Alberta Perennial Trials

All of the results from the Alberta Perennial Trials from 1999-2o10 are now available on the Alberta Agriculture website ‘Ropin’ the Web’.

Click on the ‘Trial Results’ tab at the top of this page to find the links to the detailed results, which include colour photos of almost every plant.  I hope the information is helpful to you.

Since the Alberta Perennial Trial program has now ended, I will no longer be posting on this blog, although I will keep it open for the rest of 2011 so that the information is available to the public. Be sure to bookmark the Alberta Agriculture site so that you can access the results in the future.

Thank you so much for your interest in the Alberta Perennial Trials. It has been a pleasure!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Alberta Perennial Trials Top Picks 2002-2010

Each of the three sites participating in the Alberta Perennial Trials was asked to select their all-time top five favourite perennials from the trials. It was a very difficult decision, and each site came up with many more plants than could be included in this list. In the final selection, five different plants were chosen for each site, for a total of fifteen favourites (plus a few runners up!). Top Picks are listed in alphabetical order by site.  

 Calgary Zoo:

  • Deschampsia ‘Bronze Veil’
  • Euphorbia polychroma ‘Bonfire’
  • Geranium renardii ‘Phillipe Vapelle’
  • Paeonia x ‘Bartzella’
  •  Polemonium ‘Stairway to Heaven’
  • Runners up: Anemone ‘September Charm’, Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’, Ligularia ‘Osiris Fantaisie’


Paeonia x 'Bartzella'


Muttart Conservatory:

  • Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’
  • Delphinium New Millenium ‘Innocence’
  • Paeonia ‘Muskoka’
  • Panicum virgatum ‘Orange Flame’
  • Sedum ‘Autumn Charm’
  • Runners up: Lavendula ‘Rosea’, Veronica ‘Aztec Gold’, Heuchera ‘Dolce Mocha Mint’

Sedum 'Autumn Charm'


Olds College:
  • Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch’
  • Iris ‘Savannah Sunset’
  • Ligularia dentata ‘Britt Marie Crawford’
  • Phlox paniculata ‘Starfire’
  • Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’
  • Runners up: Sedum ‘Autumn Charm’, Hemerocallis ‘Moonlit Masquerade’

Ligularia dentata 'Britt Marie Crawford'





We are experiencing an incredibly beautiful and long-lasting autumn in Alberta. Perhaps it is meant to make up for the summer-that-never-was.  This past week the temperatures reached the low 20’s (Celsius), with a high of 22 degrees. In November! I decided to take a walk through the perennial trial garden on Thursday in search of some late fall colour.

On the way to the garden I had to take a picture of this late monkshood, likely Aconitum arendsii, which is so late-blooming that often it doesn’t get a chance to bloom in Alberta. In the background is the new Enmax conservatory which opened one year ago this month.

Aconitum arendsii

In the perennial trial garden, one of my favourite plants, Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’, was still blooming away. I love this plant; it is a fantastic addition to the late summer/fall garden.

Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’

There were still a few blooms on Clematis ‘Multi Blue’ as well, despite the fact that it was moved in September. The foliage is a lovely bronzy brown colour in autumn.

Clematis 'Multi Blue'

Another of my favourite perennials in the trials, Sedum ‘Autumn Charm’, was still looking great. The foliage has held up well throughout the fall and was still impressive, especially compared to the other sedums in the trials. The flowers  are showing a bit of their dark wine colour, a lovely contrast to the variegated green and creamy yellow leaves.

Sedum 'Autumn Charm'

This little viola, Viola ‘Columbine’,  started blooming in early spring, slowed down just a little in the heat of summer, and is still blooming away in November!  All five plants were planted in 2009 and have survived one winter and two full growing seasons so far.  I would love to be able to evaluate it for one more year.

Viola 'Columbine'

Silene ‘Clifford Moor’ is a graduate from the 2007-2009 trial. Its small pink flowers are held on long, somewhat floppy stalks, but it is the foliage that really grabs our visitors attention. This is a wonderful woodland plant that still looks great in late fall!

Silene 'Clifford Moor'

On the way back to my office I spotted this white phlox, name unknown, still blooming away in the Dorothy Harvie Gardens.

This bright spot of colour  caught my eye under a spruce tree.  Surely it is almost time for the peacocks to move to their indoor winter home. I guess, like the rest of us, they are taking advantage of every good day that we are given.


What a gorgeous autumn we are having in Alberta! In the 26 years that I have lived in this province, I have never seen such beautiful fall colours in the trees and shrubs . The perennial trial gardens are fading gracefully, but there are many perennials still blooming. Some have only started to bloom in the past couple of weeks, adding a lovely splash of colour to the autumn garden. 

The arctic chrysanthemum, Arctanthemum arcticum ‘Red Chimo’ , is one of those late fall bloomers. The flowers have only just opened in the past week, when we finally got a bit of sun and warm weather. What a wonderful surprise to find something blooming so beautifully just when you think the garden is almost finished. 

Arctanthemum 'Red Chimo'


Aster ‘Sapphire’ is another late bloomer which has also only started to flower in the past week. This Proven Winners introduction likely would have bloomed earlier if the late summer and early fall had been warmer. The plants are massive, very healthy and absolutely covered in flower buds. Hopefully they will all have time to open this fall. 

