Monday, May 9, 2011

Standards of Good Behavior for a Perennial

Violet Viola spp. now blooming in my spring garden
My 2011 gardening resolutions were to try square-foot gardening and to garden wiser by simplifying. I have made a start with the square foot gardening and I'll post about it soon. Simplifying - no surprise - is proving more difficult, as I discussed in an earlier posting. Sydney Eddison in her book, Gardening for a Lifetime, recommends switching from high-maintenance perennials to low-maintenance shrubs. So how do I decide which perennials to get rid of? I am applying her six standards of good behavior:
A perennial must ...
1. be truly perennial and return every year
2. be healthy 
3. have fortitude to endure cold winters
4. have superior, or at least good, foliage for most of the season
5. maintain a tidy habit, not flopping nor sprawling, and must remaining in reasonable bounds
6. resist predators, pests or diseases.
Without a doubt my hellebores meet all the above criteria, so they will surely remain in my shade garden ... 
Hellebore Helleborus sp
Looking around my spring garden it is obvious I will keep not only the hellebores but also brunera, creeping phlox, sweet woodruff, pulmonaria, and bleeding heart. All of them exhibit the six standards.
Brunnera Macrophylia 'Jack Frost'
Creeping Phlox Phlox subulata
Sweet Woodruff Galium odoratum
Lungwort Pulmonaria
Bleeding Heart Dicentra
As for those plants that fail to meet the criteria, I am following Sydney Eddison's advice and looking at each one and asking the hard question, “Have I the time and energy to give this plant what it needs? And if not, do I love it enough to give it what it needs anyway?” The answer is a resounding "Yes!" to the "do I love it enough?" question, when I think of my beloved roses and my favorite daylilies.
David Austin Rose Rosa "Lichfield Angel" (summer 2010)
Daylily Hemerocallis "Chicago Apache" (summer 2010)
 But some plants should go. One of them is the obedient plant (which is NOT aptly named) ...
Obedient Plant Physostegia virginiana
The obedient plant is very "cottage-garden" looking, but is rapidly taking over the perennial border and crowding out everything else. Yes, it has to go ...

The not-so-obedient obedient plant in the picket-fence border last summer.
I do agree with Sydney that shrubs are far less work. Why shrubs? Well, shrubs offer more value for less work, shrubs suitable for a border need little pruning, they supply strong structural forms, and they offer year-round interest.

Golden Biota Platycladus cupressaceae in one of my perennial borders last summer
Last week, found me slaving over my computer, preparing a gardening seminar. As a master gardener, I frequently give programs for community gardeners. The weather was too cold and wet to work outside, so I rather enjoyed making a new slide show. I called the program "Gardening Smarter Not Harder" and incorporated the information about standards for perennials, and substituting with shrubs. I need to explain about being a "master gardener" for my British friends who asked me several times. A simple explanation can be found on the American Horticultural Society's website. It says,  
The Master Gardener program, conducted throughout the United States and Canada, is a two-part educational effort, in which avid gardeners are provided many hours of intense home horticulture training, and in return they "pay back" local university extension agents through volunteerism.
There are many ways to volunteer -- such as providing phone diagnostic services, which I did for a couple of years. But I really enjoy teaching, having been an educator all of my working life. Some of my students are older men and women at a local university's Adult Learning Center. With this audience in mind, I prepared my "Gardening Smarter Not Harder" program. I included some labor-saving techniques which I may post about soon.

The weather is now greatly improved and I am spending more time outside. Some newly blooming plants are violets (lead photo) and forget-me-not, as well as the brunera and creeping phlox at the top of the page.
Forget-me-not Myosotis sylvatica
 In the kitchen garden the rhubarb is ready to be picked...
... and the blueberry plants have buds.
Blueberry Vaccinium
 In the pond the frogs and toads have become quiet. This frog is watching some tadpoles swimming around. (Couldn't get a picture of the tiny tadpoles.)

  H.H. found salamanders ...
Woodland Salamander Plethodo
... a sure sign of spring!                          

I am enjoying this spring season enormously, and hope you are, too.

Happy Gardening!

Pamela x

First lilacs

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  1. Stunning photos of your garden Pam! Just beautiful!

  2. As time goes on... less work is welcomed.I'm not getting younger! Like your list and will keep this post on my "links" page. Didn't know Forget me nots come in white.
    Have to put Sweet Woodruff Galium odoratum on my list.

  3. Gardening smarter, not harder, definitely sounds like a good idea! Wonderful photos of your garden Pam.

  4. Pam I loved this post...I too am taking a hard look at the garden to determine what can stay and what must go...just not performing or too much work...I have never been a keen evergreen shrub person but I am fast thinking of adding some yearly...I have a not so Obedient plant is being moved the meadow where it can thrive as a true native plant....problem is getting rid of it since it spreads so easily...I think I have the book you are referring to in the post, but the "to read" pile has become quite large lately...I must move this book up in line

  5. I think we all should 'work smarter, not harder', no matter what our age. It helps in enjoying the garden, as a lot of times it gets to be just plain hard work! I have to constantly remind myself that I don't need any more diva beds! Great post!

