Hard truths about perennials for landscaping (Ofa Conference, continued)



According to Ofa Conference presenter
Cathy Tenaglia of the Brickman Group, the good news is that corporations,
institutions, and governments are willing to use perennials for public
landscaping. Tenaglia started out by saying that early in her gardening career,
she vowed to replace all the creeping junipers she saw on traffic islands.

And to some degree, Tenaglia and others have been
successful; we’re much more likely to see perennials in public spaces  than ever before. That those perennials
tend to be the same ones over and over again is something Tenaglia ruefully
admitted and explained during her presentation. The talk reminded me of
sessions I attend about the most popular city/regional magazine covers: they
always say the same thing (sexy women, top docs, and food), but we still all
attend and listen breathlessly, I guess hoping that it’s become a good idea to
feature contemporary art or landscape architecture. It never happens.

 No surprises here, either. You will continue to see Stella
d’Oro daylilies, hostas, rudbeckia Goldstrum, coreopsis Moonbeam, sedum Autumn
Joy, calamagrostis Karl Foerster, and other usual suspects in public/corporate
landscaping situations, at least in the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast and South. Which is fine, because—except for the loathsome Stella,
apparently the darling of all Tenaglia’s landscaping clients—these are all
great plants, much better than evergreens and grass, I think. There were other,
more surprising choices too, like ceratostigma plumbaginoides, a wonderful
plant I purchased recently (shown above), and some others one doesn’t think of
as landscaping plants, like astilbe, tiarella, and geranium Rozanne.

Tenaglia gave a great talk, explaining how she uses astilbes
with different bloom times to lengthen their show, how she’s had to train
workers not to be afraid to whack perennials back mid-season, and how she
relates what she does in the public arena with her own gardening and what she
learned from her mother. I am sure many of you will agree with her assessment about showy hybrids that don’t stand the test of time, like the red and orange
echinaceas (she sticks with Magnus and White Swan) and the pink and red
reblooming daylilies (sadly). She touched a chord with me when she spoke of her
love for hostas, because, as a dry shade gardener, I need to love them.

She also gave a long, tough list of conditions landscaping perennials need to withstand: salt, deer, drought, and bad maintenance. They must also be cheap, long-blooming, never need staking, and preferably offer some multi-season interest. Given all that, her list of 20 became even more attractive. Except for Stella.

On to the next conference! The next time you’ll hear from
me, Susan, and Amy, we’ll be dishing the GWA, and reporting on the beauties of
Raleigh’s gardens.  

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. We in Oklahoma are thrilled to finally be seeing something other than Bermuda grass in our medians. Finally, some native and non-native grasses, roses, salvias, etc. Good report.~~Dee

  2. In what way is Stella “loathsome”? It’s a little over-exposed, I grant you, but it’s also prolific, gorgeous and reliable, none of which qualities I associate with loathsomeness.

  3. I don’t like the color and don’t find the form of the flowers as graceful as others. That being said, I think it’s seeing it along every highway and planted on so many other public places that has rendered it obnoxious to me.
    The orange “ditch lilies” are ubiquitous also, but I always find them a welcome sight. So go figure.

  4. So, what are the 20 landscaping perennials that were suggested? I’m involved with Master Gardeners and we plant and maintain some gardens in boulevards and high traffic areas and I’d love to know what is recommended besides the usual suspects.

  5. I mention at least 9 in the post. Others were amsonia, Russian sage “Little Spires,” one of the panicums, and a few others. I list the rest when I have the list with me. I don’t here in Raleigh.

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