Between the Rows: Flowers, so many beautiful choices!
Gardeners who want a flower garden usually want that flower garden to be in bloom all season long. There are different ways to do this.
One way is to have different flower beds for different seasons. I have never been willing to try and to put spring bulbs into a flower bed that will have other flowers blooming throughout later seasons. I plant my bouquet of daffodils in a section of grass. When they have bloomed and the foliage has ripened and browned, that area of lawn gets mowed down.
Spring blooming bulbs can also be planted underneath deciduous trees beneath a groundcover. Some ground covers like vinca, tiarella or barren strawberry will add their own springtime blooms. Again, when the foliage has ripened in a bed of ground covers, it will soon wither away and disappear.
Spring blooming bulbs can also be planted in a bed of other spring blooming perennials, like bleeding hearts, hellebores, dodecatheon (shooting star), or brunnera, with its blue flowers that resemble forget-me-nots. Siberian irises are another easy spring bloomer that comes in an array of mostly blue, purple and white shades.
Peonies are flowers that can take you from mid-spring to early summer because there are so many varieties, in colors from creamy white, to pink, coral and rich red. The lovely thing about peonies is that after they bloom and are deadheaded, the deep green foliage is still a good addition to the flower bed. Peonies are also welcome in the garden because they are such long-lived plants and have almost no disease or pest problems.
A bed of summer flowers is easy to fill with the spikes of astilbe, the flat flower heads of yarrow (achillea), Shasta daisies that can be low or tall, the fat flower clusters of garden phlox (P. paniculata), spiky sea holly, sunny heleniums that bloom for almost two months, spikes of liatris or gayfeather, and daylilies with their strappy leaves. I grow my daylilies in a mass planting, but they also work well as individual plants in a border.
There is a host of daisy-like flowers. I have the tall Helenium Mardi Gras that has just begun to bloom in hot shades of gold and red, and pink coneflower (Echinacea), but there are golden marguerites, drought- and deer-resistant gaillardias and coreopsis.
Daisies themselves are member of the asteraceae family, so of course, we have a number of asters that bloom in the fall. There is the popular shocking pink Alma Potschke, the tall Harrington’s Pink, lavender Aster frikartii, and Lady in Black, which refers to the dark stems and foliage, not the pale-pink flowers.
Dahlias grow from tubers that are not winter hardy in our part of the world, but they can be treated like annuals. There are large and small dahlias, tall and short, in many colors. They begin flowering in mid-summer and bloom until frost. They make great cut flowers and the more you cut, the more blooms you will have.
The iconic fall bloomer is the chrysanthemum, which not only comes in many shades from pale to brilliant or rich, but in many forms: button blossoms, dinner-plate size, spider and spoon petals. I have what is called a Sheffield daisy or Sheffie, actually a chrysanthemum, which is a wonderful shade of pink with a yellow center that blooms late in the fall and is a good spreader. I have been able to give away divisions of this beautiful plant.
Another late-summer, early-fall bloomer is the Montauk daisy. The plant itself is actually considered a sub-shrub. It can reach a height of 3 feet with an equal spread and the foliage is heavy and almost succulent.
Since I mention sub-shrubs, I want to point out the benefit of including blooming shrubs in your seasonal flower bed. Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenia) is a surprising plant with fragrant flowers that blooms in April and May before it has much foliage. It is a low-maintenance plant that will grow only 2 or 3 feet high and just as wide.
Clethera alnifolia (sweet pepperbush) Ruby Spice is a summer bloomer that welcomes a little shade and prefers a moist site, which makes it perfect for a rain garden as well as a summer flower bed. The fragrant pink, 6-inch-long bottlebrush flowers bloom in July and August.
Hydrangeas are a flowering shrub that will have bloom well into the fall. I have let my airy-blossomed Mothlight get away from me and I am trying to gradually prune it down to a more reasonable height. I also have a fairly new Pinky Winky hydrangea with loose pyramidal flowers that become darker and darker pink as the season progresses. So far, the deer are helping me keep its size limited, but it can grow to 8 feet tall and as wide; very hardy and trouble free.
While I have concentrated here on perennial plantings, I have to say that one sure way to have lots of flowers in a bed is to include annuals. Who can resist petunias, annual salvias, verbenas, lobelia, cosmos and osteospurnums? The local garden centers have a full range of annuals in spring, as well as perennials.
Some local garden shops will be having sales of their perennial plants soon. This is a chance to get some bargains as you are thinking about next year’s flower beds.
Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her Web site: www.commonweeder.com.