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Record-setting cold and rains are taking their toll on our flowering gardens here in Michigan.  Heat- and sun-loving plants, such as cone flowers, are simply sitting and pouting. I resist the urge to feed them, as no amount of fertilizer can make up for warm sunny weather.

  But thanks to some of the older tried-and-true varieties of early season blooming perennials, we have a surprising amount of color in the Rochester OPC garden now. 

One colorful character in full bloom that greets you as you approach the garden is the Perennial Plant Association’s 2007 Plant of the Year, Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low.' Commonly called Catmint, it’s a snap to grow and one tough cookie. Once established, Catmint thrives on neglect when given full sun and a patch of well-drained neutral to alkaline soil. And best of all, it’s deer proof. Nepeta (pronounced nep-eh-tuh) is an aromatic herb also shunned by rabbits, but it’s a magnet for butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial insects. It’s said to attract cats, but my tabbies have always ignored it.

In late spring its handsome gray-green foliage produces scads of lovely deep blue violet flowers on 18- to 24-inch stems. Periodic dead heading of faded flowers results in almost continuous bloom. A one-time shearing back of the plant back to 12- to 15-inches in height after all blooms have faded will result in a repeat flush later in the season. The plants are sterile so there is no problem with reseeding. If you’re looking for a workhorse for a sunny garden, this is it. 

Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam,’ with its dainty yellow daisy-like blossoms, also thrives in the garden and will be in full bloom shortly. The original planting continues to produce and other than dead heading it requires no maintenance. 

Another winner in full bloom right now is Achillea.  The canary yellow ‘Moonshine’ has been flowering for a couple of weeks. It’s very happy sitting atop a windswept hill in lean soil that drains well where it can soak up what little sun is available now.

Salvia ‘May Night,’ with its beautiful deep purple blossoms, is also in full bloom. Keep this Perennial Plant Associant award winner dead headed and it will continue to flower for half the summer.

For a complete listing of the Perennial Plant Association’s Plants of the Year selections, check out its website at perennialplant.org.

In the shade garden, various varieties of Brunnera are sporting tiny blue forget-me-not flowers and the Pulmonaria are starting to bloom. But it’s their silver-splashed green foliage that provides the season-long show.  

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. Email her at Yardener.com, Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.

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