Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - COLLEEN ZACHARIAS

ONE of the great­est plea­sures in spring as we walk through the gar­den, tak­ing care to avoid com­pact­ing soggy-wet soil with our boots or the pre­ma­ture use of gar­den tools, is see­ing the first shoots of peren­ni­als emerg­ing. But there is al­ways the nag­ging con­cern some of our favourites won’t re­turn. Peren­ni­als can suc­cumb for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. It might be due to a harsh win­ter, lack of proper sit­ing, or in di­rect re­la­tion to a plant’s nat­u­ral life­span. Then again, all that may be needed is pa­tience for the late-bloomers that wait some­times un­til al­most mid-June be­fore ap­pear­ing. Re­gard­less, many gar­den­ers will be in the mar­ket this spring for new ad­di­tions to their peren­nial bor­ders ei­ther to fill in space or for the sheer en­joy­ment of plant­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent. While the trend con­tin­ues to­ward tight, com­pact plants, the struc­ture pro­vided by vary­ing heights in the mid­dle and back of the bor­der is a key el­e­ment in any gar­den de­sign. What makes ver­ti­cal in­ter­est so im­por­tant? The use of too many short or dwarf plants can cause a small gar­den to look even smaller or re­sult in a gar­den de­sign that lacks def­i­ni­tion. In a re­cent in­ter­view, Owen Van­stone, co-owner of Van­stone Nurs­eries, a fam­ily-owned whole­sale nurs­ery in Car­man, shared his sug­ges­tions for mid­dle-of-the-bor­der peren­nial se­lec­tions be­gin­ning with an in­ter­est­ing rec­om­men­da­tion: bearded iris. Bearded iris re­mains a very im­por­tant group of gar­den peren­ni­als and Van­stone is of­fer­ing a new col­lec­tion. “Gen­er­ally, iris va­ri­eties tend to be re­ally early and very low-grow­ing,” said Van­stone. The new col­lec­tion ranges from 75 cm to 90 cm tall, with blooms ap­pear­ing in May. Van­stone’s favourites in­clude Spar­tan with out­sized dark-as-night winered blooms and Devil’s Lake whose gi­gan­tic, pro­lific blooms are navy blue. If you cur­rently grow some of the smaller va­ri­eties of iris in your gar­den, then in­clud­ing some of th­ese later-bloom­ing tall bearded va­ri­eties will ex­tend their flow­er­ing pe­riod. The sword-shaped leaves add tex­ture and ver­ti­cal in­ter­est through­out the grow­ing sea­son. The use of As­cle­pias, or milk­weed, in the gar­den, helps to at­tract but­ter­flies that lay their eggs on the un­der­side of the leaves. It is also an at­trac­tive, hardy peren­nial for the mid-bor­der. “We’ve sold so many as­cle­pias over the years and it’s re­ally on the rise,” says Van­stone. Heights range from 60 cm to 100 cm and va­ri­eties are avail­able in white, deep pink, or­ange, and golden yel­low. Ice ballet with white vanilla-scented flow­ers and Soul­mate with deep cherry-pink flow­ers are two new va­ri­eties that both grow to 100 cm or more, form­ing a tall, up­right clump. Van­stone grows them in the trial gar­den at his nurs­ery and says noth­ing seems to bother them. The bloom pe­riod is from June to Au­gust.

Echi­nacea, says Van­stone, may be a plant we are all too familiar with but there are some pos­i­tive new de­vel­op­ments in the genus. Cheyenne Spirit cone­flower is a bril­liantly coloured ex­am­ple that is show­ing a lot more har­di­ness than has been tra­di­tion­ally found in some of the yel­low or or­ange Echi­nacea va­ri­eties. Van­stone says that with an im­pres­sive height of up to 100 cm, the mix of colour in­cludes deep red, or­ange, pur­ple, scar­let, cream, yel­low, and white. “The form is com­pact and well branched and it flow­ers freely right from the first year,” adds Van­stone. It takes its time, though, wait­ing un­til later in the sea­son be­fore it be­gins to bloom. Van­stone cau­tions that Echi­nacea does not like its feet to stay wet. It needs mois­ture but shouldn’t be soggy go­ing into win­ter or stay soggy all spring or it will suf­fer. Echi­nacea prefers leaner soil, too. If soil is too rich with com­post, echi­nacea may not harden off as well as it should in time for the win­ter. An­other later bloom­ing peren­nial rec­om­mended by Van­stone is Blue For­tune anise hys­sop. “It’s an easy-to-grow peren­nial,” said Van­stone, “that has the ap­peal of be­ing a hardy, na­tive prairie plant but also pro­vides an ex­cep­tional dis­play of laven­der blue colour es­pe­cially when it is planted as a mass dis­play.” The bot­tle­brush flow­ers are sup­ported by sturdy stems. Suited to the mid­dle of the bor­der, hys­sop blooms for a long pe­riod and is a great colour source in late sum­mer, bloom­ing right up un­til the first frost. I grow it in my gar­den and love that it doesn’t flop over. To lend a more nat­u­ral look to a plant­ing scheme, con­sider plant­ing mid-size peren­ni­als in groups of three and ar­range them in a pat­tern such as a tri­an­gle shape rather than plant­ing in a row. In a large gar­den, the same group­ing and pat­tern can be re­peated in an­other part of the land­scape for con­ti­nu­ity. What about the queen of the back bor­der, del­phini­ums? Lo­cally, del­phini­ums may be dif­fi­cult to find due to a sig­nif­i­cant crop fail­ure this year. One op­tion may be to pur­chase them on­line through a spe­cialty nurs­ery such as Blos­som Hill Nurs­ery lo­cated just north of Peter­bor­ough, Ont. I met own­ers Joe and Hazel Cook last year when they were in town for the Canadian Peony So­ci­ety’s an­nual show. Sit­u­ated on a 23-acre farm, Blos­som Hill (www.blos­somhill­nurs­ sells field-grown pe­onies and del­phini­ums across Canada and the U.S. Hazel Cook says Blos­som Hill does not grow the familiar Mil­le­nium se­ries, which were bred in New Zealand


Pick your colour and your bee. Del­phini­ums come in a wide range of colours with ei­ther white or black cen­tres called bees. Clus­ters of flow­ers over­lap one an­other in tall

spikes for one of the most dra­matic dis­plays in the early sum­mer gar­den. Hardy va­ri­eties do not re­quire mulching. Cut stems to the ground in the fall.

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