For flowers for next year, plant a perennial bed now
While springtime stirs people’s desire to build and plant perennial gardens, fall is a good time as well. Plants still have plenty time to become well-rooted before the ground freezes.
The difference between planting in spring and fall is that in spring, we can often acquire seedlings, far cheaper than established plants. These we either buy from our local garden center, or raise ourselves from seed. It’s best to look at the seed packet for germination times in order to decide when to begin starting our seeds.
But in fall, seedlings are hard if not impossible to come by, so we must buy mature plants. For a very large project, this might represent a sizeable investment, but for a small plot, the cost is minimal. The upside to starting with older plants is that we don’t have to wait very long for them to mature. Planting this fall will ensure good blooms next season.
Also, by starting with well-established plants, we can easily see how they will look when set in the garden bed. Just leave the plants in their pots and arrange them as you like, then step back and look. If something seems out of place, just move it.
Of course there are some criteria to follow when planting perennials and two important ones concern height and time of blooming. Taller plants should go to the back of the bed, with mid-sized ones toward the middle and very low plants in front. This creates a sloping, sculpted appearance and also, keeps taller plants from blocking the view of shorter ones.
Regarding bloom time, we need to select varieties that begin blooming in early spring and intersperse these with plants that bloom in late spring, then early summer, midsummer and late summer. Failure to plan this correctly can result in stretches of time when nothing flowers in the bed. We don’t want such down-times and there really is no need for them.
What got me thinking about this topic as a column topic was the shabby state of a raised bed garden behind my house. This was my wax bean bed and this summer, the beans matured and went by earlier than usual. The leaves began withering from lack of water and in general, the garden was a mess. Wondering what to do about this, the thought came to mind to plant wax beans in a different location and use this bed for perennial plants. And so with that in mind, I headed out to Hidden Gardens, a local purveyor of perennial plants.
The man at Hidden Gardens agreed that this was a good time to establish a perennial bed. And he had more than enough varieties of perennials for me to choose from. I happily walked up and down rows, selecting plants according to height, color and blooming season. When I was done, I had a total of 10 plants, more than enough to spread around in my 3-by-7-foot bed.
Arriving home, I pulled the beans and after that, gave the bed a thorough weeding. Then I placed the plants, still in their pots, around the bed according to the guidelines mentioned earlier. When I had satisfied myself as to what should go where, I began planting one-by-one, pulling the plant from its pot, digging a hole and planting it. After that, it was on to the next one. It took a little more than a half hour to get all my plants in the ground.
After this, I went to an older bed on the edge of the woods in front of the house. There, some hybrid daylilies had grown quite thick and needed dividing. I took a sampling of four different species of lily and planted them toward the back of my new bed.
Although my garden does not look full, it will as the plants expand and grow. But until then, there are lots of ways to take up unused space and give the garden a fully-acclimated look. One choice is to add some garden objects, the little artsy things we see for sale at garden centers. These range from ceramic mushrooms to plaques, garden gnomes and everything in between.
Not being enamored of garden objects (OK, I do have a gnome hiding under a miniature weeping pussy willow shrub), I chose option two. That, however, can’t happen until next spring. Option two is to fill in bare spaces with annual plants.
Choosing just which annuals to buy will be fun and also, will make for a nice project to undertake over the winter. I may even send for some seeds and start them indoors in late winter. So when winter storms descend upon Maine, I’ll be comfortably ensconced in my easy chair, looking over catalogues and books to find just which annuals I want for my perennial bed next year.
Admittedly, my perennial bed is small and also, being a simple rectangle, is a plain-Jane design. But remember, this started as a bean bed and aesthetics were far from my mind. Still, a plain and simple perennial bed is better than no perennial bed. And as time goes on, I can add to and expand the bed, giving it a bit more flair. And if some plant seems out of place, it can always be dug up and relocated. Remember, nothing is carved in stone regarding a perennial bed.
My choices of plants were based upon my personal likes. Your choices may be different. And although I bought 10 different plants, several were of the same variety. The plants I chose were: Veronica, a low-growing plant for the front of the bed, phlox, tall plants for the back of the bed, primula, or primrose, for the middle, bearded iris for the middle and oriental poppy for the side. These plants give me various shades of blue, red, pink, orange, black (the iris) and white. I didn’t choose yellow because some yellow flowers are situated not far from the bed and they lend yellow to the overall atmosphere.
So how much might all these perennial plants cost? Well, I paid a total of $42.50, a pretty low price for all the enjoyment these plants will give me. Remember, perennials are forever…well, maybe not forever, but almost.
If you have toyed with the idea of establishing a perennial bed, now is a fine time to begin. Why not take the first step and visit your favorite garden center or perennial gardens? You won’t be disappointed, I can assure you.