By Kerry A. Mendez
Q: Can you tell me some fragrant perennials I can plant around my new deck?
A: Fragrance is a very powerful way to add ‘beauty’ to your living space. Even though the purpose of a plant’s fragrance is to attract pollinating bees, moths and butterflies, it seems as though we humans benefit most from the intoxicating smells. Perceptions of fragrances differ among people—what smells nice to one may be unappealing to another. That is why it is best to buy a plant when it’s in bloom so you can “nose test” it yourself. A word of caution in your enthusiasm for creating a fragrant paradise: don’t go overboard and put too many fragrant perennials together. The stronger scents will overwhelm the more delicate ones and the effect can be overpowering instead of pleasant. Some nose pleasers for sunny spots include dianthus (pinks); valerian; peony (whites tend to have stronger scents); phlox; butterfly bush (zone 5); gas plant; roses (the Knockout series are great); various daylilies (Catherine Woodbury, Hyperion, Ice Carnival, Lemon Lily, Mary Todd); lavender (zone 5); Jupiter’s Beard; sweet autumn clematis and chocolate leaved cimicifugas. Shade scenters include hosta ‘So Sweet’, ‘Royal Standard’, and ‘Fragrant Blue’; assorted primroses; woods phlox; sweet woodruff and lily-of-the-valley (extremely invasive). And don’t forget that foliage can be sweet to smell as well, although you need to brush against it to release the scent. Perennials with fragrant foliage are catmint; lavender; bee balm; geranium macrorrhizum; gas plant; Russian sage, and of course, herbs.
Q:My husband and I are arguing over how often we should water the lawn and gardens. Will you settle this for us (hopefully in my favor)?
A:I can’t take sides since I don’t know what each of you is recommending. But for the most part, I find the majority of people water their lawns and gardens TOO MUCH! Water is a precious natural resource and should be respected as such. It seems that we Americans are prone to overdoing things (don’t get me started). The general rule of thumb is to apply one inch of water per week to your lawn and gardens. This includes natural rainfall. You can keep track of how much rain you get by putting up a rain gauge (last summer I considered putting up a rain bucket given the amount of precipitation we received). When you do need to water, it is far better to water less often but longer. Translation: stop giving your lawn and gardens a shallow watering every day or every other day (I find folks with automatic irrigation systems fall into this trap); instead toughen up the plants’ roots by watering every third or fourth day (or even less!) and give them a ‘bigger glass’ of water when you do. Watering should be done in the morning, not at night, to reduce the risk of fungal diseases and other nasties. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems are the most water efficient. And don’t forget to give the whole gang (lawn, gardens, trees and shrubs) a deep drink in late fall before the ground freezes. Better hydrated roots survive Old Man Winter far better than stressed-out, thirsty ones.
Q:When I first started gardening all I thought about were flowers, flowers, flowers, but now I am starting to better appreciate foliage as a way to add beauty to my garden. Can you suggest some showy foliage plants?
A:Ahhh…..it appears you are moving along in your gardening journey towards a more subtle and intriguing art form. I consider it a sign of ‘gardening maturity’ when folks appreciate and emphasize foliage as the main attraction and think of flowers as icing on the cake! And this transitional thinking also leads to less work in the garden since there is not as much deadheading and other tedious tasks associated with perennials grown mostly for their flowers. Striking foliage plants are especially necessary in shade gardens where low light reduces the number of flowering plant choices. So bring on the blue, gold, burgundy, shades of green, variegated, and multicolored leaves to steal the show. The overall beauty of a plant is not only from its color; its form and texture also play starring roles. By combining plants of various colors and shapes, you can create a masterpiece without a single flower. It’s time to think outside the box! Some super perennial families that include colorful foliage specimens are coral bells, lamiums, ligularias, pulmonarias, brunneras, varieties of Japanese painted ferns, foam flowers, heucherellas, cimicifugas, sedums, dianthus and, of course, hostas and ornamental grasses. A great web resource to learn about showy plants in these families is www.perennialresource.com.
Kerry Mendez is the owner of Perennially Yours, a local business that specializes in low-maintenance gardening classes, design and consulting services. To learn more about Perennially Yours please visit www.pyours.com.