I was talking with my friend Ellen the other day, and I found myself bad-mouthing the current Perennial Plant of the Year. “I might have nominated this Scabiosa for annual of the year,” I told her, “but in my area it never lives more than a season.” Ellen sighed. “I’m so relieved to hear you say that.” she said, “I thought I was doing something wrong!”

The truth is, some plants are more perennial than others. Some will grow for years and years. Others do beautifully for five or six years, and then disappear. And some thrive for just one season… and there is no coaxing them back. Yet they are all perennials, more or less.

It’s often related to location in that what’s reliably perennial in one part of the country is a flash-in-the-pan elsewhere. And it isn’t just winter temperatures that make the difference. The duration of hot summer days, the dampness of winter soils, and the length of the dormant period can all influence life-span.

This can be very frustrating for the person who wants a dependable perennial in the garden. How can a gardener tell which is a true perennial and what is not? Plant tags and catalog descriptions are often too generic to help. They might list zone hardiness, but ignore the subtleties of soil type, drought or heat.

What you need is the local low-down. Ask neighbors who are experienced gardeners or call your Cooperative Extension. Regional guides on the web or in bookstores can be helpful as well.

But don’t misunderstand…I’m don’t want you to abandon short-lived perennials. Just remember that plants, like people, have different personalities. One of the joys of the flower garden is that it changes from year to year. It is helpful, however, if you have a realistic expectation of how the plant grows in your area. Then you can enjoy the fact that not all plants are created equal. Some are perennial, and some are…temperennial.

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