Perennials Archives

With a brand new-to-me garden to fill up,  I need plant ideas, especially shade-loving perennials, so where better to look than the garden of our perennials specialist Larry Hurley?  So I paid a visit to his Bethesda garden this past weekend and saw lots to love, and learned a thing or two.

Around a large tree in the front yard, sweeps of epimediums and hostas sure look better than mulch, and more interesting than the common groundcovers for shade (I’m looking at you, ivy and pachysandra).

Above, Larry can’t keep his hands off those Epimediums.  On the right in this photo is a big favorite of mine – Euphorbia amygdaloides or Wood Spurge.  It’s evergreen!

In all its glory is the stunning native vine Lonicera sempervirens ‘Cedar Lane’.

Above, another gorgeous native plant – Phlox stolonifera ‘Sherwood Purple’.  It does well in both moist and dry shade.

Above, two of Larry’s many varieties of Heuchera, both paired to great effect with Hakonechloa (also known as Japanese forest grass).  Larry prefers the Heuchera villosas because they’re so long-lived.

Above, newly emerging Hosta ‘Sagea’ and a bronze-colored Heuchera with ‘Evergold’ Carex.  It’s one of the evergreen Carexes, and can take sun or shade.

Here’s a groundcover I’ve never seen before – Wood Anemone or Anemone nemorosa.  Gotta get some!

Also evident in the photo above is Larry’s practice of leaving fallen leaves in place in his perennial borders.  I questioned this practice, having read warnings about dead leaves smothering perennials, but was assured that the perennials are safe and that the leaves decompose by mid-summer or so.  Larry says that smothering may be a problem with maple leaves because they become so tightly compacted, but the leaves of his oaks and tulip poplars are no problem.   Good to know!

Love the large pots on Larry’s deck, and the informal fieldstone paths.  That’s Japanese Painted Fern in the foreground.

Notice more interesting artsy elements – the metal cranes on the left and the large pot on the right.   And how about the stunning bark on the Stewartia in the foreground? A diehard do-it-yourselfer, Larry built the pond himself.

Thanks to Larry for the tour, but I haven’t finished with him yet.  Coming soon – his favorite native ferns and Echinaceas.

Lornicera photo by Larry Hurley.  All others by the author – Susan Harris.

Fall Clean-up in the Perennial Garden

Click here to read Larry Hurley’s fall tips for the perennial garden on our website.

Photo credit.


Calamint – My new Favorite Perennial

Calamint with lamb's ears

by Susan Harris

Calamint (Calamintha nepeta) ‘White Cloud’ is one of those plants that I’d never noticed – either at the nursery or in anyone’s garden – until I grew it myself, an experience that’s turned me into a HUGE fan of the plant.  I love it because this one plant has spread in a single season to cover a 2×3′ area, and the white, mint-scented flowers that first appeared in June are still going strong in October!  Four continuous months of flowers!

The butterflies and bees LOVE it.  AND it’s drought-tolerant.  And according to expert sources, it’s longer-lived and better smelling than the similar-looking baby’s breath.

I think the reason I never noticed it is that it’s a filler plant, not a show-stopper.   Like background plants, fillers sometimes get no respect.

Just give it full sun to light shade and wow, what a performer!  It reportedly self-seeds and I’m soooo hoping it does.

Thanks to Larry Hurley for turning me on to this under-appreciated plant.

What’s not to love about Heucheras?

by Larry Hurley, Behnke’s Perennials Specialist

We have a number of things on sale in perennials this week (starting July 14), including daylilies, the remaining Astilbes, and Heucheras.  Here’s a bit about Heucheras.

Heuchera – one of its common names is Coral Bells – is a North American native plant with several species native to Maryland.

Most of what are sold are hybrids combining the best traits of several species of Heuchera.  Some are grown for the small flowers, some for the bold foliage, and a lucky few for both. Pretty much what we have in stock at the moment are the hybrids featuring colorful foliage.  In the last several years, a number of hybrids with improved summer-heat tolerance have been released for sale, and I have found them to be robust both in pots and in the ground.

Great in containers in morning sun with afternoon shade, they are a good specimen plant or filler plant. The foliage comes in chartreuse, gold, brown, purple or silver tones with the color being strongest in the cooler weather of spring and fall.

Depending on how sheltered they are and the severity of the winter, some of the Heucheras make a good foliage display year-round.

In the ground, they are best in bright shade, or with a few hours of morning sun and shade the rest of the day. They need good soil drainage.  That means no standing water after a rain storm; maybe planted on a bit of a slope.

Planting in the summer is always more challenging than planting in the fall or spring.  That said, if you water them every couple of days for the first two weeks or so, they should get established without any difficulty.

Time for a Summer Tune-up!

by Susan Harris

Perennials to Prune for Rebloom
It’s late June when not much is blooming (thankfully, my hydrangeas ARE in bloom), and early-blooming perennials are looking pretty bad.  But many of them will perk up, put out new leaves and even rebloom if you just give them a little attention – NOW.

Above are two prime candidates for pruning – the Salvia ‘May Night’ in the foreground and the Tradescantia in the upper left. Both will rebloom nicely if given a haircut after their first bloom.  In the case of the Tradescantia (common name Spiderwort), cut them back hard to remove the really ugly foliage.  New leaves will then emerge.

Perennials to Prune Prevent Flopping, Improve Shape

Tall asters like the ones above are notorious floppers, but if you cut them back now – before the end of June – they’ll be shorter, bushier, and bloom about a week later.  And most importantly, they’ll stand up on their own, so it’s well worth the effort!

Tall Sedums like this ‘Autumn Joy’ also benefit from an early summer haircut, especially if they’re leggy from getting a bit too much shade or overdue for dividing.

To learn MUCH more about care of perennials, especially how to make them look their best, consult The Well Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust.

More from Larry Hurley!  He covered summer tune-up of hanging baskets, annuals and herbs in this blog story from last summer.

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