In our modern world a throw away culture has unfortunately developed, surprisingly applying to all areas of life, including the garden. A lot of yards today are planted to capacity in spring and summer with the brightest, most colorful and cheapest garden stock available and then often left to die out when the main event has past. These gardens must be replanted year after year and can end up costing a homeowner a lot of money over time. For my Mid-Atlantic friends who wish to break from this uneconomical pattern without sacrificing garden character, I offer some perennial alternatives that will have your yard in a perpetual state of bloom and color, require less water, and cost you less because you will only purchase the plants once.
Tulips have become ubiquitous with spring, but I recommend using daffodils instead. Although labeled as perennial, most tulips are so overbred that they will only come up for a few years before they die out. Additionally tulips are also tasty treats for animals and can attract unwanted diners. On the contrary, garden pests generally dislike daffodils and daffodils come in a wide range of shapes and colors. Most varieties of daffodils tend to naturalize and spread out, making them a great garden investment, and some daffodils are even fragrant -an added bonus.
For shrubs, considering substituting witch hazel for the common spring blooming forsythia. Witch hazel has unique yellow to orange-red spider like flowers that grow in clusters. Witch hazel is also a natural pharmaceutical and has medicinal uses that range from treating acne to hemorrhoids. For more information about the medicinal uses of Witch Hazel:
Most area summertime flowerbeds display begonias, impatiens, and petunias with the occasional adventure into perennial beds of black-eyed Susans and butterfly bushes. Instead, I recommend Crapemyrtle, Heleanthus and perennial Hibiscus.
-Crapemyrtles come in endless sizes and colors range from white, pink and burgundy to “Ravens” purple. For large crapemyrtles, I suggest the Witcomb series, in particular, Rhapsody in Pink®, which grows, on average, to 12ft. Even when not in bloom, Rhapsody in Pink® will continue to garner attention with its attractive burgundy foliage. Interesting smaller crapemeyrtles can be found in the dwarf Filli series. Some of these petite varieties top out at beach ball size and their vibrant color is especially eye-catching.
-Helianthus, a North American native plant, is another great choice for summer color. While annuals have a tendency to appear their weakest under the blazing summer heat, bright yellow perennial Helianthus stands tall and bright.
-Hibiscus coccineus is yet another great choice for a perennial summer bloomer. It has striking large red flowers that appear more tropical than perennial and deceiving cannabis looking foliage. Like cannabis, this Hibiscus can grow very tall (7ft) and until it blooms, it may have your neighbors doing a double-take.
For fall you can create a winning autumn ensemble with Colchicum and Saffron Crocus bulbs, Sternbergia, Little Joe Eupatorium, and native plant Vernonia.
-Colchicum is a purple to pink to white fall blooming bulb (actually a corm) that is especially striking when planted in bunches. The root has medicinal purposes, but be careful before using it, as the stem and flower are poisonous.
-Sternbergia are bulbs that produce yellow crocus-like flowers that are actually referred to as the “winter daffodil” as they are closely related to the Narcissus family of plants. Sternbergia are actually quite rare in nature and it is illegal to collect them from the wild.
-Eupatorium “Little Joe” or Little Joe Pie Weed is a native plant whose flowers attract butterflies. This ‘dwarf’ Joe Pie Weed grows to only 4 feet and displays cluster of pink flowers.
-Vernonia is another U.S. Native plant and a great fall bloomer. It has bright purple flowers that make a great cut plant and also works well in fall arrangements and wreaths.
In winter there are few gardens illustrating life and color so you are sure to impress with an assortment of Cyclamen, Hellebores and Yuletide Camellia.
-Hardy Cyclamen are tubers with delicate flowers that bloom in winter or very early spring in white, pink or purple. The flowers are small, but they have a unique shape and the leaves have silver markings that differ from plant to plant.
-Hellebores, or Lenten Rose, are reliable winter bloomers and are generally easy to grow. Hellebores come in a wide variety of colors and forms and will grow happily in shaded areas and in well-drained soil.
-Yuletide Camellia has stunning red blooms and are the perfect accent plant for the winter garden and the holidays. Camellia can be grown as a shrub or espaliered like a rose.
Installing Your New Perennial Garden
Planting a base garden with the suggested above flowers can be done all at once or implemented over time. Summer is a great time to start planning your design while looking to fall when temperatures are cooler to do your planting. If you are especially concerned about cost, look for the plants at your local garden center that are not in bloom, as they may be on sale. By planning ahead you will not only save money, but by avoiding buying only what you in bloom, you will save yourself from having a lackluster garden at other times of year. Finally, know that while the plants may seem small in the beginning, a lot can change in a relatively small period of time. Have patience!