Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Plant some perennials this spring


When you plant your spring flower garden this year, consider moving beyond the usual annual zinnias and petunias to perennials.  Although they are usually more expensive than annuals initially, they return every year and spread to make new plants.  Early spring is a great time to plant perennials, as well as shrubs and trees, so that they have cool weather and spring rain in which to establish themselves before summer arrives.

I do not have a favorite perennial; they are all beautiful during some parts of the year.  Some are beautiful but will not perennialize in our climate, and deer and critters love others too much to make them worthwhile in my garden.
Japanese painted fern in the foreground with hellebore in the upper right

In my shade garden, now, I am enjoying my Lenten rose, or hellebore.  At maturity, it grows about ten inches high by twelve inches wide, and has blossoms ranging from shades of white to pink.  It blooms during the Christian season of Lent, and sometimes blossoms start as early as Christmas.  During the rest of the year its leathery evergreen leaves provide interest in a shady spot.  Deer do not bother it, and it reseeds itself politely, so you’ll have baby hellebores in a few years.

My aunt gave me some Japanese painted ferns a few years ago, and I love the lavender-silver leaves that brighten a shady area.  It complements the darker green leaves of Hostas.  Hydrangeas and camellias are happy in shade, and give interesting blooms throughout the year. 

In early spring, Bleeding hearts, or dicentra, join the hellebores in the shade garden with lovely weeping pink and white blossoms.  Columbine, which can tolerate some sun, is also nice in the shady garden, and Astilbe’s feathery plumes give an unusual flower shape.  Anemone is a staple in my fall garden; it has flowers that are as perfect as those on a cake, and it blooms from late summer until frost.
Astilbe is budding and is about to bloom


When planting the shade garden, don’t do what I did as a beginning gardener and look up at the lovely shade the pine trees provide in the backyard and consider it a perfect place for a shade garden.  I do recall all the work I put into that garden with fondness, because it was fun and a learning experience, but almost all the plants died when summer came and the bully pine trees sucked every bit of moisture from the ground, saving none for my poor perennials. 

On a garden tour one year, I saw dedicated gardeners with a lovely shade garden under trees.  This was not long after my mass murder of perennials under pine trees, and I asked the gardener how he managed to have these beautiful impatiens and Hostas by the trunks of mature trees.  He confessed that he puts the plants in large pots underground to keep the tree roots away, and he provides copious amounts of water.  If you have the resources, try this, but also know that both my grandmother and I killed dogwood trees by digging among the roots of established, blooming trees to plant shrubs and perennials underneath.  It would be hard to kill a pine tree this way, though.  Dogwoods are temperamental.
Happy hosta gets morning sun and afternoon shade

Especially in our climate, plant a shade garden on the north side of a building, or in shade provided by distant trees.  Many perennials that tolerate shade enjoy some morning sun, as long as the sun is gone before lunchtime in the summer.  Don’t do another thing I did wrong and decide that because the sun doesn’t reach a spot in December or March that it won’t hit the spot in July.   My poor plants that were happy in December were roasted in July, and what I thought was going to be a shade garden turned into a sunny spot. 
Get to work on the perennial garden, and don’t be afraid to kill some plants.  You won’t get a nice garden until you can apply compost made from the remains of plants you killed.   

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