Jennifer Williams is a garden writer, consultant, and landscape designer. A former horticulture extension agent, she has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in horticulture and has gardened in numerous states across the country.

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Perennial Planning 101
by Jennifer Williams       #Colorful   #Flowers   #Perennials

A tried and true perennial favorite, black-eyed Susan can be seen in gardens across the country. In the South they are perfect for a perennial bed, adding beautiful bright blooms through the heat of summer.


Creating a 100 percent pure perennial bed can be quite a daunting task. The thought of planning a flowerbed that provides interest from spring until fall is enough to have the most seasoned landscape designers running for the hills. With this simple plan, you can dip your toes into the wonderful world of perennials without creating a panic.

Choosing plants with interesting foliage and/or long blooming periods will help you achieve this with less variety. My top pics for long-lasting bloomers:


Rudbeckia spp. There are so many amazing varieties out there, but all of them will put on a brilliant show from spring through fall with very little maintenance. My favorite is Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’


Echinacea spp. The classic coneflower is a great addition to the perennial garden, putting on a grand show through the summer. With the near countless varieties available, choices run well past the classic purple and into fuchsia, orange, white, and more.
 

Hemerocallis spp. Daylilies are the last of my favorite tried-and-true classic garden perennials. The possibilities are endless – counting the number of varieties is akin to counting the stars. Virtually every color of the rainbow is available, tall, short, and everything in between. For the front of border, ‘Stella d’Oro’ is still my favorite.
 

Great for the front of the garden, butterfly-shaped blooms sit atop airy 18-24-inch flower stalks. Guara is excellent for the front of a perennial garden. • Echinacea fills in a perennial garden, giving some medium height to the design and producing blooms throughout the summer. It is also a known self-seeder, so look for new baby plants in the spring that may be in the wrong spot and move them to prevent crowding your other plants. • There is no question as to why ‘Stella D’Oro’ is a standard in the landscape industry. It is a proven re-bloomer that will bring you golden color from spring through fall. It is on the shorter side, reaching only about 12 inches tall.


Other factors to consider in choosing perennials for your design is the leaf shape, height, and how it declines. Plants with a variety of leaf shapes will add texture to your planting and interest when others are not blooming. For example, Iris have beautiful flowers, but also add a lot of structure with their sword-like leaf blades that stand tall through most of the growing season. Likewise, using several varieties of Hemerocallis, which has more grass-like leaves, could leave your bed looking bland and even messy. Add contrast with the flatter leaves of balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus), Salvia or the feathery leaves of yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

The issue of height is rather straightforward; remember those class photos from elementary school? Keep it simple – taller plants in the back, shorter in the front. Do not let them overshadow the others or you will sacrifice blooming potential. Additionally, consider the foliage height versus the bloom height. Some perennials have flower stalks that will rise above the foliage, leaving behind leaves that will fill in your background.
 

With bright chartreuse leaves and a black to blue ombre in the blooms, Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ will provide interest from summer to fall, reaching heights of 2-5 feet and spreading just as wide. • Yarrow has nice evergreen foliage in the South, adding some interest year round. However, the flowers are the true heroes here, ‘Strawberry Seduction’ is a beautiful red and yellow variety, a great addition any perennial garden. • Adding some height and bloom variety to the perennial garden is red hot poker or torch lily (Kniphofia spp.). It has grass-like leaves and shines even in the back of the garden.
 

Finally, consider how the plant declines after blooming. Are the leaves going to stick around, are they going to look raggedy, or even disappear? If your plant is going to leave a blank space after flowering, simply place it next to something that will fill in with foliage as the season progresses.

Lastly, when creating your bed design you will want to make sure your plants “flow” from one variety to the next. In this plan, plants will intermingle, but provide a large impact throughout the growing season. Planting in groups of 3, 5, 7, or 9 will help with the flow and provide sweeps of color as each plant begins to bloom.


Mixing textures, colors, and blooms can be achieved in many ways. The combination of orange lilies and blue balloon flowers is a beautiful example of companion planting that brings out the best of both species.
 

One final tip: Remember to factor in your area: The farther south you are, the earlier things will warm up, and of course, the opposite for those in the more northern regions. Following these simple tips and choosing your favorites will lead to a beautiful perennial flower show throughout the season.

 

A version of this article appeared in a November/December 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jennifer Williams.

 

Posted: 10/31/17   RSS | Print

 

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