By Patrice Frantz
A stunning perennial garden can add beauty and value to your property. But it doesn’t have to mean backbreaking work or expensive trips to your local garden store. Even if you’re a novice gardener, you can establish flowerbeds that will thrill you year after year. It just takes the right perennials, knowing your soil and growing conditions, and a little help from your friends.
Most of us like to go big with a new hobby. In this case, starting small or at least moderately will pay off large in the long run. Pick a small island in your yard or a short border along your house or fence. You’ll want enough room to give your new plants sufficient space to grow, but a plot that’s a manageable size to start with. Pick a day where you’ll be home for several hours from sundown to sunset. Then throughout the day, watch how the sun impacts the spot you’ve picked. The amount of sun and shade a place gets will determine what perennials will grow well there.
Pick the Right Perennials
Not all perennials grow well in all gardens. Here are some considerations:
- As mentioned above, check your chosen spot for the amount of sunlight it gets throughout the day. A shade-loving hosta will not flourish to full potential in a sunny border, and sun-hungry daisies will not thrive under the shade of a huge oak tree.
- The type of soil in your yard also factors into which plants will do best in your garden. Some soil is sandy while others can contain clay. Some is high in acid and some is alkaline. The best way to determine the makeup of your dirt is to test it. You can buy inexpensive soil testing kits online or at your local home improvement store. Your local county college should have some kits available as well.
- Many perennials are excellent for propagating by division. What this means is once a plant is established, it can be split into several offspring and planted elsewhere. It’s best to do this in the early spring as growth starts, or in the fall as plants become dormant. This is how your small first garden can be turned into many. Starting out with easily-divisible perennials such as day lilies or Shasta daisies will give you stock to create new gardens through the years. Division also benefits the starter plant, giving it room to rejuvenate.
- Know the height and growth patterns of your plants. It’s simple: short guys in front, big dudes in the back. Think about color as well. Some gardeners enjoy monochromatic beds while others concentrate on using colors that will attract hummingbirds or butterflies.
Watch Out for Invaders
While it’s important to pick perennials that will feel right at home in your new garden, keep in mind that some can also become invasive. Again, knowing the conditions of your plot will determine what plants may grow out of control and choke out the little guys who are struggling just to establish themselves.
Campanula rapunculoides (known as ladybells) are a beautiful but very invasive type of perennial.
What are Friends For?
A great way to start a perennial garden on the cheap is through friends and family or neighbors whose gardens you’ve been admiring. You’d be surprised at how happy other gardeners are to share their plants. Every garden needs thinning out from time to time, and we love to see our offspring go to happy homes. Division is good for established perennials, and plants that have already survived the local weather will be stronger than a hot house transplant.
Keep Resources Close
There are many free and affordable guides out there for the neophyte gardener. Your local librarian will be glad to help you locate a useful handbook from the shelves, and there are plenty of helpful websites online (aside from House Tipster, of course).
So dig in! Count on learning as you go and invaluable guidance from experienced gardeners. Before long, you will be that neighbor with the yard worthy of envy, giving plant babies — and advice — to eager new gardeners.
Images used with permission, courtesy of Patrice Frantz and www.dreamstime.com