How to Design with Perennials
Design your garden with perennials if you want a beautiful, easy-care and sustainable garden year after year. Perennials thrive and spread even during the coldest winters, only becoming fully dormant when the ground freezes. Given any warmth at all, they’re off and running (although not to the naked eye, of course). When you’re finally ready to break your own winter hibernation and venture outside, you’ll likely notice that your perennials have doubled.
If you’re located in a climate at the colder end of the USDA climate zones, from 3-6, you can have blooming plants from the first warming rays of spring sun, all the way to the dark cold days of winter. Last winter, Delphinium ‘Magic Fountain’ was still flowering for my Thanksgiving table. It looked lovely in a crystal vase along with a delicate, fall-blooming Anemone (Anenome spp). All told, there are more plant possibilities with perennials than I can fit in my half-acre garden. But, I can’t resist. I keeping adding more that intrigue me.
Choosing the Right Perennial
How does one pick among all the perennials to create a sustainable garden that blooms in every season and for up to 9 months of the year? Checking the tags is critical. If you live in USDA climate zone 5, don’t choose a perennial that is for zone 8. It will make a lovely annual, but is not designed by nature to survive cold winters. Choose perennials that are in your climate zone or less, such as zones 3 or 4.
Spring Blooming Perennials
To get your garden started here are just a few of my favorites for each season. Early spring, tall-blooming perennials include the lacy, old-fashioned Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), brilliant Oriental Poppies (Papaver Orientale), Lupine (Lupinus), and the old garden staple, Peony (Paeonia).
With a huge array of colors, the beautiful Iris is virtually indestructible. You can count on Iris to spread and fill out your garden, so plant liberally. The Iris were brought west with the pioneers, just to let you know how hardy this perennial is. If you want to attract those large, fuzzy bumblebees, don’t forget Bee Balm (Monarda). Where a garden is partially under towering pines, the soil moist and slightly acidic, try varieties of delicate Astilbe (Astilbe) or spectacular dark Monkshood (Aconitum) and Baneberry.
Tip: When spring-blooming perennials have completed their bloom, prune all the flower spikes back and you might see another bloom period in the fall. The flowers will be smaller, but beautiful just the same.
Summer Blooming Perennials
I love the summer blooming perennials for their continuous bloom late into the fall. The soft brown centers of Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) blend with the varieties of purple and white Coneflower (Echinacea), pink Veronica, red Penstemon and purple Salvia. In mid-summer, the Ornamental Grasses begin to send their seed heads spiking, ending in graceful foliage. Some of my favorites include switch grass (Panicum spp.), and of the fountain grasses (Pennisetum), and most of the silver or maiden grass varieties (Miscanthus).
Fall blooming Perennials
Enhance the grasses with the deeper colors of fall bloomers like Russian Sage (Perovskia), Goldenrod (Solidago), Chrysanthemum and Aster. Daylilies (Hemerocallis) make a last, huge showing and are lovely when combined with the taller Sedums ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Matrona’, as they begin to turn a beautiful warm rust color.
A sustainable perennial garden will provide ecstasy for years to come. Spend your early spring time planning the perfect color combinations within your garden. Its a painter’s palette, so be generous and let your creative heart make the choices. Then when the warm days are finally here to stay, plant it right, plant it once, and enjoy your garden forever.
In sync with nature,
P.S. My best-selling book on Perennials is designed so you can easily choose your plant palette for Spring, Summer and Fall-blooming Perennials. Shipping is free if you use the code word ‘Blog’, when placing your order.
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