2020 Perennials of the Year

2020 Perennials of the Year

I am so eager to share with you some of many great perennials that are being highlighted in 2020 by the different plant organizations around the country.

First up, the Perennial Plant Association has chosen Aralia ‘Sun King’ as their Perennial of the Year. They have been choosing a Perennial Plant of the Year since 1990. Plants nominated for this award must meet the following criteria: low maintenance, be relatively pest and disease free, grow in a wide range of climates and have multiple seasons of interest.

Aralia 'Sun King'  Arlia Sun King Flowers

Aralia ‘Sun King’ is a fun perennial for the shade garden. It grows into a large shrub-like, tropical looking perennial with bright foliage and draws your eye deep into the shade garden. Foliage color is affected by the amount of sun it receives, staying golden yellow with a few hours of sun or turning chartreuse to lime-green if grown in deeper shade. Balls of tiny white flowers are produced from mid to late summer and followed by purple-black, inedible berries. Grows 3’ tall and 3’ wide. Zones 3-9.

To continue with the shady theme, both American Hosta Growers Society (AHS) and Proven Winners (PW) have chosen some gorgeous golden/yellow hostas for 2020.

AHS award winners must be unique, easy to grow and readily available for sale.

Hosta 'Dancing Queen'

Hosta ‘Dancing Queen’ is a medium sized hosta that emerges bright yellow in the spring and stays yellow all season without fading. Large leaves with a pie crust edge form a mound 18” tall and 28” wide. Lavender flowers bloom on 30” scapes, from mid to late summer. Grow in part shade to shade. Zones 3-9.

Proven Winners

Hosta Shadowland 'Coast to Coast'

‘Coast to Coast’ is part of the PW Shadowland series. It is a giant hosta with thick leaves that emerge chartreuse-yellow in the spring and turn to a lighter yellow as the season progresses. A beautiful specimen plant for a shady garden. Grows 30” tall and 36” wide forming a vase shaped, upright mound of puckered, wavy leaves. Light violet flowers bloom in mid-summer held on 36” tall scapes. Part shade to shade. Zones 3-9.

Proven Winners also has a National Perennial of the Year category. For 2020 they picked an outstanding cultivar of the classic garden plant, Russian Sage.

Russian Sage Denim 'n Lace  Perovskia Denim 'n Lace

Perovskia ‘Denim ‘n Lace’ is very well behaved. It has strong stems that give it a more upright habit than the traditional variety, while still having the same aromatic quality to delight the senses. Bright sky-blue flowers appear mid-summer to fall and amethyst calyxes keep the plants looking as if they are blooming even after the petals have fallen. 28-32” tall and 34-38” wide. Zones 4-9.

All American Selections (AAS) has been trialing plant varieties from annuals to vegetables for gardeners since 1932. Three years ago, they begin trialing perennials for cold hardiness. After enduring three hard winters, the first awards in this new category go to Echinacea Sombrero ‘Baja Burgundy‘ and Rudbeckia ‘American Gold Rush’.

Echinacea Sombrero Baja Burgundy

Echinacea Sombrero ‘Baja Burgundy’ is a compact, floriferous coneflower, becoming covered with vibrant violet-red, fragrant flowers from mid-summer to fall, providing a striking contrast with the golds and yellows of late summer. Grows 18-20” tall and 22-24” wide. Zones 4-9.

Rudbeckia American Gold Rush

Rudbeckia ‘American Gold Rush’ is a contender to take the No. 1 Black-Eyed Susan title away from ‘Goldstrum’. ‘American Gold Rush’ has a dome-like habit covered with golden-yellow flowers with black centers from mid-summer to early fall. Disease resistant, the thin hairy leaves don’t succumb to the black spot that so often detract from the beauty Black-Eyed Susan can bring to the late season garden. At 22-26” tall it is slightly shorter than ‘Goldstrum’. A great addition to a cut flower garden. Plant in full-part sun. Deer resistant. Zones 4-9.

The National Garden Bureau has been connecting people to plants since 1920 and are celebrating their 100-year anniversary this year. They have chosen Lavender for Perennial of the Year and Iris as Bulb of the Year.

We grow two varieties of perennial lavender. The classic English lavender, ‘Munstead’ and a newer hybrid variety, ‘Phenomenal’.

Lavender 'Munstead'

‘Munstead’ is a nice compact lavender that does well at the front of the flower bed. The rich lavender flower spikes begin blooming in late spring and continue through late summer. Grows 12-16” tall and 12” wide.

Lavender Phenomenal  Lavender Phenomenal

‘Phenomenal’ is a large disease resistant cultivar that grows into dense mound. The silvery-green foliage is covered in lavender-purple flowers from mid to late summer. 24-30” tall and 48-54” wide.

Lavender loves to be hot and dry. For the best success, plant lavender in full sun, never in shade, and in well-drained soil because lavender does not like having wet feet. If you have had trouble growing lavender before, you could try amending the soil with sand or gravel to aid in drainage.

Irises. Oh, how I love Irises. From the ground cover iris with tiny flowers to the tall bearded iris with big showy blooms to the Siberian iris whose sword-like foliage creates a vertical backdrop. There is truly an iris for every garden. Named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, they live up to their namesake with blooms in almost every color from white to nearly black.


Bearded irises are probably the most well known of them all. They are identified by the fuzzy beards on the falls of the blossoms. Drought tolerant, bearded iris prefer well-drained soil. To prevent them from rotting, plant so that the rhizomes are barely below the surface. Many of the varieties we grow here at Sargent’s are chosen because they have a second flush of blooms in the fall.

‘Immortality’ is one of my favorite bearded irises.

Iris Immortality

I have it in my garden and it has a great show of blooms in June and again in late October. Some years, it has even been blooming around Halloween.

Siberian Iris

Siberian irises grow best in moist soil but don’t like to be in standing water. They bloom in early summer and the sword-like foliage adds a nice vertical touch to the garden and looks great all season. Royal purple is the most common color, due to ‘Ceaser’s Brother’ popularity. But, keep in mind as you are planning your garden, that you have many choices including multi-colored varieties such as the Peacock Butterfly series and double flowered cultivars like ‘Kaboom’ and ‘Pink Parfait’.

Are you growing any of these already? If so, what is your favorite?

Written by

Cathy Maxson is Sargent's Gardens Perennial Growing manager. In addition to making sure Sargent's grown plants thrive, she enjoys growing in her own garden, canning fruits and vegetables, traveling, and walking her dogs.