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Easygoing borders; with perennials and biennials the trick is in the combining.

Easygoing flower borders are there such things? The answer is an unqualified yes, as the two gardens pictured on these pages show. While the gardens are on Washington's San Juan Islands, the ideas and methods employed in them work any

where in the mild-winter West.

In these gardens, perennials and biennials grow in robust clusters around a deck, pop out of window boxes, and sprout from niches and containers. They also lap against a weathered fence with the lowest ones in front and the tallest ones in back.

If you take up the challenge this month and follow a few simple rules, you can have a garden full of flowers next spring and summer. The trick is to choose the right plants for the right place and to use them in good combinations.

Look for tough, sturdy, long performers

Suzanne Franklin and Jeff Prentiss comb nurseries and catalogs for sturdy, upright plants that bloom over a long period. "I want strong plants that help physically support one another," says Mrs. Franklin, "ones that stand up to winds and don't get seedy-looking after bloom. Good foliage is as important as good flowers."

Although they're shopping for separate gardens, the two trade discoveries freely and find themselves in agreement on almost all of the plants they favor.

Among the favorites in both gardens are tbe biennial Canterbury bell (Campanula medium) and perennial mallows (Malva alcea and M. sylvestris). Tall spikes of delphinium (hybrid forms of D. elatum) stand up as vivid punctuation marks. After late-spring bloom, the owners cut delphiniums back to within a few leaves of the ground, and a second crop of flowers emerges in late summer.

Sage plays an important role as much for its leaves and drought tolerance as for its flowers. Salvia officinalis has silvery gray-green leaves, So. 'Icterina' golden yellow ones.

For its silvery leaves and long-lived, upright yellow blooms, as well as for its ability to take dry spells, fernleaf yarrow (Achillea filipendulina) is scattered about both gardens. And the tender Verbena peruviana in a wide range of colors crawls over the ground and finds its way up and through taller plantings. Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox arcticus) crawls out on to paths and fills in low spots.

Peonies and Shasta daisies also have top performer status. Although their bloom period is not long, the foliage makes a beautiful background and filler through summer. Purple loosestrife (Lythrum virgatum) earns its keep for its strong, upright form and long blooming season, but it needs ample summer water. Japanese and Siberian iris (I.ensata and L sibirica) are valued for their strong, grassy foliage and brief but spectacular bloom. Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) earn garden space for their handsome flowers and drought tolerance. After bloom, the owners cut back floppy clumps of foliage; by autumn, new leaves are up to fill in.

Plant now for rewards next year

Planted now, any of these choices will have the cool, moist months to get established, so they can zoom into action come spring. Nurseries have plenty of plants in 4-inch pots and 1 -gallon cans. For more choice, consult mail-order catalogs.

Be daring. Remember that the good gardener who never made a mistake or never moved a plant does not exist. And the more closely you plant, the fuller the show you'll get.

Prepare planting areas by spading thoroughly and adding organic matter; you want plants to get started in loose, rich soil. Water well when you put plants in, and continue into winter if the fall is dry. Cut off dead foliage, leaving 3 to 6 inches of stubble to protect the crown and remind you that the plant is there.

Around Valentine's Day, broadcast a complete dry fertilizer around the plantings (10-10-10 is a good choice). Repeat in early April, mid- to late May, and early July. Bait for snails and slugs.

Let nature be your partner

In these coastal gardens, established plants get watered very little unless summer weather is hot. In warmer, drier climates, water regularly.

In both gardens, the owners fill in between perennials with freely self-sowing annuals: bachelor's buttons, clarkia, cosmos, feverfew, and annual poppies (Papaver rhoeas). To start these, you can broadcast seed from now into early November. Next spring and through the summer, thin out crowded plants and let the rest mature.

Marguerites (treated as an annual in most of the Northwest), biennial sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), and snapdragons are favorite fillers. Owners plant them in early spring from sixpacks or 4-inch pots. Once planted, most perennials need little attention. After bloom, when foliage gets leggy on some plants, the owners cut it back; often, a fresh crop of leaves then emerges. They clip back faded blossoms religiously (unless they want the seed heads through winter). When clumps become too large, they dig and divide in October and November. Biennialswhich grow the first year, bloom the second, and then usually decline and dieare best replaced after bloom.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Oct 1, 1989
Words:825
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