As I walk through my own gardens, and work among the plants at the store, I marvel at the vast array of perennials. There are plants that bloom in the winter and varieties that flower in the spring, summer or fall. There are perennials that hug the ground and those with flowers that tower over our heads. Some perennials thrive in deep shade, and others prefer bright sunshine.
Some perennials are more long-lived than others. You’d think that since they are all labeled “perennial” that the plants would come back year after year, but that isn’t the case. Many are bone-hardy and long lasting, but others…not so much. Just as plants vary in their lifespan, they also have assorted habits and require a range of care. There are perennials that self-seed or spread in the garden to the point of being a nuisance, and others that stay obediently and tidily where they are planted. Some let weeds grow in and among their stems while others are weed smothering. A few perennials are quite carefree, while others require mid-summer trimming, staking or deadheading.
So what’s a home landscaper to do? First of all, just know that perennial plants are like people: each has a distinct personality, and comes with an array of talents and challenges. Get to know your perennial plants one by one, and don’t assume that any one plant will behave as the others in your garden do. When looking for a plant that suits your style of gardening, approach each plant in the spirit of adventure and ask us if a particular perennial would be right for you.
In the meantime, let me tell you about a few random plants that caught my eye this week:
As the hosta peek up in my garden I’m reminded at how reliable this plant is. Hosta is weed-smothering, and when planted in part-shade and watered deeply but less often, it remains attractive all summer and into the fall. Deadhead by cutting the flower stalks off after they finish flowering but before the less-than-attractive seed pods form.
Unlike the hosta, Aurinia loves full sun. In fact, this plant prefers sandy, well-drained soils. And also unlike the reliable hosta, Aurinia is short-lived. It does, however, self-seed in areas where it’s happy. Watch for tiny plants that sprout randomly around the garden in summer as those will be your future spring bloomers. This is a great perennial for rock gardens, in rock walls, and along stone paths because it loves the heat. This plant does not like frequent, automatic irrigation.
Here are two plants with opposite habits. The Nepeta, in the lower part of the photo, has great looking foliage all summer. It can be left alone after flowering, sheared into a neat ball, or cut to the ground…all result in new growth, some new flowers and attractive leaves for the rest of the season. On the other hand, the purple plant at the top of the photos, Penstemon Huskers Red, does not look good after it flowers in June. It doesn’t look good if you deadhead it, or if you leave it alone. So after it finishes just cut it to the ground and forget about it until next spring when it grows nice purple foliage again. (Plant annuals next to it for flowers the rest of the summer.)
Echinacea, aka purple coneflower, is pretty reliable in the garden and doesn’t spread very much. The flower stems may need supporting depending on the variety. You can either deadhead by cutting the flower stalks down once they are finished, or you can leave the seeds for the birds to enjoy. This perennial plays well with others, and looks great in a meadow-style, or informal, cottage garden type planting.
Lychnis is also called rose campion. It’s really a biennial, meaning that it grows one year, blooms the next and then it dies. It also self-seeds prolifically. Put this in your garden if you love a plant that travels wherever…but avoid it if you like to control where your plants are growing. Note: Lychnis also seeds in lawns, driveways and cracks in the foundation, so be prepared. The bright pink flowers are lovely against the silverish leaves, however, and it’s perfect for cottage-style gardens.
Lady’s mantle also self seeds in gardens, but if you remove the flowers as they go by this isn’t a problem. Also called Alchemilla mollis, this low-growing perennial is long-lasting, and produces lime-green flowers that are perfect for cutting. Gardeners everywhere love how the leaves catch drops of water and display them like diamonds. Grow this in full sun to part-shade. It also makes a good ground-cover in part shade when left to self-seed.