Late Blooming Perennials

Some gardeners have to pick there moments.  A spring wildflower and bulb garden highlighted by hellebores, perhaps.  Or an early summer rose and delphinium fest.  Does a late summer garden suit you better?  Are your pots your passion?  If I were retired, had a garden the size of Sissinghurst, and an garden staff, I  might could have it all. But that is not the case.  I work every week that the garden is in session.    

I am utterly focused on the work at hand from early May until the 4th of July.  This means I have little time to enjoy and nurture a garden at home.  People in the nursery business or the landscape business all have the same issues.  They get to work early; they go home late.  They work the weekends too.  Once the early spring has passed, and the magnolias are finished blooming, my eyes and hands are everywhere but at home enjoying my garden.      

I plant lots of pots-this keeps my love of gardening alive while my attention is elsewhere.  When I come home at night and water, I feel like I am gardening.  My landscape is designed around my lack of time to pay attention.  I have lots of mature evergreens that require little but a once yearly pruning, and some thoughtful watering.  Late in August, I start to come up for air.  I am looking at my gardens. 

The late blooming perennials I greatly enjoy, as I have time to enjoy them.  My rose garden is underplanted with white Japanse anemones, and boltonia.  Boltonia is a selected native fall blooming aster that is one of my favorite plants.  They grow all summer long without one bit of encouragement from me, and bloom like there is no tomorrow in September.  They are not fussy in any way, beyond appreciating regular water.  Bugs and disease-they are impervious.  For the past 3 weeks, I have been looking at these tall growing clumps out my south side windows.  How they thrive makes me look like a good gardener.   

The white Japanese anemones thrive equally well-on the south side of my house, in between and behind the roses.  They have no problem with a full sun location.  I do water my roses regularly via drip irrigation-the anemones seem to appreciate it.  For the better part of 10 days I have been wading into the anemones and boltonia with my camera.  I have time to look, and appreciate what is going on. 

I do not have the means or space to mount and maintain a garden that is lovely every moment of the entire season.  I have to make choices.  I like a late and a later season garden.  I like tall billowy perennials.  This means I personally favor hyssop, monarda, boltonia, hardy hibiscus, Joe Pye weed, ornamental grasses. aging Russian sage, phlox paniculata, lespideza, asters, anemone Japonica, among others.  This has every bit as much to do with my availability, as their form and flowers. There are very few garden plants I do not like.  I would have them all, if I could.           

But there are those plants that get special care and attention, as their time to be corresponds with my time to give. The big late blooming perennials-they occupy a special place in my gardening heart.  As for your garden, I would make this suggestion.  Choose the season that delights you the most-and go for broke.  If you want to grow great vegetables, organize your gardening efforts accordingly, and make plans for rocking pots of basil.  If you have a summer house elsewhere, make spring your season.  If you are a working person, plan for a glorious garden when you are the least busy.

Trying to be all things at all times sounds way too much like a competition.  A great garden that engages and satisfies an individual gardener is all about enabling a certain quality of life.  Those astonishingly beautiful pictures you see of gardens in magazines-they are all about a specific moment chosen by a gardener.  Choose your moment.

More On Perennial Gardens

This past Sunday, my opinion post had much to do with my 16 year old Hicks yews, failing.  This current northside view of my house makes me wring my hands.  Five old and very tall yews died-I had to remove them.  For years they screened the view to my kitchen door from the street.  The densiformis yews that faced them down are fine.  I stared at this view until I was blue in the face.  What should I do?

In the far left of this picture taken from the house side-those yews, just days before I removed them.  As to what killed them, no one knows.  I already knew that I wanted to dig out these panicum virgatum grasses, and plant a perennial garden.  How so? This space once was a meadowy mix, but over time, the panic grass grew lustily at the expense of the other perennials.  I knew this grassland would grow to 5 feet tall, and promptly fall over into the path.

