by Ruth S. Foster
BUY GOOD SURVIVOR PERENNIAL STOCK
Why are they called perennials? Because they come back each year. And they bring memories of the folks who gave them to us. Somehow flowers cheer us. The colors. The fleeting beauty. The passage of time. And the memories.
Part of the reason my column and my website is named "MothersGarden" is because I have flowers from my mother's garden or from other family and friends. And I have passed them on to my daughter.
It begins in spring with flowering bulbs, then violets, bleeding heart, perennial alyssum, ajuga. Next, about a month after, come the peonies, iris, coral bells, columbine. In summer, daylilies and phlox and pereskia appear. August slows down but sedum, asters and chrysanthemums soon arrive. Most important is to get survivors, plants that have reappeared year after year in other gardens. Survivor genetic stock.
But perennials have some dirty little secrets, which I share here:
2. SOME PERENNIALS GROW BETTER than others. Most of the ones I carefully planted several years ago in a special bed by my window have disappeared. A brilliant young scientist who was also a great gardener explained it this way. After 1 year, 1/3 will die, 1/3 will live and 1/3 you won't like. Survival depends on good genetic stock.
3. FERTILIZER HELPS a lot though I have not yet figured out which is best and most efficient. One successful friend sprinkles bulb fertilizer in spring and again in fall "because it's easier." Watering with Peters 20-20-20 makes everything set flower buds like mad. Great on annuals, but or perennials, only until end of June. (New growth winter-kills.) There are many organic fertilizers that promote healthy growth, but sometimes not enough flower buds. (Add a little potash enhance flowering.)
4. WEEDS GROW BETTER than perennials. So does grass, ivy, myrtle, poison ivy, etc. so carry a paper bag when you walk around outside to pull and throw them in. Gertrude Jeckyl also always carries her secateurs (pruning shears) to clear unwanted intruders.
5. MANY WILL SELF-SEED. Perennial and biennial favorites we love survive by re-seeding. Columbine, campanula, phlox, mallow, iberis, violets, bleeding heart among others. One can help by planting ripe seedheads under the plants to keep them coming,
6. DIVISION. Many varieties are easy to propagate by splitting off and planting the young little vigorous shoots that grow at the outside edges of old clumps. Spread in early spring or late August. This works well for chrysanthemums, phlox, oenathera, coreopsis, ladies mantle, daylilies, iris, lily of the valley and ajuga. It takes at least a year or two until they reach a good size.
7. GOOD OLD FASHIONED perennials from local gardeners provide the best genetic stock. These survivors are not available at the supermarket or chain stores or on the web. They are best bought at local nurseries or, if you are lucky at a garden club sale.
Ruth S. Foster is a landscape consultant and arborist. More gardening information can be found on her website: www.mothersgarden.net.