Last year, my wife and I began smothering large sections of lawn in the house we moved into. We decided to create two very different garden zones on each side of the house. On one side, we’d have a traditional perennial border—an area we could constantly fuss and change. On the other side of the house, we are planning a native garden inspired by a woodland opening. The two gardens will be a kind of yin/yang—one fussy, self-conscious, and highly maintained; the other simple and evocative of particular moment in nature.
So while the future native garden is being smothered, we are busily adjusting the border. For perennial borders, my formula for creating them has gotten simpler over the years. First, I start with a handful of simple base plants (typically filler plants like grasses and reliable perennials) and then add accents plants with annuals, bulbs, and ephemerals. What I like about this formula is that I don’t have to replace the entire border to do something new. But with annuals and bulbs, I can change enough of the accents so that the border looks entirely different from year to year.
This year, I’m adding a mix of annuals and perennials to punch up color and texture (two areas it was decidedly weak last year). I’m inspired to be more romantic: Old fashioned Bearded Irises, umbels like Bronze Fennel and Bishop’s Weed, and striking foliage plants like Eucomis and Orach. I’m going with a mauve/pink/burgundy theme that works with some of the base plants like Shenandoah Switchgrass, Persicaria ‘Firetail’, and some dark Penstemons that are already in the border. Here’s what I’m adding this spring. Almost all of the additions are from seeds or bulbs.
1. Iris ‘Persian Berry’, Bearded Iris: After seeing Andy Sturgeon’s striking Bearded Irises in is Best in Shown 2010 Chelsea garden, I can’t get them out of my head. After about 80 hours of surfing on Iris Farms’ website, I settled on a couple of pinky-mauve Irises. Image above from Senor Ambrosia, Flicker.
2. Atriplex hortensis var. rubra, Red Orach: This plant has been on my list for years. Nancy Ondra has used Red Orach to great effect in her garden, and I’ve seen many British gardeners use it well. I also love the fact that Orach is quite edible. In fact, Thomas Jefferson had it in his garden in Monticello. Available from Annie's Annuals.
3. Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, Pineapple Lily: One of my big horticultural crushes this year is the design firm Mosaic Gardens in Eugene, Oregon. I love their collage-like arrangements of foliage and texture. It’s so different from the way I design, yet so appealing. I’ve spent hours scrutinizing their brilliant designs. One of the mainstays of their gardens is this striking vertical burgundy plant, that I assumed was Phormium (which is not hardy in the mid-Atlantic). Until I read on their blog that the plant I’ve lusted over for years is actually a Pineapple Lily. Which is hardy here! I about popped a vein I was so excited. So I’ve ordered a bunch from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Image courtesy of Mosaic Gardens.
4. Ammi majus, Bishop’s Flower: I’ve already documented that I’m rather umbel-crazy lately and Ammi majus is one of the classic lacy annual umbels for the garden. It’s remarkably similar to Queen Anne’s Lace, though a bit shorter and perhaps more floriferous. Available from Swallowtail Garden.
5. Iris ‘Fashionably Late’, Bearded Iris: The color on this Iris is so spectacular; I get chest pains just thinking about it. Mine is just about to bloom and I think I may take off work and sleep outside in the border for the entire time it blooms. Image above from http://www.cubits.org/
6. Trifolium rubens, Ornamental Clover: Oudolf has turned me on to using clovers mixed in low ornamental grasses. Gorgeous and nitrifying (hmm, that would be a great pick up line—ha!). I’m adding this clover around a mass of Nasella tenuissima I have in the garden.
7. Dierama pulcherrimum, Dark Cerise: I’ve seen Noel Kingsbury and other Brits use Cerise to great effect. I have no clue how it will do in the mid-Atlantic, but I’m giving it a shot. Seeds are available from Swallowtail Gardens. Image courtesy of Swallowtail Garden Seeds.
8. Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’, Bronze Fennel: Another umbel I’m crazy about, less for its flower than its foliage. Bronze Fennel is the ideal filler plant around pinks and purples. It reminds me of the Smoke Monster in the ABC show Lost. But in a pretty way.
9. Pennisetum glaucum, Ornamental Millet: This plant always makes its appearance in the fall harvest season along with pumpkins and gourds. But I’m trying it mixed in tall perennials this summer. Hopefully balanced with a lot of other pinks and mauves, it won’t read too autumnal, but it may. I’ll let you know how it goes. Image courtesy of Swallowtail Garden Seeds where the seed is available.
Note: I received no compensation to list the nurseries I've list above. I just like their products and thought I'd share.