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Originally published Friday, April 12, 2013 at 11:00 AM

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These new perennials bring color and drama, year after year

No other kind of plant is so satisfying. Perennials define seasonality, dying down in autumn and poking back up again each spring.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Today's column is the second in our annual series featuring new garden delights. Next week: edibles.

Local news partner - Plant Talk

Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.

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PERENNIALS ARE addictive. And breeders are making sure we get our fix this spring.

The saying is, "First they sleep, then they creep, then they leap." True, perennials aren't shy; they tend to muscle out their companions and spread. They grow too big, flop over and need dividing. Yet no other kind of plant is so satisfying. Perennials define seasonality, dying down in autumn and poking back up to bloom and grace the garden again each spring.

Besides that, there's a perennial for every condition or situation. Here's a sampling of what's debuting this spring:

Agastache and sedum are as near to maintenance-free as you'll find in a living thing. They are drought-tolerant, bird-and-butterfly attracters that bring real presence to the garden for months.

Agastache, aka hummingbird mint, has fragrant foliage and masses of little flowers. With the introduction of Agastache 'Kudos Mandarin,' it now comes in a brilliant shade of citrus orange. Give agastache sun and good drainage and it'll bloom from early summer into autumn.

The same conditions suit the new Sedum 'Thunderhead,' which is about as showy as a sedum can be. Stout stems hold aloft huge heads of intensely deep-rose-colored flowers, which you'll hardly ever see because they'll be covered in eager butterflies. 'Thunderhead' grows 2 feet tall, and like agastache, is deer-resistant.

Even though columbine can spread a little too aggressively, its casual, cottage-garden prettiness has attracted gardeners for centuries. Especially the new bicolor Aquilegia vulgaris 'William Guiness' introduced by White Flower Farm this spring. The foliage is familiarly lacy, but the color scheme is startling; dark-purple stems, splotches and spurs contrast with pale-lavender petals. I'll put up with the self-seeding just to have these beauties for bouquets. Columbine make long-lasting cut flowers, especially charming viewed close up in a vase.

Another favorite cut flower has a sophisticated new look. Anemone 'Wild Swan' won the Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year Award in 2011 and is newly available here, distributed by Monrovia. It blooms June through frost, longer than the familiar Japanese hybrids. Held high above the foliage, the flowers are pure white backed in blue violet with fluffy yellow anthers.

An enticing variety of coneflowers (Echinacea) and heuchera will fill nursery tables. Two new kinds well worth the soil space:

Heuchera 'Coco' is a scaled-down version of the popular, dark-leafed H. 'Obsidian.' Both dramatic in color and diminutive in size (it tops out at 6 inches), 'Coco' is the perfect foliage plant for urban gardens. The pale-pink flower spikes bloom for weeks. Tuck this baby into pots, rock gardens or front-of-the-border for a hit of rich, deep color.

Also more compact than many of its relatives, Echinacea 'Ferris Wheel' has a high flower count for its size and is short enough to work in containers or borders. The wagon-wheel pattern of its petals is eye-catching. The flowers start out pale cream, developing a bright lemon-colored lip with age. Isn't there a cosmetic to fix that? No, it looks good on a flower, and this coneflower is a beauty.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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