  6. Everything seems very happy at your garden. When you come visit, you can bring me some of that disobedient plant you are getting rid of!!! Carolyn

  7. I think with each successive garden I've gardened in I've become more particular about well behaved, lower maintenance plants. Especially here. We have too much to maintain as it is, so any new additions need to be rather self sufficient. On that front, I abandoned the English Roses. Had a lovely rose garden at the last house, but have never worked so hard maintaining plants in my life! ;) Your garden looks wonderful though, and your little salamander looks a lot like our Slender Salamander here...cute!

  8. oh man, if there wasn't that love clause in there, I think I'd have to pull up my entire garden and start over...

  9. I've just found your blog and have been enjoying it. Your the first person I've seen who has the same bleeding heart as I have - except for my dad who gave me my start from his. I love this bleeding heart - its so delicate.
    I think I will enjoy continuing to read your blog and see your beautiful flowers. Very inspiring.

  10. Wonderful post Pam. Good list too. I never read the definition of a Master Gardener, but it is pretty apt. I too did phone duty for many years. I enjoy the teaching aspect of the 'job' too. I can tell you really love springtime. Great photos and lovely gardens.

  11. A really interesting post, Pam. I've ditched a couple of perennials this year which were getting too big for their boots in my border. Rhubarb ready to be picked and blueberries in flower, I knew your garden would soon burst in to life as soon as the snow left.

  12. Hello Pam, this post certainly came at a good time for me, since as you know, I'm downsizing here, too. I appreciate your criteria for whether a plant should stay or go; this will help me make the hard decisions as I hack and chop my way through perennials way too numerous to mention. Obedient plant is such a misnomer-haven't seen one yet that stayed within bounds.

    I'm leaning toward shrubs and dwarf conifers in the garden borders also. They do add year round interest (and take up space!) along with my rocks. Thank you for the encouragement on downsizing; I don't feel so guilty now. :')

  13. Your garden is so beautiful I hope you keep it going. I love your perennial border. Shrubs are certainly less work, but they are a bit more boring, more a background than the focal point. I remember one gardener saying she planned her garden with shrub hedges and perennial borders next to the hedges. She said as she grew older she allowed the hedges to get bigger and bigger, eventually shading her perennials so much that they died off little by little. So her garden evolved in a way that meant less and less work for the aging gardener...

  14. Shrubs boring?? But then I chose mine for their flowers. Nothing like that mass of colour when a shrub bursts into flower. Then the foliage I chose is interesting, in colour or shape. Not boring NO.

    What is too much work, makes its own choice to die on me. Then gets mulched. Some are reviving now in autumn.

  15. The ones that are easy to get rid of are the thugs - which leaves only the ones that are slightly tender and die (problem solved) - and then the rest which I invariably want to keep.
    My attempts to make the garden more labour saving are not succeeding very well. I am in denial about the physical effort involved but the time will come when I will have to make changes. In the meanwhile I make a list of potential shrubs!

  16. Very nice post, and then I got to the salamander photo and that put it over the top! :-)

  17. A very smart principal to plant more shrubs than perennials if you want less work. Although it seems some people would like to turn shrubs into work by pruning them into the most awkward shapes. As I'm creating my garden I need to remember more shrubs and trees as I have a large property and work full time so not a lot of time to fuss with naughty perennials.

  18. Pam, that is a perfect list! Well done.

    Your post's photos are wonderful. That picket-fence border of yours is absolutely fantastic. Really a true 'English Garden'!


  19. Your post was very eye opening as I get into this years gardening chores. My current garden is going on 3 years and is 80% perennials. My past personal gardens were mostly trees and shrubs and of course turfgrass. Lower maintenance for sure. When I go back to work, I will have to cut something somewhere. Including reading and writing blogs so much!!

  20. I love Spring too, Pam, and ours may finally be here, The cold temps are slowly backing away and I'm hoping no more snow. You are wise to simplify... I should be doing that as well. Thanks for a great post. I've loved walking through your gardens.

  21. i enjoyed your post. the pictures are great. it made me think about each of my little garden perennials. i'm a garden 3rd year newbie. i have started adding more evergreens and shrubs to fix up the winter look.

  22. Dear Pam - all good advice,clearly instructed and given how lovely your garden looks, spoken by someone who obviously knows what she is talking about! Don't know why shrubs fell out of fashion here but had I planted more from the start, the garden would have more structure. My gardening ethos is only grow what grows without much tending - save me an Obedient plant ;)
    Laura x

  23. I enjoyed seeing your blooms and critters. That's an interesting concept about what makes for "keeper" perennials. I need to learn more about shrubs. I don't have any right now, except for at my garden across the street. They need to be pruned. I didn't know to do it after they bloom. I'm not sure if we have room in our yard. I'd like to find one that is not as wide as it is tall. I don't know, I think I prefer flowers.

  24. Pam, your picket fence border is lovely. Truly captures the English garden spirit. Great standards for perennials. I could not agree more.

  25. There is so much going on in your garden... very pretty pictures!