Planting With Perennials
Learn how to use perennials throughout your garden design.
Celebrated for their infinite variety, perennials never lose their charm and remain as popular as ever. With flowers of every color, texture, shape, and form, this group includes plants for both sun and shade, and varieties suitable for all types of soil.
Filling the Gaps
Perennials are ideal for filling gaps and adding ground-cover interest between shrubs and beneath trees in mixed borders and woodland gardens. Shade lovers, such as hellebores, suit situations where their planting partners block the sun, putting on an early show of flowers beneath a deciduous tree, or use ferns to carpet the ground with a leafy design. In sunnier spots your options are wider, but choose tough perennials, like achilleas, that can cope with competition for moisture from their neighbors.
Injecting Tropical Flavor
In warm, sunny, sheltered areas, recreate the gardens of tropical places close to home with a combination of tender perennials and hardy types with exotic looks. Set the scene with large-leaf plants, and add to the effect with colorful leaves and vibrant flowers. Tender plants with an exotic touch are best grown in pots and brought inside before frost comes to avoid damage. Match these with hardy perennials that can remain outside all year.
Providing Summer Abundance
No plant group can compete with perennials for sheer flower power. The queens of the summer border, they include traditional favorites, such as delphiniums and peonies. These prima donnas dazzle and glow, but others, like pastel-hued Astrantia major, are more delicate and reserved, forming a chorus to the bright stars and tempering the flower display.
From early to midsummer, perennial borders are heavy with flowers, but the choice diminishes as fall approaches. To keep your garden in full bloom at this time, seek out late starters like red hot pokers (Kniphofia) to carry you through the late season.
Decorating Dry Landscapes
Drought-tolerant perennials are perfect for gravel gardens and desertlike landscapes. These styles are ideal if you garden on dry, sandy soil, and if you choose your plants carefully, you should not have to water them once they’re established. Small succulents, together with Rhodanthemum and Stachys, will form a dense carpet of color on a gravel or scree surface; mix them with taller plants like salvias and valerian (Centranthus) to add height.
Creating Natural-Looking Effects
Prairie designs are best suited to larger gardens where plants can be amassed in bold swathes. Choose a limited selection of perennials that enjoy the conditions you can provide, and plant them in large groups. A number of perennials also suit meadow plantings. To create this style, imagine the plants have self-seeded between the grasses. Create small groups here and there, dotting a few of the same species close to these clusters.