Perennials Archives

Fall Color for Sunny Spots

Welcome to Old Greenbelt!

Last Sunday I was manning the information booth at Greenbelt’s Farmers Market when a gentleman stopped to ask if anyone knew what colorful plants were growing in the median strip along the main street into town – the spot shown above.  Well yes, I happened to have photographed it and could list the plants he’d been admiring for months:  crape myrtle, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and two annuals:  petunias and New Guinea impatiens.

The color-seeking gardener seemed disappointed by my answer.  He doesn’t want to “fool with annuals.”  So I rattled off names of shrubs and perennials for fall color and promised him a blog post here on the subject, with photos.  So here are some of my favorites, first for sunny spots like the median strip above.

Asters! In purples, pinks and even white. Many of them are native.

Tall Sedums look great well into the fall.

Goldenrods are going strong now, and they’re native.

Japanese maples and mums at Brookside Gardens.

(In the photo above the mums are probably best grown once, as annuals.  But there ARE chrysanthemums that come back reliably every year.)

Drift roses bloom through Thanksgiving.

These days I’m growing Drift roses, like the ones in the breeder’s photo above, but many of the new and super-popular landscape roses bloom until early winter.  We’re still seeing Knockout roses blooming all over town, and Flower Carpet, too.

Amsonia hubrichtii in November at the Scott Arboretum.

And let’s not forget that fall foliage isn’t just in trees.  To my eyes, nothing’s more dazzling than Amsonia’s fall display.

Next up, fall color for shadier spots.

Posted by  Susan Harris.

Bees! And Hummingbirds, too.

The butterflies are mostly gone for the season, but bees are still going strong. And nowhere do I see more evidence of that than in the Perennials Department at Behnkes, where I took these photos and could have bee-watched all day. The big, furry

bumblebees are especially fun because besides being big, they’re nice and slow. Also, apparently unbothered by nearby humans with cameras.

Bumblebees on Agastache ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Blue Fortune’.

I asked Perennial Department staffer Karin whether they ever sting anyone and she’d never heard of that happening. She was stung here once, though, not by the friendly bumblebee but by a wasp, and only because she grabbed it mistakenly when picking up a pot by the rim. Karin is called upon regularly to assure some bee-anxious visitors, especially kids, that left alone, bees are far too busy feeding to bother with attacking us humans.

Honeybee and Bumblebee on Sedums.

Bees and butterfly on Asters.

Honeybees on Coreopsis and an Echinacea variety.

I didn’t see any hummingbirds among the perennials the day I visited, so asked Karin about her own hummer sightings. She told me that late afternoon is prime hummingbird time in the nursery, and that these plants are their favorites: Penstemon, tubular Agastaches, Lobelia cardinalis, Monarda, the annual ‘Blue Black’ Salvia, and the summer bulb Crocosmia ‘Lucifer.”

Gotta get more of them for my garden, put them in a prime viewing spot, and wait for the party to arrive. I’m totally awed by seeing them up close, especially after seeing their movements slowed down and up close in this PBS documentary.

Posted by Susan Harris.

We loooooove Pinterest, and what gardener wouldn’t?  So visual, so gorgeous, so chockful of ideas for our own gardeners – designs, plants, outdoor features, you name it.

So we’ve been busy adding to our own Pinterest boards and are happy to announce lots of new “pins” to show off.

For instance, our Native Plants board has 41 photos, all regionally native plants looking gorgeous in the garden.

Shrubs includes 27 photos so far.  These shrubs are full-grown, in gardens.


Our Perennials collection includes 32 photos and we think shows how they might look in YOUR garden.

And we’ve added new photos to our collection of Beautiful Private Gardens, for a total of 26 so far.  Get your ideas right here!

But that’s not all.  Behnkes has 48 Pinterest boards in total – check ‘em out!


Tough, Drought-Tolerant Plants for Curbside Gardens

Who SAYS the strip of land between your sidewalk and the street has to be covered with turfgrass? Okay, in some places the government actually says that but most of us have the freedom to plant something a little more interesting – and less resource-intensive, too. Here you see the curb garden or “hell strip” in front of my house (actually my former house, where I actually had a curb).  I made sure the water-meter guy still has access, and also that this little garden doesn’t block the view of drivers. (Safety first!)

