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How would you like a garden that comes back colorfully almost on its own?

An almost permanent garden with a steady show of bloom was the goal of Karen Kees of Poway, California, east of San Diego. She didn't want to keep replanting, but she did want lots of color from early spring through late summer. After five years of experimenting, she has achieved the magnificent results shown in the photographs at right.

Her garden is filled with perennials that bloom reliably year after year, with annuals that self-sow readily, and with bulbs that will flower each spring without special digging or chilling. The charter on page 172 lists the principal flower producers, along witn information on planting and bloom season. Some of Kees' favorite varieties include 'Blue Queen' salvia, 'Peter Pan' agapanthus and 'Giant Floradale' penstemon.

If you'd like to start a garden of this kind, fall is an excellent time, in mild-winter areas, to sow seeds and put out seedlings. If you live in a colder climate, wait until spring to do the main planting.

Most important in this garden--besides the choice of plants--is careful planning and soil preparation, and a complete watering system.

The first step involved creating three well-drained, 2- to 3-foot-high mounded areas in the sunniest parts of the front yard. These were boradered by 3- and 4-foot-wide paths (the owner now feels that wider paths (the owner now feels that wider paths--to 6 feet--would have been even better).

Next step was to bring in truckloads of organic matter to improve the heavy clay soil. A 4-inch layer of mulch (a mixture of stable bedding and manure from a nearbly stable) was worked in thoroughly.

A timer-controlled sprinkler system, to cover the entire garden, was installed at this point.

The bulbs and bulb-like plants went in, along with small seedlings of perennials. Many annuals were planted from six-packs, others were started from seed.

Once the garden was established, many of the plants became self-sowing. to encourage this, Kees lets some of the flowers develop seeds, then lays them in spots where she wants them to grow. After about a week, she removes the dried flower heads, then increases watering to promote germination. When seedlings aprout, they are thinned, perhaps with some transplanting to other areas. Annual seedlings from the nursery take care of a few bare spots.

Some annuals, such as California poppies, self-sow so freely that no special encouragement is required. (For more on the treatment of each flower, see the chart.)

The entire watering system is on an automatic timer. Sprinklers run about 15 to 30 minutes--once a week in spring and every other day in summer. Several stations allow Kees to vary the watering time in different parts of the garden: newly planted areas, for instance, are watered daily. A planned conversion from sprinklers to a drip system will save water.

During bloom periods, regular feeding with high-nitrogen fertilizer keeps plants in peak condition.

Daily maintenance chores in a garden like this include removing spent flowers and weeding (here, requiring 30 minutes to 1 hour). In spring, extra planting takes more time. And fall brings the big cleanup chores--cutting back many of the perennials, applying fresh mulch, and planting more bulbs. Some of the perennials occassionally need dividing, but most of them can grow three to five years before getting crowded.
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Date:Sep 1, 1984
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