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Jewels of Summer



With few exceptions perennial beds and borders deserve a place in most every garden.

Naturally those with limited space need to be more selective when choosing perennials.

You can never go wrong with award-winning perennials. For 2004 the All-American Daylily Selection Council announced two All-American winners. Chorus Line won in the exhibition class. Hardy in USDA zones 4-10, this winner is especially floriferous. It starts early, and reblooms in zones 6 through 10. The neat foliage is15-20 inches long. Its fragrant blooms with wide ruffled petals are 4 inches across. Appearing on flower stalks that are 1½-2 feet in height, the medium pink blossoms have a darker red area around the chartreuse throat.

Lady Lucille won in the landscape division. It is hardy to zones 4-10. This disease and pest resistant plant has glossy, dark green foliage. The especially large blooms (to 6 inches in diameter) are vivid bright orange. They appear from summer through the fall on stems that are around 2-2½ feet tall.

Each summer at their annual meeting members of the Perennial Plant Association choose a Perennial Plant of the Year for the coming year. They’ve been doing this since 1990. For 2004, they chose the Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’). This plant seems dazzling in the shade. It dies down over the winter, but returns again in late spring. The delicately cut fronds are shaded with various colors, including burgundy, green, and gray. The stems are a beautiful wine-red. Like most ferns, this plant is relatively trouble-free. I’ve never experienced any problems of any kind. Japanese painted fern is great when used as a ground cover for shady areas. I also grow it in a shady perennial bed.

Previous winners include David phlox, Moonbeam coreopsis, Husker Red penstemon, Magnus purple coneflower, and Butterfly Blue scabious.

Due to their fragrance and their beautiful flowers the bee balms or monardas are very popular perennials. Look for the mildew resistant ones. These would include Monarda bradburniana. Hardy in zones 4 to 8, this native plant is well suited to sun and partial shade. It blooms about a month before most other bee balms.

Old time favorites like the sedums and yarrow (Achillea) are very reliable. These will seldom disappoint you.

Whatever questions you have about choosing, growing and designing with perennials, the answers can be found in “Perennials for the Backyard Gardener” by Patricia L. Turcotte, published by the Countryman Press. She walks the reader through every step—from analyzing their garden space and preparing the soil to color combinations and propagation. This title features profiles for over a hundred of the most popular perennials. For each entry you’ll find complete information along with a color photo. In addition there is a helpful appendix containing a list of plant societies, seed and garden catalogs, perennial families, and much more.

For shady areas, there are many suitable perennials. These are presented in “Got Shade?” by Carolyn Harstad, published by Indiana University Press. It has chapters on perennials, wildflowers, ferns, ground covers, and ornamental grasses for shade as well as woody plants. She explains the steps in creating a well-designed, carefree low maintenance garden and how to choose stunning plant combinations. It is illustrated with drawings and beautiful color photos.

For a regional guide to perennials and other flowering plants, I highly recommend “Ladies’ Southern Florist” by Mary C. Rion from the University of South Carolina Press. This is a facsimile of the original 1860 version. It was the very first American book to focus on Southern gardening, and was based on the author’s personal experience. This title features over 150 different plants, most of which remain popular today. She explains how to prepare the garden properly, how to transplant, sow seed, and care for the plants.

Plants don’t stand alone. Like us, they have companions, and it’s important to create pleasing plant combos. One of my favorite combos is pink and blue. For example, my pink yarrow looks perfectly gorgeous when planted in the same bed with the blue balloon flower (Platycodon).

Whether in beds or borders, perennials are jewels of the summer garden.


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