschaticum var. ellacombeanum
orange stonecrop
Herbaceous perennial

A good ground cover that is almost evergreen. Good for dry areas.
Sedum 'Rosy Glow'
stonecrop
Herbaceous perennial

A good sedum to add to your garden for its late bloom time.
Sedum ternatum
three-leaved stonecrop
Herbaceous perennial

Unlike most sedums this one will do well in deep shade. A real plus in my book!
Silene regia
royal catchfly
Herbaceous perennial

Let this plant grow and reseed where it will. It can be hard to grow it as a single stand.
Solidago 'Crown of Rays'
goldenrod
Herbaceous perennial

Better than most tall goldenrods and it is not invasive!
Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks'
rough goldenrod
Herbaceous perennial

One of my top choices for a mid-sized goldenrod for the middle of the border.
Solidago sphacelata 'Golden Fleece'
goldenrod
Herbaceous perennial

You'll fall in love with the cascading habit of this goldenrod as we at the Kemper Center have.
Stachys byzantina 'Big Ears'
lamb's ear
Herbaceous perennial

A good choice for St. Louis as this cultivar stands up to humidity well. It also doesn't flower so it stays low and doesn't need cutting back to remove the flower stalks.
Stachys macrantha 'Superba'
big betony
Herbaceous perennial

I love the erect flower stalks that flower over a very long time. A real winner.
Symphyotrichum ericoides
heath aster
Herbaceous perennial

If you would like something unique, the prickly foliage on this plant is interesting and remains handsome in the summer heat.
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae 'Andenken an Alma Pötschke'
New England aster
Herbaceous perennial

I like the big, blowzy habit of this aster. It responds well to earlier pinching which helps it turn into a star of the fall garden.
Thalictrum rochebruneanum
meadow rue
Herbaceous perennial

A great choice for a back of the border plant that doesn't need staking but will reward you with lovely flowers.
Thermopsis villosa
Carolina lupine
Herbaceous perennial

Looks like a yellow lupine! In a climate where lupines struggle to just stay alive, here is a great substitute. Short bloom time, however.
Tricyrtis hirta
Japanese toad lily
Herbaceous perennial

This is a great plant for your garden but you will probably have to protect it from rabbits.
Verbascum chaixii
nettle-leaved mullein
Herbaceous perennial

A most reliable plant. It comes in white-flowered forms.
Veronicastrum virginicum
Culver's root
Herbaceous perennial

Plant the species but also look for named cultivars which can provide a range of colors.
X Pardancanda 'Violet Stitches'
candy lily
Herbaceous perennial

Here is a plant with beautiful flowers that are long lasting. Who could ask for more?
Bouteloua curtipendula
sideoats grass
Ornamental grass

I find the flowers dangling off to one side of great interest and charm. It will make a hardy, attractive addition to any garden.
Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'
feather reed grass
Ornamental grass

The very vertical nature of this grass in full sun adds drama to the garden and also is easy to manage. It may flop in shade, however.
Elymus hystrix
bottlebrush grass
Ornamental grass

A good grass for shady areas.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Kirk Alexander'
eulalia
Ornamental grass

I find the short stature of 'Kirk Alexander' makes it a very versatile plant in my garden designs.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Kitten'
eulalia
Ornamental grass

This is the shortest of the Miscanthus, which can get quite large. Great for almost any home garden.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'
eulalia
Ornamental grass

I like to position this plant so morning light shines through the foliage. The effect is stunning.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus'
eulalia
Ornamental grass

I like to use this plant as a vertical accent in a monochromatic setting.
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Little Bunny'
fountain grass
Ornamental grass

An excellent choice for a small grass that performs very well in our area.
Saccharum ravennae
plume grass
Ornamental grass

If you want a tall grass that can be a show stopper, this one's for you. Give it room!
Sorghastrum nutans
Indian grass
Ornamental grass

For best effect I like to plant this grass where the sun will shine through the inflorescence. The effect is stunning.
Sporobolus heterolepis
prairie dropseed
Ornamental grass

Some love the fragrance of this plant, others hate it. Smell before you buy. If you like it however, you have found one of the best performing grasses for your garden.
Carex elata 'Aurea'
Bowles' golden sedge
Rush or Sedge

I like to use this plant in dark shade where the stark yellow foliage seems to glow.
Carex 'Ice Dance'
sedge
Rush or Sedge

A great plant to light up dark, shady areas.