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Perennials are not low maintenance

Perennials are not low maintenance

Posted: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 8:00 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Perennial: (n) Any plant that, had it lived, would have bloomed year after year.
There is a widespread misconception that perennials, since they (supposedly) bloom year after year, are among the best ingredients for any ornamental garden. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Yes, there are things such as daylilies, tall sedums like Autumn Joy, bearded irises, peonies and a few others, that will carry on almost indefinitely with little, or in some cases no, care. These don’t necessarily constitute the best perennials. Just being tough doesn’t make a perennial a good one.
Well, what does?
First, and foremost, is whether you like it in your garden. I don’t like the bother and short flowering time of bearded irises, so I don’t fool with (many of) them. Peonies are carefree, all right, but there they are, after a heavy rain, lying mud-splattered and asunder, for all the few days they flower. Some others, though they pass a lot of tests, I simply don’t like their looks. And so on.
A second factor is foliage quality. Oftentimes, this takes precedence over flowers. Hostas are a good example. There are, however, perennials that combine the best of both: lasting foliage of quality, plus admirable bloom. These are relatively rare finds.
Then there is length of bloom. Any perennial that gives a month of flowers must be considered quality indeed, provided there are no offsetting demerits, that sorry foliage for instance. Some perennials offer far more than a month of flowers.
Just about the longest flowering perennial I can think of offhand is helleborus. Ours kick in most seasons by New Year’s Day and are still in reasonable fettle in late April. That’s fully four months, not to speak of the excellent (and deerproof) foliage for a full 12 months.
Ease of culture is important, too, though I will take on a quality perennial that might require more work than some others. Take chrysanthemums. The most aggressive of them must be curbed every year and perhaps divided every other. Keep low maintenance at the top of your list of merits and you will go wanting on a lot of excellent plants.
Perennial gardens, let it be reiterated, are not — repeat not — low maintenance ventures. Once you’ve resigned yourself to that, and haven’t chickened out, then you’re on your way.
Jimmy Williams is the garden writer for The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at (731) 642-1162.

Published in The Messenger 6.18.13

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