The Perennial Garden

A good perennial garden is created to reflect the environmental conditions in which it is found.

Characteristics of Any Good Perennial Garden

A good perennial garden is created to reflect the environmental conditions in which it is found.  An important first step to planting perennials is to have a soil test completed in order to determine which plants would thrive in your garden‚Äôs natural climate, or what soil additives you will need to add to create the optimal soil.  Also, keep in mind how much sunlight the garden gets, the hardiness zone, and the amount of moisture in the area. Once you have determined what plants will be compatible with your garden's environment, you should consider other design principles such as color, size, and shape.  Get an idea of what plants you like from visiting nurseries or demonstration gardens such as The Learning Gardens.  Then, start mapping your vision on paper.

It is a good idea to use clumps of the same type of flower to create a bigger visual impact.  If desired, repeat the same type of plant on both sides of the garden to add symmetry.  Try to plant flowers whose colors and shapes will complement each other.  For example, a plant with yellow foliage will make blue flowers pop.  Similarly, spike shaped blooms will appear striking when paired with flat shaped blooms.          

Maintenance of a Perennial Garden

The first maintenance consideration is water.  Plants sometimes require more water than they get from rainfall alone.  In The Learning Gardens, the plants are watered by an irrigation system.  When nutrient levels are low, plants will discolor, stop blooming, and become more susceptible to disease.  To avert these situations add nutrients from natural sources (such as compost or manure) or use a commercial fertilizer. Weeds can be a pesky problem in perennial gardens.  To keep them under control, cover the bare soil with some type of mulch and plant groundcovers that can compete with the weeds.

Why Plant a Perennial Garden?

Perennials are plants that rejuvenate themselves every year.  Most perennials have one blooming period every year.  Annuals, in contrast, grow for one season, bloom, and then die.  Biennials send out a rosette one year, bloom the next year, and then die. There are many reasons to plant a perennial garden.  Perennials often require less maintenance than annuals.  Also, unlike annuals, perennials are present in the winter and can be attractive over the course of the entire year. A perennial garden can serve to permanently soften harsh corners on buildings.  Gardens also ease mowing problems along fences or walls.  Planting a perennial garden will add value and beauty to your property. One of the unique joys of growing perennials is seeing the plants return to life year after year.  Every summer more plants will grow.  These plants can be relocated to new gardens after the parent plant is divided.            

Common Pitfalls in Perennial Gardening

Most perennials need to be divided every two or three years.  Many gardeners neglect to divide their plants which results in crowding and dieback in the center of the plant.  Divide plants in the spring or fall when the plant is not blooming and the weather is not too hot.  Another common pitfall involves the design stage of perennial gardening.  Although it is difficult to see how a plant will look at maturity based on the size of the plant you purchase from the nursery, it is necessary to research the mature size of the plant in order to be sure to leave enough space around each plant.  If plants are too crowded, they will perform poorly.

Our perennial garden at The Learning Gardens is located to the right side of the main entrance and runs along the side of the building.  The garden was designed to showcase award-winning perennials, companion planting, and vertical structure. Award-winning perennials are usually new cultivars or hybrids that show exceptional color, shape, or disease and pest resistance.  By planting award winners, The Learning Gardens aims to educate the public about these new options for perennial gardening.

Companion planting means that plants that bloom in the early, middle, and end parts of the season are planted next to each other.  This technique produces a continuous spread of color as time passes.  When one plant is finished blooming, the one next to it just starting to bloom will take the focus of attention away from the declining plant. Several forms of vertical structures are in the garden.  Most noticeable are the tall copper trellises on the back of the garden.  Also, trees and shrubs such as the Henry Hicks magnolia and the maple-leaf viburnum add a vertical momentum to the space.