The old Desiderata quote ‘as perennial as the grass’, is appropriate even if most of the grass is like crunchy cornflakes at the moment. Perennial is quite a concise word when applied to plants, trees or grass. Constant, never changing, always there. When Monty Don presented his
some of them included classic gardens that were planted by the ancient Greeks. One story featured the pencil pines that were a defining part of the garden.
If perennial means constant and never changing, were these tall skinny columnar trees the ones that a Greek planted 400 years ago?
No, not really, as these sort of pines have an average life of 60 years. The length of life is also determined by nutrition, water and situation. So it is likely the same pine had been replanted at least seven times by my calculations.
Old shrubs we stood in front of as kids for a collective family photo might still be there.
Perennial in plant parlance distinguishes a plant with woody stems but not necessarily a tree. It also distinguishes a plant from ‘annuals’ that have shorter lives based around when they produce flowers and subsequently die. Most petunias or bedding plants are in this category.
The annual bit does not refer to our calendar, but the process of the plant and when it flowers. So a plant that produces plants in a few weeks can also be called an annual.
The life span of trees is another science. The melaleuca forests that remain along the coastal strip and the eucalypt forests in the dry parts out near Mareeba can be hundreds of years old, perennial in a very truce sense of the word.
Most garden shrubs have a life that again depends on how they have been looked after. A shrub like Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (brunfelsia) can last 50 or more years in various reincarnations of itself in the same spot, ready for the family pics of another generation.