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5 Lesser-Known Perennials You Should Try

Originally published in June 2015.

We all have our classic garden favorites. We feature a class on perennials called ‘The Texas Tried and True’ that highlights some of ours. Beyond the well known, however, are some fantastic perennials with unique offerings. Try one or more of these beauties in your garden this year; we’re sure you’ll be glad you did.

Salvia clevelandii
Tough Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) is stunning in bloom. Photo courtesy Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.

1. Salvia clevelandii (Fragrant Sage, Cleveland Sage, Chaparral Sage)

Native to the coastal chaparral zone of southern California, this evergreen shrub has highly aromatic gray-green foliage and is tolerant of poor soils, as long as they drain well. It’s a sturdy grower to 5′ x 5′ in the right conditions, and the profuse flower spikes of clusters of blue-violet flowers are stacked like shish-kebobs along the spike. It’s very cold-hardy, remaining evergreen even during 11 degree temperatures and through snow and ice. Butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to the blossoms, too! Plant in full sun to part shade and provide excellent drainage.

Eupatorium havanense Fragrant Mistflower
Fragrant Mistflower (Eupatorium havanense). Photo by Sandi Schwedler, NHG Senior Buyer.

2. Eupatorium havanense syn. Ageratina havanense (Fragrant Mist flower, Shrubby Boneset)

This much-lauded but rarely found Texas native forms an open, woody shrub to 6′ in height with similar spread. Tolerant of poor, rocky soils, it produces masses of tiny, sweet-smelling flowers in clusters that persist through the season well into frost. A favorite of native pollinators, it’s ideal as a back-of-the-border perennial in full sun, where it has room to grow and share its beauty. Truly a gem in the garden.

Pink skullcap Scutellaria suffrutescens
Pink Skullcap in all its glory. Photo by Sandi Schwedler, NHG Senior Buyer.

3. Scutellaria suffrutescens (Pink Skullcap, Texas Pink Skullcap)

This Texas native plant has experienced a significant increase in popularity in recent years, and it’s well deserved. Tolerant of a wide variety of soils (as long as they’re well drained) it remains neat and compact, forming a politely creeping pillow of thyme-like foliage smothered in cherry-pink blossoms that resemble tiny snapdragons. It’s definitely a front-of-the-border perennial, reaching only about 18″ tall. Planted in containers or along the edges of raised beds, it will softly spill over the edges, creating a nice effect. *Also try Purple Skullcap, Scutellaria wrightii, for a more upright form and vibrant purple flowers. For more info, click here.

4. Buddleia marrubifolia (Woolly Butterfly Bush)

The silvery, fuzzy leaves of this Chihuahuan desert native are the main attraction, livening up the landscape all season and through winter. It forms a relaxed shrub growing to 5′ x 5′, with bright orange flowers the size of grapes produced most heavily in spring and summer. Bees and butterflies are drawn to it; it’s an excellent addition to any habitat garden and is tolerant of full sun, heat and drought once established.

Buddleia marrubifolia Woolly Butterfly Bush
The silvery foliage and orange, button-like flowers of Woolly Butterfly Bush are a dynamic combination. Photo courtesy Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.

5. Sphaeralcea ambigua (Globe Mallow) 

Native to the Southwest and Mexico, this tough perennial has a relaxed, sprawling form with fuzzy, lobed, gray-green foliage. Flower color can vary greatly in the wild, with the most common color a light orange. Other colors include white, lavender, pink, and red. Cut plants back hard after the spring flower display to maintain a denser form. Plant in full sun, even in reflected heat, and provide good drainage.

Spheralcea ambigua Globe Mallow
Although most commonly orange, Globe Mallow flowers can range from pale pink to lavender and red. Photo courtesy Sandi Schwedler, NHG Senior Buyer.

While not as frequently seen in DFW area gardens, these perennials, both native and well-adapted, have many great features and ask little in return.

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