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Celebrating Perennials

The rush and flurry of spring is quickly fading away and I am excited. I see so many people trying to do everything they plan in their garden for the whole year in two short months. For me, summer doesn’t mark the end of the gardening season, it is just the beginning.

Now is the time to settle down and take several long looks at the garden and see what else needs to be done before summer really kicks it into high gear. No matter how hot it gets, I still like to work in the garden throughout the summer months.

For now, perennials are filling in nicely in the garden, the weather is pleasantly warm, and my work schedule is easing up enough that I now have some time and energy left to spend my evenings in the garden.

Choosing perennials
June is actually perennial gardening month, and is a great time to observe and select perennials for your garden that you have never grown. When we shop in garden centers we have the tendency to purchase only the perennials that have flowers on them at that time. So if you only shop the garden centers in the spring, you may be missing out on some really wonderful perennials for your garden.

It is hard to pay attention to the perennials in garden centers if they don’t have flowers to attract us, but we must discipline ourselves. Shop with your favorite perennial reference book in hand if necessary to look up what the flower looks like and when it will flower. This will help keep your perennial flower selections diverse and ensure that your perennial flower beds look good from spring to fall.

The amazing thing about perennials is that there are so many varieties for us to choose from that we can have something different blooming in the garden all summer long. There is such a multitude of flower shapes, heights, and colors that we can all make our perennial flower displays as unique as our own personalities.

Beautiful bleeding heart
Perennial flowers are the ones that return from year to year, while annual flowers must be replanted each year. This is often confused so I try to think of it this way: perennial flowers are perpetual.

One of my favorite perennials for the shade garden just doesn’t look as beautiful in a nursery pot, on a table, or in a garden center as it will once established in your garden. Dicentra spectabilis, bleeding heart, can look quite delicate and small in a nursery pot but will actually grow up to 3 feet tall in the garden.

The foliage is a beautiful, slightly bluish-green color, the perfect backdrop for the abundant pink heart-shaped flowers, though the beauty of the foliage itself would be enough of a reason to select it. Out of the pink heart-shaped flowers, additional white petals hang from the center. The flowers hang in a row from gently arching branches, which increases the dramatic effect of the already impressive display.

This shade lover does well even if it gets quite a bit of morning sun, but too much afternoon sun and it will wilt. Too much sun in combination with dry soils or simply dry summer soils alone can cause this beauty to go dormant in late summer. If it goes dormant, don’t worry: simply cut it back and in the spring it will return all over again.

Bleeding heart varieties
Other equally beautiful Dicentra varieties are available to us today, and many of the named varieties do not go dormant in the garden even if the soil is dry. There is some confusion as to what species some of them are, so we will just consider them hybrids and let the botanists continue to debate this one.

‘Luxuriant’ is one of the easiest to find and has cherry-red flowers on a plant that can grow 2- to 2-1/2-feet tall. ‘Snowdrift’ and ‘Ivoryhearts’ have interesting fern-like foliage and white flowers and are somewhat smaller plants. ‘King of Hearts’ grows only 10 inches tall and is quite beautiful when grown in a large natural group. Literature states that there is a climbing form with yellow flowers, which I have never seen but hope to one day.

Don’t let summer trick you into thinking that the gardening season is over. For some gardeners like me, it is just beginning. Plants like it hot, so all I have to really do is water. When it’s hot, there’s no place I’d rather be than in the garden.

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