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perennials for winter & spring coursework

Unlike shrubs, perennials generally do not have woody structures.  Generally here means that there are always exceptions.  Some perennials may develop woody bases with age, and this helps protect them from predators or winter cold.  Instead of being defined by their woodiness, perennials are classified as herbaceous plants with tender stems vulnerable to frosts. Encyclopedia Britannica defines an herbaceous perennial as a plant species that dies back to the ground over winter.  While that is indeed the case for many perennials, when/where did this definition come from?  Most likely from a place of harsher winters than California's Mediterranean climate.

Many perennials in California, particularly from our Bay Area, Central Coast, and Southern California regions, experience mild winters with few frosts - a phenomenon becoming more apparent with climate change.  Therefore, some herbaceous perennials that might die back in other regions will instead retain their leaves and structures in California.  We can find a very good example in daylilies, or scientifically, Hemerocallis.  Daylilies are indeed herbaceous perennials, but they can be subcategorized as both evergreen and deciduous varieties.  Evergreen varieties will retain their leaves all year, whereas others will go semi- or fully deciduous over winter.  How disappointing would it be for a designer who relied upon the winter greenery found instead they specified a variety that dies back to the ground?  Watch out for Salvia, commonly known as sages, because this genus covers shrubs, perennials, and even biennials and annuals (only lasting two years or just a season, respectively).  Why is this important?

As landscape designers, we rely upon our plant selections to help tell the story of our designs.  We use trees as roofs and shrubs as walls, for example.  Perennials create a nuanced air of elegance, reinforce design styles, may provide a punch of color and texture, or support benefits in the home and kitchen, but they can completely disappear over the winter, too.  How does the designer's composition hold up during this downtime?  Will the perennials only add value for a very short time, such as during a two-week bloom period in spring?  These and other questions will need to be considered when choosing perennials.

The good news is that several perennials listed below are evergreen, such as some Hemerocallis mentioned above, but also Helleborus, Euphorbias, and Ajuga, to name only a few.  Here again is why these perennials are listed here; not just for seasonal bloom but also their ability to be thriving during the colder seasons.  Their contrast to other dormant species support dynamic designs.

Perennials for the winter or spring garden may present interesting structures during the winter, but more likely they are used as evergreen textures or their winter and/or spring blooms that help start a New Year with a little more color.  Their details need to be explored by designers, as often exploited in wonderous ways by Swedish designer Piet Oudolf, or historically by English garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.  When taking a plant identification class, pay close attention to the seasonal timing of leaf and flower color but also fruit and texture.  Explore how these species appear in each season to take full advantage of their unique features.

The following list is fluid, meaning it will change as new information is made available, including new species and status on campus.  We welcome any updates, corrections, or comments to continue to make this page useful to students at West Valley College.

If a scientific name is linked, please feel free to find additional information via this website.

scientific name

Ajuga reptans

Aquilegia formosa

Aquilegia hybrids

Aquilegia vulgaris

Arctotheca calendula

Armeria maritima

Aspidistra elatior

Bergenia crassifolia

Brunnera macrophylla

Campanula poscharskyana

Centaurea cineraria

Clivia miniata

Dicentra formosa

Dierama pendulum (formerly D. pulcherrimum

Digitalis lutea

Diplacus aurantiacus (formerly Mimulus aurantiacus)

Epimedium pinnatum ssp. Colchicum

Eschscholzia californica

Euphorbia amygdaloides

Euphorbia x martini 'Ascot Rainbow'

Fragaria chiloensis

Galium odoratum

Geranium incanum

Geranium sanguineum

Geum chiloense

Helleborus foetidus

Helleborus x hybridus

Helleborus orientalis 'Sparkling Diamond'

Hemerocallis hybrids (evergreen or deciduous)

Heuchera x brizoides 'Firefly' (AKA H. x 'Leuchtkafer')

Heuchera micrantha var. diversifolia 'Palace Purple'

Iberis sempervirens

Iris Pacific Coast Hybrids

Jacabaea maritima (formerly Senecio cineraria or Centaurea cineraria)

Lamium maculatum

Lamprocapnos spectabilis

Nepea x faassenii

Oenothera speciosa

Oxalis oregana

Pachysandra terminalis

Penstemon heterophyllus

Persicaria bistorta

Phlox subulata

Pratia pedunculata

Primula polyanthus

Primula vulgaris

Pulmonaria hybrids

Salvia 'Bee's Bliss'

Saxifraga stolonifera

Sisyrinchium striatum

Sisyrinchium bellum

Tagetes lemmonii

Thalictrum delavayi

Tiarella cordifolia

Vinca major

Vinca minor

Viola odorata

common name

carpet bugle

Western columbine


European columbine

Cape weed

sea thrift

cast-iron plant

winter-blooming bergenia


Serbian bellflower

dusty miller

natal lily

Western bleeding heart

fairy wand



straw or yellow foxglove

sticky monkey flower



California poppy

wood spurge

Ascot spurge

beach strawberry

sweet woodruff

carpet geranium

bloody cranesbill


bear's foot hellebore


Sparkling Diamon lenten rose




Firefly coral bells


Palace Purple coral bells



Pacific Coast iris

dusty miller


dead nettle

bleeding heart


evening primrose

redwood sorrel

Japanese spurge

foothill penstemon


moss pink

blue star creeper

English primrose

Common primrose


Bee's Bliss sage

strawberry geranium

pale yellow-eyed grass

blue-eyed grass

Copper Canyon daisy

Chinese meadow rue



dwarf periwinkle

sweet violet

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