Perennials have become popular in the last few years. They can be used in conjunction with shrubs and trees, or they can stand alone in a perennial garden. Perennial gardens can be island beds, fence beds, along a lot line, or around a patio. Perennials can be especially useful for color throughout the season.
Let’s address designing with perennials. Perennials only bloom for a limited amount of time. Two weeks is pretty much the norm. So one of the most important design elements is timing. A successful garden will have something with color at all times. It can be blooms or leaf color. One should also consider how the garden will be viewed. If it is an island bed for example it will be viewed from all angles so the tallest plants should be in the middle with the shortest on the edges. If it is a garden against a fence you will want the height at the back of the bed. Another characteristic to consider is texture. You will want to include fine, medium and coarse textured plants to give the bed character and depth. You should also keep in mind plants that are going to bloom at the same time and make sure that the colors do not clash. Some perennials can be cut down after they complete their blooming and then re-bloom to extend their color. Light is another factor that needs to be considered. Is your garden going to be sunny, shady, or partially shaded? Then investigate the soil to see if its sandy, clay, or loam. You will also want to find out if the area is soggy, wet, moist, or dry. Once you have all of this information, you can start to think about the types of perennials you want in your garden. Because perennials only bloom for 2-3 weeks, your garden needs to include plants that bloom at all different times of the year. Starting with the minor bulbs is great because they bloom in early spring, some even before the snow has left the ground. Next will come the early spring blooming perennials like Euphorbia, Pasque Flower and Bleeding heart. After that plants like Poppies, Foam Flower, and Virginia Bluebells. The next phase of color may come from Lupine, Roses, and Coralbells. Including perennials with colorful leaves helps to lengthen the color show as well. After the spring color is done we move into summer with shrub Roses, Campanula, Yarrow, Bee Balm and Hyssop. Fall has its challenges, but again using perennials with colorful leaves like Chocolate Joe Pye Weed can help. Some of the fall blooming species include Sedum Brilliant, Mums, Black Eyed Susan and Purple Coneflower. If you have a shady spot filling in the gaps with ferns and hostas is always a good idea. The only drawback to Hosta is that deer love them. If you have deer that munch on your plants do not use Hosta.
It may sound daunting to the novice to design a perennial garden. There are several books that may help. The best ones include a color chart that tells you height, sun preference, water preference, and timing of each perennial in the book. One I have used extensively is Taylor’s Guide to Perennials. Of course you can always hire a professional designer to do it for you. If you don’t know a lot about plants, that is probably the way to go. Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged. We all need colorful plants in our lives and there are ways to achieve that.