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)

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.