I have really good soil in which to plant.  I have always mulched with bark fines-ground hardwood bark.  It deteriorates quickly, and adds loads of organic material to the soil.  Even Tim from Westside Forestry was complimentary on my friable soil.  What now?

Of course Steve wasted no time throwing down both gloves.  Apparently I have a great opportunity to do something unusual here-don’t blow it on shasta daisies and coneflowers.  He can be infuriating.  As much as I admire a well-grown stand of shasta daisies, there are other things I like better.  The very first decision?  What season garden did I want?  A late July through fall garden I would have time to enjoy, and fuss over.  In the spring and early summer I am too busy to look, and definitely too busy to maintain something.  This is a small and irregular space; I needed to edit.

So what do I like, besides the late summer and fall?  I like good looking leaves.  I like purple, lavender and white. I like flowers that grow on vertical bloom stalks.  I like single flowers, and flowers that wave in the breeze.  This meant the following:  Veronicas of several types, stachys monieri, Russian sage, monarda fistulosa Claire Grace, hyssop Blue fortune and adenophora Amethyst.  The white phlox David is very disease resistant, and it one of my favorite fragrances in the garden.

Planting this Summer Skies delphinium is probably ill-advised, but I have never tried to grow them before.  This blue is tough to resist.  I plan on watering them as little as possible and ignoring them unless they really seem to need some fussing.  Gary Bopp, the grower for Wiegand’s nursery farm told me not to plan on having them longer than 3-5 years.

A blue Siberian iris and some blue-eyed grass were my only concessions to early flowering plants.  I just like both of the these plants.  A front border of lady’s mantle, Geranium Rozanne, and catmint would look good all summer long-both in and out of flower.  Both the geranium and the catmint will rebloom, provided they get haircuts. The Veronica Purpleicious-I couldn’t resist.  I alternated it with another paler Veronica whose name I cannot remember.  Veronica breeding has come a long way; this plant habit is anything but weedy.  I know they will look great with the white platycodon I had picked out.  Balloon flowers are slow to establish, but when they are happy, they are really happy.  The simple shaped flower I find beautiful and appealing.

The shopping I did for plants took weeks.  I could see it would take Steve a couple hours to plant. This is as it should be.  I am not a buy a plant and find a spot for it gardener.  I do not have the luxury of that much space.  I shopped for a tall plant that would provide at little screening from the street.  I settled on white hardy hibiscus.  I like their presence; the big leaves and flowers are striking.  I also appreciate how they stand up on their own.

My favorite plant purchase was this stachy monieri “Hummelo”.  The flower stalks are thick and sturdy; the leaves are large and have a great texture.  It reminds me some of primula denticulata.  As I knew nothing about it, I read.  It is incredible-the amount of information on plants and gardening that is available courtesy of the internet.  If you see something you like, it is so easy to check its habits, vigor and persistence.  At the very least, if you want to take the trouble to grow delphiniums, you can find out what’s involved. This photograph came from Visions Pictures and Photography-my plants do not look like this yet.

I like the overall look from the driveway.  This area is informally planted with dogwoods, ivy, hosta, creeping jenny and spring flowering bulbs.  What has gone into the garden seems in keeping with this, though the perennials have been planted in rows of alternating plants.

It is easy to see in this picture that the bed widens at the far end.  In this case, I wrapped the taller plants around in a more circular fashion, but kept the front border straight.  All of this geometry will disappear as soon as the plants grow in, but the end of the garden will have a more finished, rather than abruptly linear look.  The spots that appear to look empty are the spots for adenophora; they had been cut back to the ground.

Once the perennials were planted, they were immediately mulched with hardwood bark fines.  By this, I mean ground bark.  It will conserve moisture, and looks great with perennials.  In my area, this bark is available at State Crushing, in Auburn Hills. I will keep an eye on the water and tinker with them some the rest of the summer.  No doubt some things will not work out at all, but that will be part of the fun it.  Planting a garden is just the beginning of the fun of it.