The Perennial Garden
Ah! Perennials! Some of the most wonderful plants are perennials.
Easy for the beginner, these ideal plants provide structure and presence
in any garden. As backdrops for annuals, as focal points, or as specimen
plants, they are equally indispensable in our gardens. A true perennial
is a plant that lives for more than one growing season. Some,
like columbine and feverfew, only live a few years. Others,
like peonies, have been know to outlive the gardener.
Perennials unfold with the passage of the seasons. They are
effective mixed with annual garden plants for contrasting colors,
textures, and forms. Wide swaths of color, too, are brilliant sights.
My first perennial garden sprang out of necessity to break up a wide
expanse of patchy lawn that was gently sloped with extremes of
sun and heat on one end and heavy shade and heat on the
opposite end. By creating a garden room off the
walnut burl path to the pond, we would achieve a gentle, ambling
walkway leading to other rooms behind shrubs and flowering
plants; in effect, a series of garden rooms.
I did some research to locate plants that would need minimal care and
that would thrive in this location, taking into account the soil and
light conditions. This was 1995 and I did not have a computer at that time, so this
involved almost living at the library in town, going through books, magazines, and
articles. Many perennials, I discovered, would do
well in shade gardens if they received at least four hours of sun.
The information I gleaned I then hand wrote into notebooks, scrawled
with plant names and their characteristics. I developed rough charts
and pencil drawings to aid me in making plant selections from
the vast array available. I noted flower colors, bloom times, and growth
habits for one whole year before deciding on the plants I wanted. There were stacks
of material all over the house. Living at 3,000 ft
elevation, hardiness was also a factor to consider and as summers
could be quite fierce, the plants must also be drought hardy
once established. Plant fragrance held a high priority during these selections.
I fancied an oval-shaped garden and outlined the shape on the existing
grass with a hose, first one side, then the other and marked it off with
cornstarch. I dug the outline out with a shovel, then proceeded to
remove the remaining grass and clay soil. I had read about double
digging and amending the soil, and that was my first course
of business. After the area was dug and amended with compost,
sand, and peat moss, Tim ran the Rototiller over it several times
until the soil was fluffy. He raked it level and spread
triple 16 fertilizer which I watered in well.
I did not plant this garden right away. I waited to check light
conditions again at various times of day, taking notes of strength, and
length of light intensity. I noted if there was dappled shade or
any pockets of full shade; if it received morning sun or afternoon sun.
For whatever situation I had, there were plants that would excel in
those locations. There were also micro-climates to consider.
These would allow me to push our zone limits, enjoying the
plants needing warmer zones, like tropicals and orchids (over-wintered).
Happy planting day finally arrived after about four trips to the nurseries.
Plants were set out in their nursery pots and a pleasing
scheme developed. What I was aiming for was a perennial garden
which would have plants and flowers, creating interest in all seasons.
They would complement each other, bring out the best in each
neighboring plant, and planted close together, would appear lush.
The Perennial garden enjoys morning sun, afternoon sun, late afternoon
shade and is currently planted with shrubs, trees,
bulbs, and flowers that either have interesting foliage, that
complement each other, or that create the effect
I want--a carefree, charming cottage garden
of simply perfect perennials. Parts of the garden are
in constant shade, allowing for a wide range of plants.
The colors are splendid and amazing!
Here is what is growing in the Perennial garden:
The Main Attractions
Pomegranate tree - deciduous, lovely, ruffled orange and white flowers
Escallonia - sweet, pink flowers in spring, evergreen shrub, slow grower
Lady Wolford Iris - golden yellow, with lavender, ruffled falls
Snowberry shrub - deciduous, little pink flowers in spring, white berries
in May, white globes in summer that last into late fall
Oregon grape Mahonia - reddish foliage, saw-toothed edges, yellow flowers in May
black, edible berries, slow grower
Barberry bush - deep burgundy color, small leaves, barbed branches
Lilac tree - decidious, fragrant, lavender flowers in spring
Jacob's ladder - tall, purple flowers, ferny foliage in early summer
Artemesia - silver/grey plant with deeply cut foliage
Bridal Wreath Spiraea - deciduous, arching branches, white flowers in May
Ajuga - purple-tinged groundcover with purple spikes in spring
Flax - tiny, blue flowers floating atop wispy, long stems
Coreopsis - yellow, ruffled flowers on tall stems
Pink Yarrow - ferny foliage, clustered flower heads
Foxglove - tall plant, pink bells spiral on stems
Euphorbia - evergreen, light green leaves and red flowers in whorls
Giant Alliums - purple heads of spiky flowers, tall stems
Stella D'Oro Daylily - yellow/gold variety, long summer bloomer
Calendula, golden-orange spheres, long bloomer
Asters - tall stems, purple, small, daisy-like flowers along stem
Mexican Primrose - light pink, cupped flowers, spreads easily
Penstemon - ruby lips on swaying, slender stems
Cistus (rockrose) - evergreen, white flowers, drought-hardy
Gladiolus - bright yellow, slender sheaves
Alyssum - groundcover, white, fragrant blossoms, prolific
These plants have been arranged so they have their required light needs met,
while reflecting a nearby flower color, or contrasting with another plant. You will notice
that most of the plants flower in either pink or purple colors, or
the foliage is purple, deep burgundy, or silver and white. This is
by design as these are some of my favorite colors. Yellows and whites
perk up the palette throughout. Many of the plants are
evergreen, some flower in early spring, some in late spring, and
others in summer, with the asters and veronicas blooming in the fall.
This bed was edged with medium-sized blue rocks in a double layer.
For interest, the top of an old wooden trunk was propped up on one end of
a large, twisted piece of old, silvery driftwood. The trunk shaded some
pansies and violets in a sunnier location and morning glories climbed
the driftwood for a pleasing effect. Interesting rusted artifacts
or unusual large rocks were set in among the plants. A wee, gray stone
squirrel peeks out from under the Escallonia, and this, too, creates a sweet picture.
Perennials are used throughout the other gardens, along with annuals,
bulbs, corms, and rhizomes, creating living pictures that dazzle and
delight the eye through all seasons. And always, as I plant each one, I whisper
"grow and prosper" and snuggle them into the warm earth.
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