I goofed in not knowing (or inquiring about) permission I should have gotten first from my city before planting anything here, so I’m just lucky I was allowed to keep this garden. Which garden my neighbors, I might add, never seem to tire of admiring, and thanking me for. Public gardening sure has its rewards.

Now about the choice of plants.  Curb gardens need tough ones because sites don’t get much tougher than this one. They have to be able to handle the usual stresses of heat and drought PLUS cars, snow plows and salt trucks, kids on bikes, and the regular diggings and droppings of all the dogs on the street. I wasn’t about to spend money here, just to see everything destroyed. So everything here was a cast-off or division from other parts of my garden.

And it’s important to note that this spot can be garden-like, crammed full of plants of different heights, only because there’s no parking on my side of the street. I’ve seen some great curb gardens that DO allow for access to parked cars and I’ll be posting about them soon, right here.

The Plant List
I planted a Yoshino cherry tree, a beautyberry shrub, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, purple coneflowers, black-eyed susans, sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, common garden phlox,  lots of daylily cultivars in assorted colors, and creeping sedums as groundcover.

After five years in the ground, the result was:  Absolutely no damage from any of the feared sources, and a pretty garden that’s almost no work. These plants are drought-tolerant, and pretty good at crowding out the weeds. So, a bit of watering, a bit of weeding. Then in late winter I do clean-up – remove dead perennial flowers, hack the grasses back to the ground, and prune the beautybush.

Buffalo, NY
Next stop, a curb garden in Buffalo, New York, the city with the largest garden tour in America. (Every July over 300 gardens are open to the public over two days, all free.   They call it a Garden Walk.)


Portland, Oregon
And from the West Coast, below you see a high-impact garden packed in between the street and the unseen sidewalk.



Inspired yet? One New York Times writer was inspired to do something creative in his Minneapolis hell strip, and recounts the transition here.

Posted by Susan Harris.

Time for Succulents!

The National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society participated in our recent Garden Party, and gave us a chance to reconsider these plants that seem to be better suited to a hotter, dryer climate than ours. But now the Mid-Atlantic is feeling more like Arizona every year, these super-drought-tolerant plants that love heat and sun are worth a second look.

Bob Stewart, shown right with the tweezers he recommends for weeding around the thorniest of cacti, has a few recommendations for growing succulents.  One is to give them plenty of sun and excellent drainage, especially with plants that are only marginally hardy here.  The other tip for those adventures in marginal hardiness is to start with large plants – they’re worth it.

Bob also recommends this book – Hardy Succulents by Gwen Moore Kelaidis with photos by Saxon Holt.   I’ve read it myself and found the text inspiring and the photos drool-worthy, and note that it’s helped many of us try more of these plants.  The author has grown the plants she writes about in New York, Wisconsin and Colorado, so I believe her when she says they’ll survive the half-hearted winters of Maryland.

Sedums – Got ‘em, Love ‘em
Sedums are so easy to grow they’ve the most commonly used succulent in our area, especially the taller ‘Autumn Joy’ and its cousins ‘Matrona’ and ‘Neon’.  Yep, got ‘em, and recommend them all the time as among the most sustainable perennials in the world for almost any situation.  I even have a big collection in pots on my deck, and they take total neglect quite happily.  But here’s what I just learned from Kelaidis – there are sedums that prefer shade.  Gotta check into that.

Photo by Saxon Holt

Ice Plants – Want ‘em
This book also explained for me why I don’t often see see ice plants grown here in the Mid-Atlantic – they balk at clay and need a rock garden-type medium to grow in, like sand and gravel.  And I found this interesting – that although they come from tropical South Africa, ice plants have retained their residual hardiness from back in the era before the continents drifted apart, when Africa was farther north.

True desert plants  are harder to fit design-wise in Eastern gardens, to my eyes.  Same goes for yuccas, which are grown around here.  So if like a challenge, go for it, and this book will help you in expanding your options.

Thumb’s Up for the Book

This book can be a great help to gardeners in the Age of Climate Change.  The practical advice even includes which plants are affordable in which situations and design ideas that take cost into consideration (thank you!).  It’s clear that the author actually grows these plants herself, including 200+ varieties of what she lovingly calls “semps”. (The nickname alone makes me want some Sempervivums.)

Oh, and the photographer tells me that many of the photos in the book were taken in Maryland.

Posted by Susan Harris.

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