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Hardy perennials, recent introductions

For many, gardening is a competitive sport. Some brag that theirs is bigger, better, brighter or bloomier (OK, not a real word, but it fits in the sequence).
garden chat
Sedum Autumn Fire. Photo by KM

For many, gardening is a competitive sport. Some brag that theirs is bigger, better, brighter or bloomier (OK, not a real word, but it fits in the sequence). Others like a challenge and go to extremes to grow what others find impossible on the prairies. While others are connoisseurs or collectors – these gardeners like to have something that no one else has: rare and/or expensive. And lastly, there are the ones who need to have the latest and newest. These latter gardeners may be in interested in the following recent introductions:

Tall bearded iris Mallory Kay (Iris germanica)

Mallory Kay is a lightly scented, dark cherry red iris, 80 centimetres or more in height. Iris hybridizer Larry Johnson introduced it in 1989. Its green sword-like foliage remains attractive throughout the growing season. Bearded iris have graced prairie gardens almost since European settlement. Their demands are minimal: full sun and well-drained soil. They are easily divided every three or four years. This is best done after flowering in late June or early July. Deer resistant.

Siberian Iris Concord Crush (Iris Sibirica)

Native to central Europe and Asia, Siberian iris are very tough and do well on the prairies. With large, vibrant blue, “ruffled” double flowers in early summer, Concord Crush is 70 centimetres or more in height with narrow blue-green, grass-like foliage. Unlike the bearded iris, Siberian iris do best in full sun and evenly moist soil well amended with organic matter. Once established, it is easily divided every three or four years. Introduced by Bob Bauer and John Coble in 2009. Deer resistant. A four-inch mulch layer will retain soil moisture.

Autumn Fire showy stonecrop (Sedum spectabilis)

In the same group as the well known Autumn Joy, Autumn Fire was selected for its tight growth habit, thick succulent blue-green foliage, and more brightly-coloured dusty-rose flowers, which deepen to a rusty red. Although the species is native to China, Autumn Fire is a Quebec Norseco Nursery introduction. It’s taller than Autumn Joy, with sturdier, less floppy stems. Once mature, plants have a height of 50 centimetres and a spread of 40 centimetres. Blooming in late summer and early fall, it also provides winter interest. Plant in full sun and well drained soil. Drought-tolerant once established. Easily divided once established.

Hosta Empress Wu (Hosta)

If you want an enormous focal point, Empress Wu will be your hosta of choice this season. With an impressive mature height of 110 centimetres and a spread of 120 centimetres, it’s hard to beat and is considered “the largest hosta known in the industry.” But it may take up to five years to achieve its mature size. Named after an Empress of China (624-705 AD), it has thick, dark green, deeply veined leaves and forms an enormous clump with reddish-violet flowers in August. Hostas do best in shade in evenly moist soil well amended with organic matter. Mulch to retain soil moisture. It was bred by Brian and Virginia Sklaggs and patented in 2005.

All these should be available at your local nurseries. Or, come and be sociable at the Saskatchewan Perennials Society’s Spring Perennial Plant Exchange and Sale. Here members share plants from their gardens as well dainties and a cup of coffee or tea (and, of course, some garden gossip). For the sale part, these and several other select perennials (e.g. Itoh and fernleaf peonies, hydrangeas, clematis, etc.) will be available at bargain prices. The Plant Exchange and Sale will be held Tuesday, May 31 at the Forestry Farm Park and Zoo starting at 6:30 p.m. While this is a member-only event, memberships can be purchased at the door for just $10.

Sara will be discussing more of her favourite perennials in her workshop, “Perennials: The Enduring and the Fleeting” during the University of Saskatchewan Hortweek in July. For this full program of more than 30 classes and workshops on a wide range of gardening topics (some of them free), go to

— This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (;; Check out our Bulletin Board or Calendar for upcoming garden information sessions, workshops, tours and other events.