3 Perennial Plants That Add Pizzazz - Cheekwood
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3 Perennial Plants That Add Pizzazz

Did you know? June is Perennial Plant Month, and whether you’re a plant nerd or a novice gardener, perennials are a wonderful addition to any home landscape with their dependability, seasonal versatility, and low maintenance. Perennials also provide nectar, pollen, and nesting materials for pollinators. This month, I’ll cover perennials that take the cake in performance, bloom longevity, and overall presentation.

1. Paeonia

To many, the rose is considered the quintessential flower of romance. However, if you ask me, the peony knocks any rose out of the park when it comes to sending a message of love. The buds themselves are sumptuous, and when in full bloom, the many folds fall elegantly away from the center, exposing intricate centers. It’s hard not to view these beauties without a romantic filter. The peony is complex, much like love itself.


Peonies are extremely cold hardy, in fact they thrive on a proper winter. In order to ensure optimal performing peonies in our region, select early to mid-season varieties (especially if they are doubles) over later-blooming varieties. Japanese or single flower forms perform best of all here in the South, compared to the species with more petals on the flower that increase the likeliness of disease. There are more spaces for water to become trapped within the petals and this can lead to botrytis, especially with the humid-heavy Tennessee summers.

Below I discuss two species of peonies currently growing at Cheekwood that are not to be missed.

Paeonia ‘Paula Fay’

With hot pink, fragrant semi-double flowers surrounding golden stamens, this bloom absolutely glows, beckoning onlookers to come closer. Flowering in late April, before the humidity and extreme heat threatens, ‘Paula Fay’ is a recommended cultivar for middle Tennessee and a beloved sight in the Will’s Perennial garden.


Paeonia ‘Cora Louise’

A striking design a such a large flower blossom, ‘Cora Louise’ is a must-have for any peony enthusiast. White flower petals transition into bright purple flames surrounding a golden center. Like ‘Paula Fay’, this cultivar is also a semi-double and can be seen in late April until mid-May in the Turner Seasons’ Summer Garden.

2. Iris

As Tennessee’s state flower, Cheekwood would be remiss not to grow plenty of this genus. Irises are available in any color of the spectrum as well as almost any combination of colors imaginable. With more than 200 species alone, you can be sure to choose an iris to match any of your moods. Another thing to take note of – you can guarantee at least eight months of iris fun for your garden by selecting different varieties that bloom in spring, summer and fall.

Here are two we are currently loving at Cheekwood.


Iris sibirica

Whether growing in a bog or a typical garden, the Siberian iris is very upright in habit and illustrates a certain amount of class, lending to its common use in formal garden designs.  It’s more resistant to rot and borer than bearded irises. The amount of water it receives determines the size of its blue-purple flowers. Cheekwood has a few clumps of Iris siberica growing in the Burr Garden as well as a few other places throughout the property.

Iris ‘Lenora Pearl’

Introduced in 1990, Iris ‘Lenora Pearl’ is a salmon-pink flower with tangerine beards that will bloom in spring and again in the fall. The standards (upright petals) are ruffled. The outer petals (or “falls”) are reflexed.

Reblooming irises grow faster than regular irises, so dividing them more often is crucial to their health and performance. To prevent overcrowding, divide ‘Lenora’s Pearl’ every two to three years, taking only the outside rhizomes of the plant. The older portions of the plant can be left intact. Replant the small rhizomes at least a foot apart.

‘Lenora Pearl’ is award winning. Since coming on the scene nearly 30 years ago, it has been presented with an honorable mention (1992), an Award of Merit (1994), the Knowlton Medal (1996) and the President’s Cup (1993).  You can find ‘Lenora Pearl’ growing in the Herb Study Garden here at Cheekwood.

3. Salvia

Salvias are a favorite of mine for many reasons, including their high tolerance of heat, humidity, and drought, as well as their ability to attract pollinators. There are so many species and varieties, but I have managed to narrow it down to these two that happily reside in the Wills Perennial Garden- Cheekwood’s mecca for pollinators of all kinds. Afterall, what’s a summer stroll through the garden without plenty of buzzing bumblebees?


Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’

Stems of ‘Cardonna’ are dark purple and the blooms are violet. Flowering extends from early spring to late summer but will continue to flower longer with proper deadheading. Butterflies go wild over ‘Cardonna’. Reaching two feet tall with in full bloom, consider this salvia for a mid-level border plant.


Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’

If you fancy bicolor flowers, then ‘Hot Lips’ is right up your alley. Very recognizable (besides its incredibly long blooming period, this may be why I like it so much), the habit of this salvia is bush-like, and it can grow quite tall- up to 4’ tall and 3’ wide. The red and white blooms come alive with bees. Hummingbirds appreciate the flower’s rich nectar, too. ‘Hot Lips’ blooms from spring until the first frost in November and makes a great stand-alone element in the garden.

Perennials plants have many virtues. While they can provide many years of enjoyment, they can also multiply and give us more to share with friends or to spread to other areas of our yard. We can use their blooms to make beautiful bouquets to mark celebrations. Perhaps more importantly, during the bleak and cold days of winter, garden perennials give us something to look forward to when warmer days arrive.

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