by Donna De Palma
For those who crave color in a garden all summer long, planting a perennial garden can be one of the most rewarding outdoor pursuits you’ll ever have. Picture continuous blooms cycling throughout the growing season. Perennials, plants with root systems that stay alive underground for years, lie dormant in winter and sprout again each spring. These plants take time to get established but once established, they provide structure in a garden. Perennials bloom at the same time every year. When you plant a perennial garden, you’ll have flowers you can count on from April to October. Before starting a perennial garden, ask yourself these key questions to create a garden design that best suits your needs.
What do I want from a garden?
Do you picture yourself in a country setting with meandering paths and walkways or would you prefer a formal garden with a definite structure and pattern? Will you be entertaining in your garden, observing butterflies or just having an occasional breakfast? Have a vision of what you want before you begin.
What style is my house?
Whether your home is contemporary or classic, your garden should complement your home. A well-designed garden links home and garden. Consider the views out your windows. Interiors that open onto views feel expansive.
-Organize your landscape around sight lines you observe by looking out your windows.
-Position your main garden outside a living room picture window or in view of an outdoor deck or patio. If you enjoy waking up to flowers, a view of the garden from your bedroom window should be part of your plan.
-Plot patios and walks with your home’s style in mind. Use materials that match your house when laying walkways. Crisscross paths to create areas of interest at intersections in your garden.
Can anything be saved in my existing yard or will I be starting with a clean slate?
Do you have a unique stance of trees, a hedge or berm that could be used as a starting point for planning a design? Any natural landscaping can suggest where to begin.
-Place a path where your eye naturally moves through your lot. Create resting spots by placing a bench or decorative pot at points where paths converge or near a shady tree.
What type of light do I have in my yard?
Observe how sunlight moves across your yard, making note of sunny and shaded sections.
How much can I spend to plant a garden?
Spread your planting expenses over a few seasons to keep costs down. Prioritize purchases. Select five to ten perennials to start. Buy small. Younger plants tend to acclimate better to new surroundings.
-Some considerations before planting: Many varieties of perennials need sun to flower–often six to eight hours a day during growing season. Check your soil. Good soil means it’s not too sandy or too sticky and has enough organic matter to allow for good drainage. That’s the best habitat for plants to root. Test the pH of your soil with a soil testing kit before you plant.
-When you’re ready to begin, draw a sketch or take some photos of your yard—panoramics work best. Overlay tracing paper and start sketching out your garden design. It will help to visualize where certain features should be.
-To implement your design, begin by separating one area from another with a hedge or shrub border. You may want to install a trellis or an arbor for climbing vines. Vines are good for creating intimate seating areas and can provide shelter. If you want varying heights in your garden, haul in dirt or remove dirt to raise or lower terrain. The outdoors is a place to explore so follow the slope of the land to create as natural a flow as you can.
-Next, choose your color palette. If you like the excitement of hot colors, select vibrant flowering varieties that sizzle with reds, oranges and yellows. For a peaceful garden setting, choose cool colors such as blues and a variety of greens. Select silver and white-colored flowers and foliage for a garden that gets light late in the day. They’ll reflect the sun or shine by the glow of the moon as evening descends. Decide on a group of colors you like, then build a garden around them.
-Group plants that have harmonious colors and textures as well as similar water needs. Create a bold effect by planting in drifts of one or two varieties rather than mixing lots of different types of plants in one area. Perennials, as a general rule, are low maintenance and if they’re native to your region, will require less care. Remember the less sunlight you have, the fewer blooms.
-Perennials work well in whole garden beds, when combined with annuals and bulbs or as an accent to trees and shrubs. They tend to increase in size and coverage each year. Perennials are well-loved because of their diversity and size and for the variety of colors available. Use them as flower borders around shrubs and trees.
-A well-planned and well-tended garden is like a fine painting. Your first impression will be fields of color, punctuated by unexpected bursts of more intense color and texture. Always changing, ever-evolving, the best gardens tell us something about the person who planted and cared for them. They remind us to explore, to discover, and to appreciate, the beauty and bounty of nature.
Ten select perennials to plant
Ajuga A part sun, part shade, perennial, Ajuga, with its purple flowers, makes a colorful groundcover that looks great most of the year.
Baby’s breath The loose billowy panicles of the tiny single and double pink or white flowers of Baby’s breath adds a light, airy texture to your garden. This delicate-looking perennial prefers alkaline soil and will drape itself over rock walls.
Bellflower (Campanula) These bobbing, often blue, bellflowers are cottage garden plants. This part sun, full sun, perennial comes in both a tall variety and a ground-hugging type.
Blue fescue (Ornamental grass) Blue fecsue is one of the most versatile of the wispy ornamental grasses. Use it at the base of tall perennials such as lilies for blending with the landscape and to offset other plants and foliage. Beautiful when planted in a row as a hedge.
Coneflower (Echinacea) Purple coneflower is easy to grow and attracts birds, bees, and butterflies. Its large, sturdy daisy-like flowers with dropping petals spread easily in good soil with full sun. Color is most often rosy violet or white with hybrids now in yellow, orange, burgundy and cream.
Coralbells Known for their spires of delicate reddish flowers, Coralbells have mottling and veining on their leaves. Because of their exotic foliage, they make fine groundcover and enjoy humus-rich moisture retaining soil.
Hydrangea Comes in types that flourish in sun or shade. This perennial offers huge bouquets of clustered flowers–from mophead to lacecap–blooming from summer through fall. They differ in size of plant and flower shape, flower color and blooming time. Hydrangeas thrive in moist, fertile, well-drained soil. For blue hydrangea, check your soil’s pH and apply aluminum sulfate in spring to lower soil’s pH to 5.2-5.5 range. Also a climbing variety that produces aerial roots that grow into walls, fences or the sides of trees.
Iris This part sun, full sun, perennial was named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Iris comes in a rainbow of colors. These intricate flowers are constructed with three upright petals and three drooping petals. Some like alkaline soil and some like acidic.
Lavender An herb and perennial shrub, Lavender fills the early summer garden with muted purple blooms infused with aromatic fragrance. Great to plant alongside pathways or near outdoor seating so garden visitors can enjoy the scent.
Peony This part sun, part shade, perennial belongs in almost every garden. These lush and sumptuous blooms come in single, semi-double, anemone centered or Japanese, and fully-double varieties. Their vibrant shades of pink and red, and sometimes white, herald early days of spring. Likes deep rich soil with plenty of humus to avoid dryness. When well-suited to the climate, peonies can thrive on very little care.
Better Homes and Gardens
Martha Stewart Living