If you’re anything like me, you know the secret to an ever-changing parade of color in your garden is PERENNIALS. Dutch bulbs, rhizomes, and flowering shrubbery. We want it all!
Our home in New England came with a little something extra – or, as they say in Louisiana, lagniappe. The prior owners had a real passion for perennial flowers.
In the two years the Bodens lived there, they invested heavily in the offerings of Spring Hill Nursery and Breck’s Bulbs. My husband, Lance, and I reaped the benefits!
The catalogues that were addressed to Boden (or CURRENT RESIDENT), eventually came addressed to Barton. It was drool at first sight.
Premium-quality bulbs make magnificent flowers. We had a kaleidoscopic cutting garden right at our fingertips!
- Crocuses – the perfect size for an old ink bottle I placed in the kitchen windowsill.
- Fragrant hyacinths – prettier than Easter eggs!
- Daffodils, trumpeting their arrival.
- Red and yellow tulips – Marine Corps colors!
- Full-blown, giant pink peonies that looked so fragile, but they were tougher than all the rest combined.
We enjoyed the parade of flowers (and herb garden) the first year. Since we didn’t know what we had, it was fun to just observe!
Well, I did try to help once, and I accidentally ruined the peonies our first year…
ANTS! They were crawling all over the buds, so I turned to an old ant remedy my dad taught me – dish soap. It got rid of the ants, alright, along with the peonies.
I didn’t even know what color they were, until the NEXT year. And you can bet that I didn’t do anything to get rid of the ants anymore. I don’t know what their role is, but the ants were there every year.
OH, what beautiful pink peony blossoms! I cut a few for the dining room table, but ew! Earwigs!
This is how I found out just how STRONG those flowers are. I shook the living daylights out of them, and buh-bye earwigs, HELLO peonies! Perfect, bug-less peonies. Like it never even happened!
Much like the annual visit from the ants, the heavy spring rains announced the arrival of the peonies. When it rained especially hard, that’s when we knew they were ready. What SHOULD HAVE driven them sideways, just gave the thirsty flowers a great big drink.
Seasons Come, and Seasons Go
It’s funny how you start to notice patterns, and then you start to anticipate them.
Snow’s melting? Crocuses will be up soon. Daffodils gone? That’s okay – tulips follow right behind. One change after the other, after the next, in the glorious, seasonal kaleidoscope.
Under the maple trees, our driveway was lined with the most amazing green fringe. Turns out the “fringe” was a plant called hostas. I cheated and looked at the pictures in the catalogues – because hostas were new to me.
What a pleasant surprise that, once the greenery had its chance to show off, then long, slender stems came up from inside the plants, and then white or purple bell-shaped flowers appeared. I looked forward to the hostas from then on!
Every year, all they needed was to be raked through in the fall, and, when the little “horns” came out in spring, just another good raking to expose them, letting the lush greenery unfurl.
We transplanted some of the larger hostas to encircle the base of our black lamp post. They did very well there. I think we will replicate that in this yard someday. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Twice As Nice!
Established and mature, our shrubbery put on a dazzling show. All we had to do was wait and watch! The first sign of color was the bright yellow of the forsythias.
Oddly enough, the way our home was situated in the trees, every single flower and shrub was the very LAST to bloom in the entire town. Or, at least that’s how it seemed.
By the time everyone else had seen THEIR flowers come and go, ours were just getting started. Since ours were the last to come in, and the last to go out – HA! – we were treated to the beauty TWICE that way. Every year!
We’re Washington natives, and the state flower here is rhododendron. We inherited some impressive, two-story-tall pink and purple rhodies at our Connecticut home. (Enough to make you homesick!)
The rhodies and forsythias held nests for families of red cardinals. We could see them through the windows in the office and the living room. Our own private viewing!
The state flower in Connecticut is mountain laurel – a cousin to rhododendrons. Mountain laurels have clusters of five-sided bells. Ours were white and pink. When we drove along a certain road, we could see bright “lights” in the forest. It was mountain laurel season!
A lone azalea – another relative of the rhododendron – was nestled in among the mountain laurels. The laurels and azalea loved the dappled shade of the dogwood tree in the front yard.
Our lilacs hugged the corner of the shop (garage, carriage house – it was all of those, AND a Pontiac Dealership, once upon a time). That poor bush was smashed to smithereens at one point. A fire destroyed our shop, and, on demolition day, it was FLATTENED under the remains of the old building.
Back in the day, my science teacher told us about lateral buds. (Look it up!) Well, the lateral buds did what they do best, and our lilac bush came back – better than ever – once the debris was cleared. It survived and THRIVED. Thank You, Lord!
Worth The Wait
Months after the yellows, purples, and pinks, of the spring and summer was…RED. Brilliant, deep red.
The massive hedge along our driveway was a BURNING BUSH! God is THE Most Excellent Exterior Decorator!
Rhubarb grew in a planter out front – a half-barrel. That was my first rhubarb plant, and, not being familiar, my timing was completely off. Either it was far too early to harvest rhubarb for Lance’s favorite pies, or it was much too late, and they had bolted, or gone to seed.
Oh, well. The rhubarb we have now, MORE THAN makes up for it!
When the Bodens bought the house, there was an oval-shaped above-ground pool in the backyard. They requested the swimming pool be removed before they moved in. Underneath that pool was the best, most fertile loam you could possibly want to plant in.
They filled it with mint, oregano, basil, chives, thyme, and sage. Even velvety lambs’ ear and orange Chinese lanterns. Purple seemed to be the favorite color — drumstick allium, cone flowers, bee balm, and our first butterfly bush!
All Green, all the time!
The eastern half of the garden was cut into the slope of the yard. In that terraced spot, was another plant that was new to us – pachysandra. It seems to be a little bit like an ivy. Pachysandra grows low to the ground, around five inches in height. It’s very easy to take care of, and another plus, it’s EVERGREEN!
One interesting use for pachysandra, is a ground cover in the place where you’re planting clematis vines. The flowering part of a clematis loves the sunshine, but their roots love to be cool and shaded. So, problem solved: pachysandra.
Lance put in a cedar planting bed at the front edge of the yard. We used a super-cheap trick to fill it up – PROPAGATION! Let the existing shrubbery provide the NEW shrubbery.
We took several cuttings from the rhododendrons and “wounded” the cut ends by scraping with a sharp knife. We dipped the ends into some rooting hormone powder, then poked them into pencil-sized holes in the ground. Simple.
How nice to see the purples and pinks spreading across the yard!
Over the years, we made our own additions to the kaleidoscope: Asian lilies, miniature roses, tea roses, climbing roses, more peonies, “blue” hostas, and Emperor tulips.
It’s harder to stop than eating potato chips!
I pray you have made some bold choices with your perennials, and anticipate the change of seasons, too. Like kaleidoscopes, beautiful wonders happen only when it TURNS, and we cannot see the NEW CHANGES until the seasons turn.