Perennial Gardens

 

This client has an older landscape which is truly lovely.  The trees are maturing;  the shrubs are well established.  The property is large, and entirely private.  This boxwood bed featuring a lovely antique sundial we did for her several years ago, but the majority of the landscape was done by someone else. Whomever did the landscape did a great job-I admire most of what I see. 

Her blue hydrangeas are just about the best I have ever seen.  I make it a point to go and see them when they are in bloom-I am always astonished at how heavily and beautifully they bloom.   I plant her pots every year; this is a job I look forward to, as I know the containers will get great care.

See what I mean?  Nothing here to fret over.  I have never planted this hydrangea for anyone, as I have never seen it perform very well.  This is almost enough to make me change my mind.

I am not so much a fan of perennial gardens planted in drifts, unless the garden in question has lots and lots of space.  By this I mean a space 40 by 15 feet, or better in every dimension..  I do not have, nor have I ever had a client with a perennial garden of this size.  The garden I planted at home today Buck says is 30 feet long, by 9 feet deep-small.  Relative to a perennial garden, this antique trough is very small.  Though barely 10 square feet, it is planted with 6 different types of plants, all of which seem to be fairly matched in terms of vigor.

I am poised to tackle what I was not crazy about-her perennial garden.  Tomorrow we will remove and relocate what she has, and replant her perennial border. Given that I just planted a perennial garden at home today, the subject of perennial borders is greatly on my mind.  I am not so much a fan of perennial gardens planted in drifts, unless the garden in question has lots and lots of space.  By this I mean a space 40 by 15 feet, or better.   I do not have, nor have I ever had a client with a perennial garden of this size.  The garden I planted at hme today Buck says is 30 feet long, by 9 feet deep-small.

 My client’s perennial border is not much bigger than mine.  I had some ideas that drove my selection of plants.  The garden is in a spot that only gets visited in the summer.  I eliminated spring flowering perennials.  Drifts of perennials look awkward when the space is constrained.  Meadows-and by this I mean very large spaces covered in perennial plants, are all about drifts.  The giant drifting perennial gardens of Piet Oudolf require lots of space.  A drifting style of planting  implies lots of room.  Most of my clients have relatively small spaces available for perennials.  I need to pick and choose, and edit.  In much the same way as I plant annuals, I like to plant perennials in mixed groups.

 I am sure this garden had other things in it years ago.  Plant vigor is a factor in planting perennial gardens that is too often ignored.  Some plants have great vigor, and will spread like crazy.  I am seeing that vigor here-Big patches of daylilies and a giant stand of astilbe in a washed out color dominated the space.  The Silberian iris in a row-is this a drift?  In any event, these iris are in need of division, and possibly a new home.  A single Annabelle hydrangea looks great-this I will keep. 

More than likely I will alternate planting perennials of similar vigor and height in rows, not drifts.  There will be enough variation in height, texture and color to keep the garden lively.  This also gives me a chance to plant a number of different plants, rather than larger drifts of just a few plants.  Most certainly this garden will require regular maintenance in order to thrive.  Inevitably there will be plants I have chosen that just will not like being where I plant them.  It will take a while to see how my choices work out.  Mother nature gives fairly tough exams-I have flunked more of them than I care to admit to.  Planting a number of varieties is one way of hedging my bets.

Comments

  1. It’s interesting for me to hear a design expert be in favor of rows as opposed to drifts. It makes a lot of sense for the smaller spaces that most of us have.

  2. Giacomo or James says:

    Deborah, I am really curious about the new look and design of the perennial border ….I look forward to see it, thanks for your super interesting blog, tips, tricks and gorgeous photos! Greetings from Italy, your fan James or Giacomo

  3. starr foster says:

    Hi Debra,

    Great pictures and ideas! I too will look forward to seeing what you have done. You have given me a good idea about drifts in my long garden, which is over 70′ long and 10 – 15 feet wide. All it needs now (other than a good weeding and deadheading) is to re-arrange it into drifts. Thank you for your thoughtful inspiration.

    Starr

  4. Your blog is so informative & helpful, thank you. I especially appreciate the use of many photos and the frequency in which you post. We are having a large patio poured today with a 20′ x 8′ semi circle against the house left open for a cutting garden. I have been researching perennial gardens (we live in WA state). I love the look of a formal garden, but everything I read says plant in drifts. Thank you for the confirmation linear planting can look just as good. I can’t wait to see these two perennial gardens you have planted.

  5. Kristin says:

    I follow your blog faithfully and love your topics. I am especially excited about this post.

    Will you show or write about the final installation at this client’s home? I am eager to plant my own perennial bed but I don’t want to use the “drift” design. Like you, I also like using a large variety of plants. Could you help inspire me by posting more about this project?

    Thank you so much!

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