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Perennials Proliferate in Three Year Old Garden


yellow twig dogwood and other proliferating perennials

Proliferating perennials here include yellow twig dogwood, aronia, culvers root and bee balm

You never expect your perennials to proliferate when you are a young gardener You carefully plant your first perennial bee balm or Siberian iris or coral bells.  You set out your plants neatly and sigh with accomplishment and pleasure expecting that these perennials will look just as they do that day forever.

After caring for flower gardens for the past 40 years you would think I had outgrown this daydream. But, alas, as I evaluate my Greenfield garden, I realize unchecked proliferation has occurred and I have to deal with it. I should remember the old saying. The first year newly planted plants sleep. The second year they creep. The third year they leap! And the gardener might weep. (I added that last part myself.)

Since I intended that my new Greenfield garden should be a low maintenance garden it includes many shrubs. My definition of perennials is a plant that comes back next year and is bigger. I have many shrubs, and many perennial flowers intended to fill the spaces between the shrubs. All of these plants were chosen because I find them beautiful, but also because they are tolerant of wet soil. In addition to having heavy clay soil, a river runs beneath my garden. I have learned that there are many streams hiding under Greenfield streets and neighborhoods, seemingly filled in, but rivers and streams have their own energy and they do not completely disappear.

It is not too hard to find beautiful water-loving shrubs. I have planted three dogwood shrubs: red twig, yellow twig, and osier. They are all thriving, but the yellow twig is the most vexatious. It does not grow much more than six feet tall, but it grows out in every direction. I have been pruning it to shorten many of its branches, especially those near the ground where I have planted perennial flowers. Even so, right now the branches are tangling with six foot tall culver’s root, a native perennial that produces spikes of white flowers, as well as a six foot chokeberry that then leans into very tall bee balm. All these plants are thriving in this wet site.

I have decided that the chokeberry, which is barely visible at this point, will be removed entirely. Maybe I can donate it to the Energy Park garden. The culver’s root and bee balm will need to be dug up and reduced in size, probably in half. After visiting some wonderful gardens on the Hawley Tour yesterday I realized that another aspect of my problem is the similarity of foliage color and size. I need to consider how to have more variety in groupings. You can see that in late September I’ll be busy.

Happily, I have a Rhus aromatica, a wonderful low sumac which makes a great spready ground cover in front of the culver’s root and bee balm. On either side of the sumac I’ll have to consider perennials that might provide more color.

Japanese anemone, Calycanthus and rudbeckia

Proliferating perennials including Japanese anemone, Calycanthus and rudbeckia, daylilies in front border

Another overcrowded site includes three pink Japanese anemones which bloom long and joyfully in late summer into the fall, a young calycanthus shrub that produces amazing deep wine red blossoms in spring, and a border of rudbeckia given to me by a friend last year. All three are in the leaping stage.

What I know so far, is that the Calycanthus, also known as Carolina allspice or sweetshrub is a native plant, tolerant of clay soils will remain in  this spot. Now that it has bloomed, I am told it is a good time to prune to keep it a manageable size. It can grow to eight or nine feet with an equal spread. I am counting on its willingness to be controlled.

The Japanese anemones are favorites of mine and I find a big clump really beautiful, but they will have to be moved. But where? Hmmmmm.

The rudbeckias will mostly disappear. Last year they made a nice border and didn’t grow more than maybe 15 inches high. This year the border has doubled in width and height. I look at this arrangement from my kitchen window dozens of times a day. It irritates me to see such a crowded clump of plants. Again, foliage color and texture are similar. A problem all by itself.

I wish I could tell you that these are the only two areas that need redoing because of overcrowding, but there are others. Blue and white Siberian rises increase altogether too fast. They are beautiful and early bloomers, but two clumps kept under control may be my limit. Bee balms and Joe Pye weeds also need to be reduced. These are important plants for pollinators, but they need to be kept under control.

One section of the garden looks handsome as it has increased in a very wet spot. The golden leafed buttonbush now kisses the dark green foliage of the winterberry with its autumnal golden berries, and it snuggles up against the airy foliage of the dappled willow. All three are amenable to pruning.

Buttonbush, winterberry and dappled willow

Buttonbush, winterberry and dappled willow

Summer is generally not considered a time to work on garden planning, but it is in summer that many of the problems of our plant arrangements reveal themselves with painful clarity.

Between the Rows   July 7, 2018

8 comments to Perennials Proliferate in Three Year Old Garden

  • I really agree with your last point. Summer is when the problems reveal themselves — and unless I photograph and take careful notes, what needs to be done gets forgotten. Which reminds me…

  • Peter Herpst

    How nice that you have lots of natural water. Dragging hoses gets tiresome after a while. I’m a fan of the crowded look so your shots look lovely to me.

  • Helen Opie

    I wonder, although this is not the recommended season to prune, if the old orchardist’s rule might not apply here; the best time to prune is when your saw is sharp. The best time to resolve any of life’s irritants is when they arise.

  • Pat

    Peter – We do have a lot of natural water, but the garden does still require dragging a hose around once in a while. Thanks for the kind words about the photos.

  • Pat

    Helen – I’m always looking to see whether the saw is sharp. Henry took it upon himself to move several iris clumps to the back of the garden. We watered them a couple of times and they seem to be doing fine. However, the irises had finished blooming and some of the crowded plants are in bloom which I am enjoying. The whole process may be done on a staggered schedule.

  • Pat

    Pat – I am trying to take photographs to help me too, because I am not always good at keeping notes. In many ways this is one the reasons for keeping the blog.

  • Helen Opie

    I had never thought of taking photos for my notes! Brilliant! I’ve only photographed stages. Thanks!

    Re unseasonable gardening: 2 summers ago someone dropped off a couple of bags of iris. I got most of them planted, then ran out of space. The last one in the bag has lived on sitting on the driveway gravel by my front entrance. I felt guilty every time I walked by and noticed it!

    Two weeks ago I realised the shrubbery between house and ditch had bare spaces on the ditch side. So I had the Garden Boys, 2 strong, able, willing young men who did my initial digging and do constant mowing, set it out front, along with some short yellow lilies René at the healthfood store dug up when I came in asking if I could have some pods when the seeds matured. They may get shaded out as the shrubs grow, but until then I shall let them do their things. I do what I can, and what the Garden Boys can in their Saturday 2 hours…most weeks.

  • Pat

    Helen – I can tell you that when we lived in Heath and I had to thin out the irises, we’d divide the clump and then ‘throw’ the new clumps along the side of the road. We rarely even tried to ‘plant’ them. They all did fine. And made the approach to our house prettier every year

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