KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.
Memorial Day, just seemed so early this year. There is so much of May left. When I was a kid, it was on the 30th of May. Years later when the US Government opted for Monday Holidays, the State of NH kept the tradition of the 30th while Maine adopted the Monday Holiday. Confusing for someone who commuted from Portland to Portsmouth to serve as a bank’s Compliance officer. Solution—I’d take the week off. This meant I did not have to fight the crowds on Memorial Day to purchase my plants. I had a week in which to perform this ritual. In past writings I revealed I was not a child of gardeners. Memorial Day did mean driving to the one Nursery within miles of Rochester, NH, the city my mother felt was ‘the county’. I do remember the throngs of people with the nursery owner dressed in denim overalls and a plaid shirt /sleeves rolled to the elbows. No embellishment but honest to goodness truth.
Yes, everyone is so eager to buy plants. There are bare spaces to fill, a desire for color, and a need to be at one with the earth. All are good things. The smell of dirt; AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I long for rain, slow, sensual with the scent of steamy hot top, musty grass, and drenched blooms. Many of you will identify. Spring is a shiny new toy that we cannot wait to get our hands on. One advantage of this toy is if we play with a vision and determination at the beginning, what the time of our rest we can reap the rewards of our beginnings. That is, if we planned.
Within the confines of space and time, I want to change the way you envision a perennial bed. So often, the flowers are the focus. Perennial blooms are around for a finite period of time. It takes careful planning to establish a garden with various blooming times. Often we must supplement annuals to appease our need for color. This is not a bad thing, yet could be costly and time consuming. What to do? Look beyond the bloom. Look to foliage. Variances in color, texture, and growing pattern can fill a bed with interest before a single bloom is spotted. Combining plants is part of the plan. There are no rules other than to utilize plants that require the same light and food requirements in the same bed.
A shade garden comprised solely of Astilbe is anything but boring. This shade, moisture-loving plant offers foliage that offers much interest and subtle differences. The fern to feather like leaves are available in ground hugging mounds of burgundy to 18-inch plumes of blue or lime green. The spires of airy blossoms on long stems are best viewed amass. Mixed among several varieties of hosta, coral-bells and ferns, there is no need to wait for flowering the Pacific to have a garden of interest.
Gardens of full sun can offer the same return. Sedum. I could write sonnets about Sedum; succulent, seductive, spellbinding. From broadleaf limes, to burgundy edged blues, needle yellows, mounds, ground covers. A sedum for every taste. The rich foliage offers a great companion to the fine texture of lavender; thread leaf coreopsis, dianthus, snow in summer, ornamental grasses. These are perennials that bring smiles long before they bring bees to the blooms.
Have you ever flown over this great country of ours and looked out the window to view a patchwork quilt of fields? Your landscape can offer the same affect while keeping your feet firmly on the ground.
When you begin to shop for your plants, and I know you will be doing this soon, think beyond the flower. Allow the bloom to be the bonus. Incorporate variable foliage textures, spiking or feathering next to broad or succulent. Bright greens next to rich forest greens. Variegated, blue grays, rich burgundies. All are available.
Do not shy away from perennial ornamental grasses. Many are slow to arrive yet offer interest and movement long beyond the growing season.
Before I conclude, there is an incredible plant I often incorporate into my beds. It offers everything we have mentioned today, texture, form, and a sweet bloom with a pungent fragrance. Chives. I smile. Purple lollipops on top of succulent spikes. They mound, perfect next to sedum, coreopsis, coral-bells, any broad leaf or feather foliage. A major bonus for the State of Maine. Deer do not like them. It repels them. Of course, your hand will smell like onions whenever you touch them. Small price to pay.
If you find this information of interest, I could gladly supply more suggestions. Ask the staff at your preferred garden center. No doubt, they all have their tried and true favorites.
One last thing. Ok, 2. Will you let me go for 3? No, wait, 4. My final offer.
Before you set foot inside the garden center to begin your shopping spree keep in mind the following:
1 Have a vision. A plan and bring a list. Purchase only plants that fit within your vision.
2 Think in layers. As you decorate a room in your house, you should decorate your landscape. Floor, wall and ceiling=ground covers, vertical interest with plants of variable heights and canopies of shrubs and specimen trees.
3 Read the plant tag. The plant that attracts while on the shelf may not be the plant that will be attractive in your garden. Remember, Right plant, Right place!
4 Buds over blooms. A plant all in bloom may soon require deadheading or worse have already ‘done its thing’ for the season. While instant gratification is great, blooms offer more promise with your purchase.
5 Think about maintenance, growth habits now and for the future. (Did you think I could stop at 4?)
More nagging: Purchase plants from local garden centers. When shopping ‘box stores’ you may find a plant that is suited for our hardiness zone, however the soil the plant is encased in may come from elsewhere. What lurks within the dirt is the stuff of horror novels. We are so blessed to have some of the best garden centers almost at our doorstep. Buy local! The associate you purchase from today I can almost guarantee will be there next season.
Another guarantee……………I’ll be back…………….
KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
May 29, 2008