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Perennial beauty.


Gardening with perennials has becomeincreasingly popular in the United States. Inspiration comes mostly from the perennial flower borders and beds of Europe, especially those of England. Americans, creating their own "garden marriages" of colors, textures, forms, and shapes, are discovering a wonderful opportunity for artistic expression when they choose to garden with perennials.

The raw material or "paints" ofthe art called perennial gardening are usually plants that do not have woody stems. They grow back after each winter from persistent and hardy roots. They are relatively easy to grow if you follow a few simple rules of green thumb.

--Position your perennial gardenwhere it can be viewed and enjoyed from both indoors and outdoors. Perennials are best displayed against a hedge, fence, or distant view of trees. Be sure to provide access paths for easy maintenance.

--Choose the shape and styleof perennial bed or border that best suit your home landscape. The size will be determined by the space available on your property and the leisure time you have for gardening. The options are: a border, either formal or informal in design; an island bed; an alpine rock garden (a particularly good solution for a slope); or a perennial herb garden grown for fragrances and textures and special shades of green, blue, yellow, and silver (but not for flower production). A border usually defines an area, such as a walkway or the edge of a lawn. A perennial border will be most pleasing in its scale if it is one-third wider than the tallest plants, but generally it should be longer than it is wide. In contrast, an island bed of perennials is usually free-standing, and it features the tallest plants in the center and the lowest plants at the edges. Consequently, it can be maintained and viewed from all sides.

--Plan your perennial garden onpaper or in your head, but bear in mind that a perfect perennial garden design is rarely achieved in the first year.

You will have more success withyour perennial garden designs if you study catalogs and books and visit public and private gardens.

--Consider the light in your garden. Thisshould be your first consideration when you design a perennial bed or a border. Most perennial gardens are featured in full sun because of the requirements of the plants displayed. However, with careful planning and selection you can garden in partial shade with perennials. Your choices, however, will be more limited than if you can garden in full sun.

--Before you start your perennialbed, consider your soil. It should be well drained, rich in organic material, and close to neutral pH. You can purchase home soil-test kits or take a sample to your county agricultural extension agent for recommendations. If you spend time to dig your soil deeply and improve it, you will have good root growth--the essence of healthy garden plants.

--Consider your favorite colorswhen you plan your perennial garden. You will probably find these colors please you most and give your garden a style and flair distinctly yours.

When you choose your flower colors,try to imitate the color proportions of mother nature. In nature the green tones are the unifying tones, ranging from very pale yellow green to deep blue green. Next, the pastel tones dominate, followed by the bold primary colors of red, blue, and yellow, best used as accents to the more subtle greens and pastels.

The first step is to select your"backbones." These should be tall, long-lived perennials arranged in masses or drifts. Emphasize only a few dominant colors and repeat them to give your border a pleasing unity. Where winters are mild, use evergreens as the backbones to achieve the best effect. Some of the very best backbones for a perennial bed are irises, peonies, day lilies, phlox, chrysanthemums, and asters. These backbones will each give a special color display in their own seasons and at the same time have interesting foliage for the other seasons. The next step in your design is to tie these backbones together with "binders" by planting gaps with flowering plants that have special soft textures and correspond in color to your backbones. You can use annuals for this function in your perennial garden.

--Spring is the best time to plantmost perennials in the cooler sections of the country; fall is the best time to plant in the warmer regions. Perennials with very specific planting times (for example, many of the bulbs) are generally available only at the proper planting time. It is easier to start with plants ratner than with seeds. Plant your perennials so the crown is at ground level or just a bit higher. This precaution, which keeps water from sitting in the crown, helps to prevent rotting, especially in cold weather.

--Fertilize your perennials with aliquid fertilizer as soon as you observe new growth in the spring. Continue to fertilize during the growing season as recommended. The new premeasured, premixed liquid fertilizers applied with a garden hose give excellent results. Stop fertilizing in midsummer in the colder regions of the country. The plants will need to harden and prepare for winter.

--Water during those times of theyear when rainfall is scarce. Always water deeply (about two inches for most perennials). This deep watering will encourage your perennials to produce deep roots that will enable them to survive droughts more easily than shallow-rooted plants.

--Grooming is important for yourplants and a pleasurable activity for you. As you stroll in the garden, snip off faded flowers and browned leaves. Never allow your perennials to go to seed, because the strength of your plants will be depleted.

--Perennials do live for years, butmost have to be lifted and divided every so often to relieve crowding or to remove dead sections. Dividing will rejuvenate your perennials and restore their bloom capability. Perennials vary as to how often they should be divided. Some perennials, such as peonies and balloonflowers, do not require dividing. Some, such as asters, phlox, Shasta daisies, and Physostegia, should be divided every three years; others, such as chrysanthemums, should be divided every year for best blooming. The best time to divide most perennials is immediately after flowering.

The special lure of the perennial isthe promise of something new to discover with each new day.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:gardening
Author:Henke, Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1987
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