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)

Water Features

The human fascination with water features in the garden goes back thousands of years. A shared reverence of nature inspired the Chinese and later the Japanese to become masters of the art of using water and rock. Experts in the management of water, the Romans built aqueducts and fountains, some still in use today. Islamic gardens always included water to counter the fierce heat. Their influence spread to Southern Spain. The most notable of these designs exists today at the palace of the Alhambra, with its formal canals, rills, and fountains. Gardens today can be improved by including some part of water feature.

There once was a heron–a fairly large bird,

He came quite early before we had stirred,

He ate my prize fish, almost every one,

Then he gobbled the last one just for fun.

Boxwood encloses this fountain.

Boxwood encloses this fountain.

A lion's head fountain.

A lion’s head fountain.

A tranquil scene.

A tranquil scene.

Lily pads float on surface.

Lily pads float on surface.

Water cascades down huge rocks. See "Too Late for Regrets" page 251 for a description of Timothy's water feature.

Water cascades down huge rocks. See “Too Late for Regrets” page 251 for a description of Timothy’s water feature.

Water trickles into pond.

Water trickles into pond.

Tulips surround fountain.

Tulips surround fountain.

Why Latin is Important

Latin is a dead language,

As dead as dead can be;

It killed the Ancient Romans,

And now it’s killing me! 

Using botanical names is important. Without them, the gardening world would become like the Tower of Babel. Common names can vary from region to region, but Latin is the unifying language. Making the effort to study botanical names has its benefits. For example, when you’re in a group of frighteningly erudite and knowledgeable gardeners and “Helenium autumnale” lightly trips off your tongue. It beats “sneezeweed” hands down.

There was a French gardener, Monique,

Whose English and Latin was weak,

She bought plants quite wrong, they didn’t last long,

Mon Dieu, were those tags all in Greek?

Pictured below are lovely photos of perennials. Their botanical names are quite a mouthful, but take the weekend to learn them! Otherwise, you’ll end up like poor Monique!

What are some of your favorite Latin phrases that can be thrown into casual conversation?

"Helenium autumnale, heliopsis helianthoides"

“Helenium autumnale, heliopsis helianthoides”

"Sedum spectabile, rudbeckia fulgida"

“Sedum spectabile, rudbeckia fulgida”

"Heliopsis helianthoides"

“Heliopsis helianthoides”

Write What You Know

After reading Too Late for Regrets, many readers are wondering: why did I choose to make the heroine a gardener?

Because my hobby is gardening. Therefore, I could write with some authority on the subject. One of the most valuable pieces of writing advice in circulation is to write what you know.

In the case of my novel, making Elizabeth a gardener also allowed the story to flow more smoothly. The police officer sees Elizabeth for the first time while she is working in her garden. Perhaps it’s this nurturing and feminine act that arouses his interest? Had she been a violinist instead of a gardener, it’s unlikely that she would have been standing in the front garden playing the violin. Gardening becomes a shared interest between them and the running theme throughout the book.

So my advice to writers is simple: write what you know most. The plot will follow. In my next post, I will discuss passionate love scenes in various books and media and answer the question, “Is less more?”