Aster 'Sapphire'


 Solidago ‘Little Lemon’ is a bright spot of colour in the autumn garden. ‘Little Lemon’ is a compact and floriferous goldenrod with bright yellow flowers. Another goldenrod in the trials, the dwarf Solidago ‘Goldrush’ is just about to bloom. 

Solidago 'Little Lemon'


 The flowers on the sedums are just starting to open and turn colour.  Sedum ‘Maestro’, with its lovely dark foliage and purple flowers, is just one of the many sedums blooming in the perennial trial gardens now. 

Sedum 'Maestro'


Eupatorium ‘Phantom’ certainly makes a statement in the garden, especially when there are eight plants in one spot, as there are in the perennial trial garden at the Calgary Zoo! This Joe Pye weed is not a plant for a small space, but it is certainly worth growing if you have the room. There is a dwarf Joe Pye in the trials called Eupatorium ‘Purple Bush’ which is somewhat smaller, but at over a metre high, it still might be hard to find a spot for it in a small garden. 

Eupatorium 'Phantom'

So much for the notion that the garden is finished now that it’s October.  There’s still a lot happening out there! With the right plants you can have blooms right up until winter arrives. We never know when that will be in Alberta, but why not squeeze every last bit of  enjoyment out of our gardens while we can?

Take a stroll with me through the perennial trial garden at the Calgary Zoo on this September day. It has been a wet and cold September so far, but there’s still lots of colour to be seen in the garden.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For those who have not yet heard, I am sad to announce that this will be the final year for the Alberta Perennial Trials. Unfortunately, we have been unable to secure enough funding to continue after this year.  


The perennial trials first started at the Calgary Zoo in 1999. In 2002 the program was expanded to two additional sites, one at Olds College and the other at the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton. Since 1999 approximately 350 new varieties of plants have been tested for their hardiness and landscape qualities in Alberta. As anyone who has gardened here knows, Alberta’s climate is certainly unique. 


Knowing that this was likely to be the final year for the project, no new perennials were planted in the trial gardens this year. The plants in the 2008-2010 series will complete the trial this year and the results will be published on CD and on the website. Data will also be published at the end of this year for the plants in the 2009-2011 series, with the knowledge that those plants were only monitored for one winter and two growing seasons. 


For the past two years, I have been very fortunate to have been a part of this project . This has been a dream job! But please, don’t go away yet. I will continue to post on this site until after all of the results are complete and have been posted on the Alberta Agriculture website, hopefully by the end of October. 


Last week was just so busy that I didn’t get a chance to post new pictures. The talk and tour of the garden went well and was sold out. Thanks to everyone who came!
The garden looked fantastic when I got back from vacation. The new mulch did just what it was supposed to do – amazing isn’t it? There were almost no weeds, except in the groundcovers that were not thoroughly weeded before I left! Last Tuesday two of our wonderful volunteers, Susan and Verna Mae, weeded the groundcovers as well. Now the next job is to tackle the rest of the Poa annua between the flagstones in the path.
Late in the summer, perennial gardens sometimes start to look tired; often there just isn’t much in bloom. If you need a little inspiration, here are some of my favourites blooming now.
I have mentioned Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’ before, but now it is absolutely covered in flowers. All of the heleniums, or sneezeweeds, are blooming now and add a lot of colour to the late summer garden. This picture also gives a little glimpse of the montane mulch we used.

Helenium 'Mardi Gras'


The three butterfly bushes, Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’ are flowering again this year. This plant appears to be marginally hardy here in Alberta, but obviously in a protected site it can survive. 

Buddleia davidii 'Black Knight'


My favourite sedum in the trials is Sedum ‘Autumn Charm’. The plants are dense, compact mounds with dark green and ivory/gold foliage. 

Sedum 'Autumn Charm'


False sunflower adds a pop of  bright yellow colour to the late summer garden. Many of them, however, can be just too large for small urban gardens. Heliopsis ‘Tuscan Sun’ is a dwarf form from Proven Winners that was planted last year inthe trials. It is about 65 cm tall this year and the flowers are just as bright and sunny as the larger varieties. 

Heliopsis 'Tuscan Sun'


 Bouteloua gracilis, also called mosquito grass or blue grama grass, is another one of our visitors’ favourites. It is a small fine-textured grass that is native to Alberta. The seeds heads look like eyelashes.  

Bouteloua gracilis


 Agastache ‘Golden Jubilee’ is  a graduate from 2008. The bright chartreuse foliage is a great contrast to the spikes of the purple flowers. A little warning though – this plant does self-seed, although we haven’t found it to be a huge problem. 

Agastache 'Golden Jubilee'


 The newest ligularia in the trials, Ligularia ‘Osiris Fantaisie’, is flowering for the first time. This is a dwarf ligularia with daisy-like flowers.  The leaves are dark green with dark purple undersides and dark purple stems. 

Ligularia 'Osiris Fantaisie'

Echinacea ‘Coconut Lime’ is looking like it may be a winner. Three plants were put in last year. They emerged early, grew vigorously this year and are now blooming prolifically. Several gardeners in Calgary report that this coneflower has done very well for them over the past few years. 

Echinacea 'Coconut Lime'

 The weather in Calgary is feeling rather autumnal lately. There is even a frost warning for tonight! Let’s hope for a warm and beautiful fall. We certainly haven’t had much warm weather all summer. 

Next Page »