Perennials for cool-season containers may seem like the proverbial horticultural oxymoron, but that is exactly what I have been planting the last few days in my zone 8a landscape. My favorite pansy pals are Goldilocks lysimachia, Lemon Coral sedum, Ogon Japanese sweet flag and Burgundy Glow ajuga.
The kicker is I’m not planting pansies yet, but fresh crops of Supertunia petunias and Superbells calibrachoas. Last fall, planted petunias and calibrachoas lasted until midsummer floods (I’m exaggerating somewhat, but we had more rain than I ever remember). You have to admit nine-plus months of blooms is incredible. Believe me, though, I’ll add pansies and violas in a couple of weeks.
Goldilocks Creeping Jenny
Goldilocks lysimachia, or Creeping Jenny, is simply amazing with its yearlong tenacity and dazzling color in the garden. I love how it plummets over the rims of containers, stopping only when it hits the ground, then still keeps growing. What I may treasure most about it in the West Georgia area is the colorful transformation from summer into winter. The kiss of cold is like magic.
In the summer it provides chartreuse or lime green wherever you want it. But in winter it gives the closest color to a 24-karat gold bar you can find in a plant. Put that in boxes or baskets with blue violet-colored pansies and it will remind you of sapphires and gold. This award-winning plant gets taken for granted, but it shouldn’t, as it is perennial in zones 3-10.
Lemon Coral sedum
Lemon Coral sedum is a succulent that is perennial from zones 7-10 and gives a soft, needlelike texture. At least once or twice a year I look at its beauty and simply can’t believe it is a perennial, thrilling not only with its foliage but later with a billowy cloud of bright yellow blooms.
It too spreads, but it’s more like a slow lava flow of lime gently tumbling over the rims of containers and baskets. In the landscape it forms a ground cover carpet of succulent lime. In my ground cover application, I have it partnered with Surefire Red begonias. Oddly I am also in year three with these begonias.
Ogon Japanese sweet flag
This variety of Japanese sweet flag gives an unbeatable fine grassy element or texture to the garden and mixed containers. This is the plant that acts as the finishing touch to mixed containers. As beautiful as your mixed container design may be, it is this little filler plant that says “ta-da!”
The Japanese sweet flag spreads from the tip of rhizomes similar to that of an iris. They can reach about 10 to14 inches tall, which gives you the opportunity to use it as a ground cover. It is perennial from zones 5-11. Never underestimate the power of just one small grass to a mixed container.
Burgundy Glow ajuga
Lastly, I find most gardeners simply don’t think of ajuga as a container filler or soft spiller. It’s funny we call it bugleweed. We plant it in tough places in the landscape where nothing else grows. We love it when it blooms, but we just don’t think about it in the cool season mixed container.
Burgundy Glow is an award-winning cold hardy variety recommended for zones 4-11 and offers multicolored foliage, usually showing a healthy dose of pink. The foliage is the perfect foil for the fine-textured Ogon sweet flag and even Goldilocks lysimachia.
All these perennials offer some of the easiest opportunities to propagate and use elsewhere in the landscape. The cool season planting calendar is just now getting underway, and I urge you to incorporate these four perennials into your designs.
Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.