© 1992 Dunn Farm ~ Life in the Sierra Nevada

Perennials

Ah! Perennials! Some of the most wonderful plants are perennials. Easy for the beginner, these ideal plants provide structure and presence in any garden.  As backdrops for annuals, as focal points, or as specimen plants, they are equally indispensable in our gardens. A true perennial is a plant that lives for more than one growing season. Some, like Columbine and Feverfew, only live a few years. Others, like Peonies, have been know to outlive the gardener. Perennials unfold with the passage of the seasons. They are effective mixed with annual garden plants for contrasting colors, textures, and forms. Wide swaths of color, too, are brilliant sights.

How our Gardens began

My first perennial garden sprang out of necessity to break up a wide expanse of patchy lawn that was gently sloped with extremes of sun and heat on one end and heavy shade and heat on the opposite end. By creating a garden room off the walnut burl path to the pond, we would achieve a gentle, ambling walkway leading to other rooms behind shrubs and flowering plants; in effect, a series of garden rooms.

I did some research to locate plants that would need minimal care and that would thrive in this location, taking into account the soil and light conditions. This was 1995 and I did not have a computer at that time, so this involved almost living at the library in town, going through books, magazines, and articles. Many perennials, I discovered, would do well in shade gardens if they received at least four hours of sun. 

The information I gleaned I then hand wrote into notebooks, scrawled with plant names and their characteristics. I developed rough charts and pencil drawings to aid me in making plant selections from the vast array available. I noted flower colors, bloom times, and growth habits for one whole year before deciding on the plants I wanted.  There were stacks of material all over the house. Living at 3,000 ft elevation, hardiness was also a factor to consider and as summers could be quite fierce, the plants must also be drought hardy once established. Plant fragrance held a high priority during these selections.

I fancied an oval-shaped garden and outlined the shape on the existing grass with a hose, first one side, then the other and marked it off with cornstarch. I dug the outline out with a shovel, then proceeded to remove the remaining grass and clay soil. I had read about double digging and amending the soil, and that was my first course of business. After the area was dug and amended with compost,sand, and peat moss, Tim ran the Rototiller over it several times until the soil was fluffy. He raked it level and spread triple 16 fertilizer which I watered in well. 

I did not plant this garden right away. I waited to check light conditions again at various times of day, taking notes of strength, and length of light intensity. I noted if there was dappled shade or any pockets of full shade; if it received morning sun or afternoon sun. For whatever situation I had, there were plants that would excel in
those locations. There were also micro-climates to consider. These would allow me to push our zone limits, enjoying the plants needing warmer zones, like tropicals and orchids (over-wintered). 

 

Happy planting day finally arrived after about four trips to the nurseries. Plants were set out in their nursery pots and a pleasing scheme developed. What I was aiming for was a perennial garden which would have plants and flowers, creating interest in all seasons. They would complement each other, bring out the best in each neighboring plant, and planted close together, would appear lush. The Perennial garden enjoys morning sun, afternoon sun, late afternoon shade and is currently planted with shrubs, trees, bulbs, and flowers that either have interesting foliage, that complement each other, or that create the effect I want--a carefree, charming cottage garden of simply perfect perennials. Parts of the garden are in constant shade, allowing for a wide range of plants. The colors are splendid and amazing! 

 

The Main Attractions I love, in no particular order

 

Pomegranate tree - deciduous, lovely, ruffled orange and white flowers

Escallonia - sweet, pink flowers in spring, evergreen shrub, slow grower

Lady Wolford Iris - golden yellow, with lavender, ruffled falls

Snowberry shrub - deciduous, little pink flowers in spring, white berries

 in May, white globes in summer that last into late fall

Oregon grape Mahonia - reddish foliage, saw-toothed edges, yellow flowers in May

black, edible berries, slow grower

Dianthus - Beautiful colors, fragrant, grows anywhere

Barberry bush - deep burgundy color, small leaves, barbed branches

Lilac tree - decidious, fragrant, lavender flowers in spring

Jacob's ladder - tall, purple flowers, ferny foliage in early summer

Artemesia - silver/grey plant with deeply cut foliage

Bridal Wreath Spiraea - deciduous, arching branches, white flowers in May

Ajuga - purple-tinged ground cover with purple spikes in spring

Flax - tiny, blue flowers floating atop wispy, long stems

Coreopsis - yellow, ruffled flowers on tall stems

Pink Yarrow - ferny foliage, clustered flower heads

Foxglove - tall plant, pink bells spiral on stems

Euphorbia - evergreen, light green leaves and red flowers in whorls

Giant Alliums - purple heads of spiky flowers, tall stems

Shasta Daisies - These are prolific and can be dug up and moved easily

Stella D'Oro Daylily - yellow/gold variety, long summer bloomer

Calendula - golden-orange spheres, long bloomer

Asters - tall stems, purple, small, daisy-like flowers along stem

Mexican Primrose - light pink, cupped flowers, spreads easily

Penstemon - ruby lips on swaying, slender stems

Rockrose - evergreen, white flowers, drought-hardy

Gladiolus - bright yellow, slender sheaves

Alyssum - groundcover, white, fragrant blossoms, prolific

Forsythia - First shrub to bloom in early spring, brilliant yellow

 

These plants have been arranged so they have their required light needs met, while reflecting a nearby flower color, or contrasting with another plant. You will notice that most of the plants flower in either pink or purple colors, or the foliage is purple, deep burgundy, or silver and white. This is by design as these are some of my favorite colors. Yellows and whites perk up the palette throughout. Many of the plants are evergreen, some flower in early spring, some in late spring, and others in summer, with the Asters and Veronica blooming in the fall. This makes for a lovely all-season garden throughout the year.

One of the beds was edged with medium-sized blue rocks in a double layer. For interest, the top of an old wooden trunk was propped up on one end of a large, twisted piece of old, silvery driftwood. This was under one of the walnut trees, part shade, just on the other side of our entrance gate. The trunk shaded some pansies and violets in a sunnier location and morning glories climbed the driftwood for a pleasing effect. Interesting rusted artifacts or unusual large rocks were set in among the plants. A wee, gray stone squirrel peeks out from under the Escallonia, and this, too, creates a sweet picture.

Perennials are also used throughout the other gardens, along with annuals, bulbs, corms, and rhizomes, creating living pictures that dazzle and delight the eye through all seasons, and yet ties everything in together as paired colors are repeated. And as always, as I plant each one, I whisper "grow and prosper" and snuggle them into the warm earth. I love a happy garden!

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Garden Charts

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