Perennials: A Picturesque Portrait

Breathes there anyone with a soul so dead,

Who would not admire a perennial bed?

Most of us start gardening too late in life. When we are young and sprightly, we have too many other interests. The middle years are taken up with furthering our careers and/or raising families, so that by the time we should be hitting our stride, our stride has turned into a totter; bones are creaking and backs are aching. The spirit might be willing, but the knees are weak. However, it’s never too late to start. Procrastinating about doing a project is like looking at a wheelbarrow; nothing will happen until we start pushing.

Planning a Large New Border:

Study the photos in gardening books then choose the layout and the plants you most admire within them. Like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, we must use the “little grey cells” in order to choose the best plants. Picture this large border as a stage and like Cecil B. de Mille you’ll soon be directing a cast of hundreds.

Digging:

Roses are reddish,

Violets are bluish,

But they won’t grow in soil that’s glueish!

Gardening is 10% preparation and 90% perspiration; most of the latter comes from digging.

  1. Make sure the soil is soaked but not soggy.
  2. The tines of the fork should go in the full length. Large clumps should be broken up with the back of the fork or spade.
  3. Spread large amounts of compost, peat, and manure then dig again. The soil will become friable. (For a vivid example of this, read page 39 of Too Late for Regrets.)

Planting:

Place the plants in the area where the holes are to be dug. Move them around until you’re happy with the result. Container plants bought from the nursery might have become rootbound; tease out some of the roots and spread them out before planting. Water thoroughly, and make sure that any weeds appearing are eradicated promptly.

Sun-Loving Perennials

  • Aurinia (Basket of Gold) – low growing, mid-spring
  • Rock Cress (Arabis) – showy racemes of pure white, late spring. Ideal for rock gardens.
  • Centranthus Ruber (Jupiter’s Beard) – has upright stems bearing fluffy clusters of pink flowers. 2 feet, needs staking.
  • Rudbeckia (Goldsturm) – Black-eyed Susan. Stunning orange flowers with a black center. Shasta daisy makes a spectacular splash of white, mid-summer.
  • Coreopsis (Tickseed) – “Early Sunrise,” “Sunray,” charming yellow flowers at the end of wiry stems, 1-2 feet
  • Heliopsis (Helianthus) – False sunflower, long blooming, 2-3 feet. Plant at rear.
  • Phlox Paniculata (Garden Phlox) – “Eva Cullum,” exquisite clusters of deep pink flowers on sturdy stems, stake. 2 feet, mid-late summer.
  • Aster Frikartii – lilac daisy-like flowers, late summer
Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)

Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)

Stacys 1.5 Feet, Upright Stems

Stacys 1.5 Feet, Upright Stems

Achillea (Yarrow) "Paprika"

Achillea (Yarrow) “Paprika”

Aster Novae-Angliae

Aster Novae-Angliae

Sandwort, Early Summer, Low Growing

Sandwort, Early Summer, Low Growing

A Well-Planned Perennial Bed

A Well-Planned Perennial Bed

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

Annuals – Gems of the Garden

To plant is human–to succeed is divine. 

Annuals are indispensable for filling in gaps between perennials. They are obliging plants and will bloom until the first frost.

Gertrude Jekyll, doyenne of English gardeners, introduced an imaginative way of using annuals; she arranged annuals within the same color wheel. For example, she used various tints of blue and purple, or different shadings of pink. (See Victoria’s border “Pink Magic” in Too Late for Regrets, page 251.)

A circle around a tree or birdbath can be stunning.

The phrase “be fruitful and multiply” in the Book of Genesis applies to perennials; annuals, on the other hand, complete their entire life cycle in one year, focusing all their energy into making seeds, which is why deadheading is important in prolonging the flowering period.

While the blooming period of perennials is three or four weeks, annuals bloom more quickly and for a longer time. Although their stay in the garden is ephemeral, it’s brilliant while it lasts.

In colder climates, annuals brought from the cozy environment of the nursery should be hardened off for a few days before being planted. For example, one should bring them indoors at night. If perennials are the batter of the cake, economizing on compost is like leaving out the eggs or sugar in a recipe.

Annuals are the fastest way to achieve color. When the season ends one can sigh, “The annuals have ended, but the memory lingers on.”

Impatiens, begonias encircle a tree

Impatiens, begonias encircle a tree

Dwarf snapdragons, lobelia erinus and alyssum.

Dwarf snapdragons, lobelia erinus and alyssum.

Alyssum in a container, spill over in a pretty cascade.

Alyssum in a container, spill over in a pretty cascade.

Cosmos bipinnatus and zinnias fill in gaps between perennials.

Cosmos bipinnatus and zinnias fill in gaps between perennials.

