Saturday, January 19, 2013

What To Plant? - Perennials Edition

Aquilegia canadensis, or Canadian columbine, 
an Eastern North American native that does well in gardens too.

Last week I did a post about some of my favorite annuals, things I grow from seed or purchase almost every year.  I really enjoyed going through my old garden photos - such good memories from my old garden, and new memories in this one.  This weekend I'd like to share some of my favorite perennials.  Again, since I garden in Central New York, not far from the Adirondack Mountains, I'm in a borderline climate zone 4/5 situation.  My garden suggestions would grow well in the Midwestern, Central Atlantic and Northeastern U.S., parts of the Pacific Northwestern U.S. and Canada, and the more southerly parts of Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick/Newfoundland/PEI, Canada.  Obviously I don't plant these every year, but over the years I've grown many of these, from seed and from nurseries.  Many of these are workhorses in the garden that I wouldn't be without.  Some grew really well in my old garden, and not so well in the new one (different microclimates), and vice versa.  Enjoy the pictures and commentary, and maybe you'll find an idea or two for your own garden.

Clematis 'Henryi' - one of my favorite plants in my old garden.

Clematis - I don't know how you say it (cleh-MA-tis or CLEM-uh-tis), but I love this plant in its many forms.  In my old garden I had a gorgeous 'Henryi' growing up our light pole.  It was a vigorous plant that would have been happy to continue growing up from the light into the crab apple tree above it.  In a good year the flowers were bigger than my hand, and always snow white.  In my new yard I've planted the variety 'Silver Moon' by the back deck, and I hope the clematis will bloom this year.  Clematis are funny in their growth, in that they seem to do nothing their first year, then grow just a little in their second year, and burst into luxuriant growth in their third year (often called "sleep, creep, leap").  This will be 'Silver Moon's third year, and I'm hoping for some great silvery lavender flowers.

Yellow columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) is so elegant and delicate.

Columbine - I've always loved these classic flowers, associating them in my mind with family vacations in Colorado when I was a kid.  I'd love to grow the classic blue and white form in my garden this year.  I've already got a stand of the Canadian columbine (red and yellow), and a vigorous pure yellow variety.  They are so graceful, and self seed prolifically.  I'm not a fan of the double or dwarf varieties, since both look rather dumpy and inelegant to me.  All columbine aren't that long-lived as perennials (3-4 years being typical), but their self-sowing habit ensures they perpetuate themselves pretty well.  If you want to perpetuate a particular color or variety, you'll want to buy fresh seed or new plants every so often - columbine are notoriously quick to hybridize among themselves.

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt,' an old classic, widely available.

Peonies - When my husband was laid off from his job in November of 2008 (on Election Day, actually), that next weekend I went out into my garden and dug up all of my peonies and put them in plastic-lined cheap laundry baskets.  I put the baskets in cardboard boxes sitting in our driveway turnaround.  I was afraid we'd have to move mid-winter, and I'd have to leave them all behind if I didn't dig them up before the ground froze.  It takes several years for a peony to mature from a small division to a blooming plant, and I wanted that "head start" at the new house.  Those tough perennials sat through the entire winter in the driveway, alternately exposed to the drying wind or covered with snow and ice.  They sprouted in the spring, still in their baskets, then they were moved and bloomed in May and June on my parents' front porch (in their baskets) while we waited to close on our new house.  They eventually made the move up to their new home in CNY in July, where I finally planted them again.  Eight months out of the ground!  Most of them made the transition well, and have bloomed ever since.  Talk about one tough plant!  I've got 7 or 8 varieties now, all gorgeous in their own way.  They're an heirloom plant:  invest in some nice ones now and your grandchildren's children will be enjoying them.  I still remember the ones at my grandmother's house. . . .

Sedum flowers are tiny, but in clusters they make a nice show 
and are irresistible to bees and other pollinators.

Sedum - This plant comes in many forms and varieties.  My favorites in the garden are the taller varieties, like 'Autumn Joy.'  They grow quickly in the spring, and form a shrub-sized neat mass before drying to ornamental flower stalks in the fall.  Their little green rosettes at the bases of the old stalks are an early sign of spring, and I look forward to seeing them every year.  Sedum are tough, and shrug off dry conditions.  I also like the groundcover variety called 'Angelina,' with its chartreuse foliage.

Daylily 'Changing Latitudes,' with its lovely 
patterned violet-to-lavender eye and green throat.

Daylilies - I love daylilies.  They're my favorite perennial, hands-down.  But I've gotten away from collecting them for collecting's sake, and I'm just as interested in them for their landscape use as their individual flowers now.  No one could possibly collect the tens of thousands of named varieties that are out there anyhow.  I have an embarrassing number of them as it is (dozens and dozens), and more that I've grown (both from purchased seed and from seed harvested from my own plants that I've learned to hybridize).  I don't need any more daylilies.  Every year, though, I enjoy looking through daylily catalogs, and most years one or two daylilies just happen to come home with me from nurseries.  At least they give good bang for their garden space, with attractive foliage starting early in the spring, striking blooms in the summer, and very good hardiness.  Their strappy, bright green young foliage is a welcome sight in the spring, and helps the garden look filled-in while waiting for warmer weather and later things to get going.  In the northeast, I grow mostly dormant and semi-evergreen varieties.  Gardeners in the southern United States grow more of the evergreen and semi-evergreen varieties.  Some evergreens have very ruffly, fancy flowers that open much better in hot weather.

