At Home - Perennial flowers add challenge for gardeners
By: Susan Jones
| Posted: Saturday, Jul 07, 2012 06:00 am
Perennial flowers should come with a big red “Caution” tag attached to them.
The tag might read something like this: Buyer beware: This plant will grow and grow and grow. Your yard and your life will never be the same again and you may come to both love and hate this living thing with all the passion in your gardening heart. You may never be rid of it unless you move.
For sure, those signs should be placed on the lovely striped ground cover called goutweed or on another ground-covering favourite, lamium and some campanula plants. Though they’re pretty as can be, if not contained, these plants will soon sprout up in the lawn, the hedge, under the front step and between the cracks of your sidewalk.
“There isn’t any real way to tell which perennials might get out of control. One hint might be if the label says ‘ground cover’ or ‘fast spreading’,” advised Jim Hole of the Enjoy Centre.
Most perennials bloom every year but they don’t bloom perpetually. Instead, most have a flowering span of two or three weeks. That’s the special charm but also the conundrum of growing perennials in the yard.
Unfortunately, perennials are not always an easy-care solution.
“Without the gardener there is no garden,” said Tam Andersen, who agreed perennials may become invasive, but with attention perennials can also be showstoppers.
Andersen favours perennial salvia, a tall cousin of catnip, or sage.
“It has tall blue spires and comes in midnight blue shades. It’s a very elegant perennial,” she said.
Day lilies are an easy-to-grow alternative for gardeners who want lots of blooms with no bother.
“It takes them a couple of years to get established but they are reliable and hardy. Some of the new varieties like Pumpkin Explosion or Stella d’Oro, will re-bloom,” Andersen said.
This week the St. Albert Botanic Park’s cottage garden on Sturgeon Road is a good place to learn about perennials. Even in the pouring rain Wednesday, the oriental poppies remained gorgeous and the delphiniums were tall and stately. Down the path, the lilies were beginning to open.
“Every week one perennial will be fading off and another will be coming into bloom. If the lamium starts to get out of bounds, they dig it out,” said long-time park volunteer John Beedle.
The purple and white gas plants are a mass of colour now but these plants can be a mixed blessing.
“They are beautiful because they have more blooms than leaves,” Beedle said.
Gas plants can cause problems for some people with allergies, because they make them itchy. When the flowers fall off the pods send seeds everywhere and they pop up all over the garden.
“Gas plants are easy to hoe out when they are little but if you let them get established, it’s just about impossible to pull them out because the roots go all the way to China,” Beedle said.
He stressed that, despite their quirks, gas plants are something he’d grow in his own home garden if he had the room.
The centaurea, which looks like a big fuzzy yellow thistle is another Beedle favourite, because the plants don’t require much care other than staking.
“They seem to stay put. They grow about four feet high and look nice against the fence,” he said, adding that the nature of the cottage garden, with its winding pathways, allows the perennials to grow in a more carefree fashion.
“It’s an English-garden style with winding paths. You put things in and if they get out of hand, you trim them up. Spreading groundcovers work well in rock gardens and make quite a statement,” said the retired horticulturalist.
Cut flowers galore
Ralph Wirblich, co-owner of St. Albert Greenhouse, favours perennials that can be cut and brought inside the house.
“I grow them to sell at the St. Albert Farmers’ Market. So I grow lots of lilies, especially stargazer lilies. I grow lupins and irises and one that’s really great as a cut flower called lady’s mantle,” Wirblich said.
St. Albert Garden Club member Lucy Krisco’s own garden is a riot of colour right now because of the many perennials she grows, even in the shade.
“Hostas are my favourite for the shade because they are easy to grow, they are reliable and they are hardy. They don’t spread. They just get bigger,” Krisco said.
She recommends two varieties: a hosta called Twister, because of its unusual dark green twisted leaves and another called Some and Substance, which has lime green leaves.
Another Krisco favourite is astilbe, which fills a shady corner with pink or white plumes that sway in the wind.
“They come back every year and I don’t cover them in the winter. The only things I cover are my tender roses and the $60 fern-leaf peony,” she said.
The fern-leaf peony is her perennial problem Krisco said, and that’s probably why she grows it. She loves the challenge of making a borderline-hardy plant bloom in her yard.
“I bought one. And it died. Then I bought another. And it died. But now the third one is blooming with little dark red blossoms. It’s beautiful.”