Gloriosa daisy (rudbeckia hirta).

Gloriosa daisy (rudbeckia hirta).

Birdbath surrounded by flowering impatiens.

Birdbath surrounded by flowering impatiens.

A Stunning Garden Featured in My Book, “Magical Gardens”

Rich and Carol Lillard manage their 0.75 acre property in the suburb of Lakewood without any help. Rich mows the lawn; Carol takes care of the design, digging, planting, weeding, and pruning. Carol’s knowledge of gardening, her artistic eye, and–above all–her devotion to the garden are what make it so special. Her restrained good taste in her selection of ornaments–birdbaths, benches, containers, plaques, window boxes, statues, and fountains–all contribute to the peaceful atmosphere.

Carol relies on groundcovers to keep the weeds at bay: purple creeping veronica, blue-hued thyme, sedum, phlox subulata, white snow-in-summer and basket-of-gold. In spring, splashes of color appear; tulips, daffodils, white candytuft, and purple grape hyacinth. These are followed by waves of irises, peonies, yarrow, larkspur, garden phlox, and asters.

Trained against the pale-hued wall, a spectacular combination of glorious red climbing roses and purple clematis form a pattern around a wall fountain. Two equally stunning clematis “Jackmanii” planted against the wall of the house clamber to a height of 15 feet!

Window boxes ablaze with impatiens, petunias, and lobelia are positioned in between these purple beauties.

Carol’s sensibilities are evident in her design, color combinations, and flair in choosing just the right weathered ornaments to stage her tableaux.

If you had unlimited funds (and time) to spend on your garden, what would it look like? Daydream away in the comments below!

Candytuft blossoming in spring.

Snow in summer blossoming in spring.

How would you like to look out your window and see this sight?

How would you like to look out your window and see this sight?

A traditional stone statue provides a classical touch.

A traditional stone statue provides a classical touch.

A landscape shot of the same statue surrounded by lovely flowers.

A landscape shot of the same statue surrounded by lovely flowers.

The pale-hued wall fountain that provides the perfect canvas for colorful flowers.

The pale-hued wall fountain that provides the perfect canvas for colorful flowers.

Bright purple colombine.

Bright purple colombine.

Orange tulips.

Orange tulips.

A rustic gate.

A rustic gate.

Purple iris.

Purple iris.

Window Box

What would you plant in your window box?

Clematis – Queen of Climbers

In Too Late for Regrets, there is a description of a spectacular blue and white border, the background of which is a magnificent display of clematis, “Royal Jackmanii.”

There was a pleasing balance between the white, blue and purple perennials. The silvery border of artemesia anchored on either side by French lavender, the elegant spires of snapdragons, and at the back on either side of the clematis, Russian sage. They would stretch the bloom period into fall.

-Too Late for Regrets, Page 78

Clematis are bluish, pinkish, reddish. After some hail, they'll look quite deadish.

Clematis are bluish, pinkish, reddish. After some hail, they’ll look quite deadish.

Clematis is the queen of climbers; every garden should have several of these beauties. Their colors are entrancing; pink, red, purple, mauve, and white. If treated well, they will bloom with vigor and reliability. This lustrous climber is a rampant grower, though it will take a few years before it starts ramping. It’s a carefree plant and once established for two or three years, all that is required in spring is fertilizing and a good supply of water.

Plants can be like friends and relatives; initially, they are eagerly awaited and made welcome. However, after a prolonged stay, some become tiresome and one longs for them to go. There are others like clematis that are much anticipated; their presence enchants us, their departure leaves a void.

Here are some tips for growing clematis successfully:

 

  1. Choose the right site. Check the tag for this information.
  2. Prepare the planting hole with compost and manure.
  3. In spring, prune those that need pruning. Don’t worry if you forget to prune, they’ll still bloom.
  4. Never allow the plant to dry out.
  5. In the spring, fertilize and guide the tendrils onto their supports. I use a lot of chicken wire fixed either to a wall or fence.
A stone urn filled with lobelia erinus, alyssum, dianthus, and petunias is nicely complemented by the glowing backdrop of "Ville de Lyon"

A stone urn filled with lobelia erinus, alyssum, dianthus, and petunias is nicely complemented by the glowing backdrop of “Ville de Lyon”

You will be rewarded with a gorgeous display of shimmering color from this most obliging plant.

Here is a list of recommended clematis:

Purple “Jackmanii”

Pink “Ernest Markham” and rose pink “Ville de Lyon” (pictured right)

Pale mauve/pink “Hagley Hybrid”

Pink ‘Nelly Moser” (an early bloomer, some shade)

“Sweet Autumn,” which are small delicate white flowers that flower late.