Thursday, March 4, 2010

Patrick's Picks -- Perennials

A natural progression in the education of a gardener is to break free from annuals and discover the benefits of growing perennials. The most obvious benefit is the joy of seeing plants return year after year but the diversity of perennial plant material can weave a beautiful tapestry in anyone’s garden. It's also important to remember you can't think of a perennial garden as a static endeavor. Each year is an opp on successes and replace any lackluster performers.

For this month's column, I interviewed three area gardening professionals to find some outstanding perennials for those gardeners starting fresh or for those looking to improve an existing perennial garden.

Finding compact shade plants to complement hostas has always been a challenge. But Matt Archer of Soil Service in Kansas City, MO believes the variegated Japanese Sedge Grass ‘Evergold’ boldly meets that need in the garden. Each graceful thin blade has dark green edging with a bright yellow stripe in the middle. Matt says "with fountain-like growth, ‘Evergold’ adapts well to moist, shady conditions but also has worked at our nursery in mostly-sunny locations and seems to also be drought tolerant. It is an excellent specimen for bordering or clumping in gardens as well as container accents".

Archer is also a big fan of Sedum 'Angelina'. With its trailing habit, Angelina’ is a hardy plant with succulent foliage reaching a final size of 3 to 6 inches high by 12 to 14 inches wide. The chartreuse plant changes to a burnt orange-red in autumn.. It prefers sunny locations and will adapt to most sites as long as there is bright light and well-drained soil "We like to use chartreuse heucheras such as a ‘Dolce Key Lime Pie’ in the spring and the amber tones of heucheras such as ‘Peach Melba’ work great in the fall for our containers." When using perennials in your containers, be sure to replant in the garden by mid-October to ensure their usage for another season.

The common name for baptisia is false indigo based upon the blue flowers of the common species. But, since baptisia grows 3 feet to 4 feet tall and the same around, it requires some serious garden real estate. If you have the space, Duane Hoover of the Ewing and Muriel Kauffamn Memorial Garden in Kansas City, MO, really likes the yellow flowered ‘Carolina Moonlight’. Duane says "the 18” racemes in May through June compliment our garden very well. We also like all the baptisia because they attract butterflies. Even when this plant isn’t in flower it is stunning with its blue/green foliage and later on the almost black “inflated” seed pods".

Hoover’s other selection is Stachys ‘Hummelo’, a variety of Lambs Ear, The compact size of 12 to 18 inches high and 18 to 24 inches wide makes it an excellent candidate for a grouping of three in the average sized garden. The deep rose-lavender blooms begin in July and last through September. He says "the glossy basal rosette leaves are very attractive and easy to maintain in the garden. After the late summer flowers fade, the foliage will last well into fall and winter.

The intense breeding programs for Echinacea have delivered a stunning array of colors, plant habits and flower forms in recent years including ‘Prairie Splendor’. Julie Wendlandt of Audrie Seeley & Co in Kansas City, MO. says this variety is a “a beautiful rose red and our experience has seen the plant flower 100% of the time within the first year". Julie says ‘Prairie Splendor’ "makes its presence known earlier than others in June and continues until the first frost, making it the longest flowering coneflower on the market today. As it is more compact than the normal Echinacea purpurea , it is more versatile in garden".
Some gardeners hesitate to replace a poor performing perennial plant because they invested $4.99 for a small plant. But life is too short and fertile garden soil has too much potential to put up with an underperforming plant. If you're cooking and burn a steak, would you just add some garnish and serve it to your guests hoping they won't

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