April is when spring fever hits a boiling point. If you’re like me, your eyes are bloodshot from reading gardening catalogs and your fingers are twitching to get hold of a spade and run wildly into the yard, looking for anything to dig in.  Given our garden insanity, it’s best to keep small pets inside for a while….

I’m always on the lookout for exceptional new perennials coming down the plant chute.  As a new plant evaluator, I can attest that there are some ravishing beauties, plus a few that should be redirected to the compost bin. For the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on jaw-dropping, ‘gotta-haves’.

Let’s begin the oogling with those that enjoy full to part sun.  Geranium ‘Rozanne’, which has won numerous awards including The Plant of the Centenary at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2013, has a new sibling, ‘Azure Rush’.  ‘Azure Rush’ is a smaller, more compact version of ‘Rozanne’ with lighter blue flowers. Like ‘Rozanne’ this non-stop blooming perennial starts the bloomathon in mid-June and finishes the race strong in late October. ‘Azure Rush’ gets 18”-20” tall and is hardy to zone 5, although I’ve seen ‘Rozanne’ thrive in zone 4, and I would expect the same of her offspring.

Heuchera ‘Berry Timeless’ is another champion.  This ever-blooming coral bell erupts with masses of light pink flowers that age to a deep rose.  The flower explosion happens month after month, much to the delight of hummingbirds.  The lightly silvered, mint green foliage creates a stunning backdrop.  It is also very heat and drought tolerant, given its villosa lineage.

I’m gaga over sedum in the SunSparkler series.  These low-growing groundcovers feature dazzling leaves that retain their attractive coloration spring through fall.  ‘Dazzleberry’ (pictured) has smoky, blue-grey foliage that gets covered with vibrant raspberry flowers in late summer. ‘Lime Zinger’ glows with apple green leaves edged in cherry red.  Fluffy, soft pink flowers appear in September.  And ‘Firecracker’ has flaring burgundy-red, coiled leaves that burst forth in bright pink flowers as fall approaches.  All three grow 8” or shorter and are bombarded by butterflies. Rabbits turn their noses, as do most deer. 

Crossing into the shade, Foamy Bells (Heucherella) are my downfall.  Like chocolate, I can’t resist them.  Foamy Bells are a cross between Heuchera (coral bells) and Tiarella (foamflower), and the tryst was legendary.  The bouncing baby – Heucherella – inherited the best traits from each parent.  The lush, flamboyant leaves are semi-evergreen.  Foliage mounds can reach 20”, like those of mid-size hosta.  Most cultivars have starry white flowers that open in late spring, but ‘Pink Fizz’ sports bright pink blooms.  Although Heucherellas are prized as shade plants, they also excel in full sun.  A few of my favorites are ‘Brass Lantern’, ‘Sweet Tea’ and ‘Solar Eclipse’.  Heucherellas are hardy to Zone 4.

Another magical specimen for lower light is Solomon’s Seal ‘Double Stuff’, a new selection with extra wide, white margins that make it POP even in full shade. It only grows to 18″ tall and is hardy to Zone 3.

Aralia ‘Sun King’ glows with brilliant yellow leaves and dark stems.  The white flowers and dark berries are icing on the cake.  It grows between 3′ – 4′ tall and is hardy to Zone 3.