Tall bearded iris 'Edith Wolford' is one tough lady, and gorgeous as well.

Irises - This is another plant I really enjoy.  They grew spectacularly at our old house, but I've had mixed results with them here in the new yard.  Still, I persist in trying to find the perfect place for them, hoping for those luxuriant blooms and their heavenly, almost grape-y fragrance.  Last winter, when it was unusually warm, we had very little snow cover combined with wide temperature fluctuations, and many of my irises didn't survive.  I planted several different kinds of tall bearded irises again last fall, and I'm hopeful that this more "typical" winter will allow them to establish and grow well this year.  I don't want to be without these statuesque grand dames of the garden.  I love the old-fashioned varieties, and you can still find heirloom irises blooming around old homes and farms where they've grown for generations.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' beside our back deck, late December 2012.

Ornamental grasses -  I've come to the conclusion that ornamental grasses are one of the best and least expensive plants someone can use for big impact and extended-season interest in landscaping in the Northeast, especially the tall, graceful Miscanthus varieties.  They're slow to get going in the spring, but by summer they're making graceful fountains of leaves that wave in the slightest breeze.  They "bloom" in the late summer, then dry to a gentle golden-beige in the fall.  Many of the grasses stand tall through the middle of winter, catching snowflakes and adding warm color to a white landscape.  I cut off the dead stalks to a few inches above the ground in late March or early April, before new growth begins.  My favorite variety is Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus,' which has medium green leaves with a fine white pinstripe down the center.  I've also noticed that even if you buy two plants at the same time from the same place, they may not be identical - there is often some small variation in their growth habit.  I have two by our back porch, purchased at the same time.  One is slightly taller, and blooms about two weeks earlier than the other.  So, even though nursery plants are usually propagated vegetatively from root division and are essentially identical, there is some variation depending on the parent plant.

A plain green no-name hosta I got from a church that had too much of it 
and gave me a couple wheel-barrow loads for my yard.  
It was lovely in its simplicity, and tough as nails, 
growing under hemlock trees in dry shade. 
This photo is from mid-spring, late in the day.

Hosta -  Hosta are a great plant for partially shaded areas, and many are also tolerant of dry areas under trees or close to foundations.  There are hundreds of different varieties of hosta now, with every imaginable combination of leaf size, texture, and variegation, as well as white or lavender flowers.  I've got several different ones on the north side of our new house, but I had many more at our old house, which had much more shade in the yard.  Most hosta grow quickly and are easy to divide, so you can have more than you ever wanted after a few years.  Some varieties are positively thuggish in the garden, and you have to keep on top of them so they don't overrun their neighbors.  Others mind their manners and just form nice clumps.  All hosta are attractive to slugs, but organic iron phosphate slug bait or diatomaceous earth are simple to spread every couple weeks during the growing season if you need to control the little pests.

Aster 'Bluebird,' a magnet for bees and other insects.

Asters - Fall in the Northeastern U.S. is incomplete without asters.  There are many varieties, from all over the northern temperate world.  My favorite variety is 'Bluebird,' which is 3-4 feet tall, with blue-lavender flowers with a bright yellow eye.  It grew magnificently in my old garden, but I'm having trouble establishing it in our new one, and I'm not sure why.  Maybe I'm being too nice to it here:  in the old yard, it grew in two locations, beside the street where it got all of the salt and road grit in the winter, and got baked in the summer, and beside a retaining wall, where it again got baked in the summer.  In the new yard it gets more moisture in one location and is sulking, and in the other hot dry location it's not thriving either.  I'll keep trying with it - it's just too good to give up on.  I need to remind myself to cage it when its young, because the stupid rabbits snack on it.


Gaillardia 'Amber Wheels,' 2012.

Gaillardia (Blanket Flowers) - I didn't discover these for myself until a few years ago, when I grew some from seed.  They are ridiculously easy to grow from seed, and some closer-to-wild varieties self-seed recklessly, so they can become a bit of a nuisance.  There has been a lot of interest in recent years in breeding new kinds of blanket flowers, and a couple years ago I planted 'Amber Wheels.'  It's WONDERFUL, I'm really smitten with this plant.  Subtle it is not, but it's a bold, sturdy plant with a wave of long-lasting bright flowers.  Once the first wave starts to go brown, you can cut them off and get a second, smaller wave of bloom later in the summer.

Echinacea 'White Swan,' considered an "oldie" now among coneflowers.

Echinacea (Coneflowers) - Echinacea seem to be the new "it" plant for breeders.  All of a sudden (although you know it's taken breeders over a decade to develop all these varieties) it seems like there are a profusion of forms and colors of echinacea, when before there were just shades of mauve, pink, rose and classic white.  Still, there's a reason they're so popular:  they're tough, easy to grow, and pretty.  They're not what some would call refined plants - they're not delicate or elegant; they're more of a sturdy "country girls with an attitude" kind of plant.  They're widely adaptable and tolerant of a wide range of soils and conditions, and attract beneficial insects.


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