An­nu­als should be per­form­ing well and peren­ni­als should be near­ing their peak


It felt as though she would never ar­rive, but at long last, sum­mer of­fi­cially starts today, June 20 at 3:43 p.m. MDT. Af­ter shiv­er­ing through a par­tic­u­larly nasty Fe­bru­ary, a very late and chilly spring and the world seem­ingly on its knees, the ar­rival of sum­mer couldn’t be more wel­come.

By now, an­nu­als should be per­form­ing well. Don’t for­get to dead­head (re­move spent blooms) to en­sure con­tin­u­ous flow­er­ing all sea­son. Reg­u­lar fer­til­iz­ing should be main­tained. Peren­ni­als (plants that come back ev­ery year) should be near­ing their peak and it’s a good idea to make note of those that are work­ing well and those that are a dis­ap­point­ment so as not to re­peat the lag­gards next year.

Start­ing a peren­nial bed from scratch is al­most eas­ier than up­grad­ing an ex­ist­ing bed as of­ten times the lat­ter is look­ing tired, plant ma­te­rial is not per­form­ing as you would like and weeds or un­wel­come thugs. The likes of Creep­ing Cam­pan­ula — the bane of gar­den­ers — are mak­ing their pres­ence felt.

Say, for ex­am­ple, you want to re­place a patch of lawn with a peren­nial bed or bor­der. Ide­ally, said site re­ceives at least four to five hours of di­rect sun­light daily. Shaded ar­eas can work, but the se­lec­tion of plant ma­te­rial that will thrive in these con­di­tions is more lim­ited than that of full sun to par­tial shade.

If you don’t need in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion and can wait un­til next spring to start plant­ing, the eas­i­est and least labour-in­ten­sive way to get rid of the lawn is to put lay­ers and lay­ers of news­pa­per on top of the grass where you want the new bed to be. Wa­ter the news­pa­per and then add a thin layer of ma­nure and fin­ish with a 10- to 15-cm layer of com­post. Next spring, all you need to do is dig holes for the new peren­ni­als, add some com­post to the hole and plant away. It’s that easy.

If you’re fine with a fairly in­ten­sive work­out and want to go from lawn to bor­der in one sea­son, ei­ther rent a sod cut­ter or dig the grass out, be­ing cer­tain to get all its roots or you will for­ever be dig­ging out tufts of un­wanted grass.

An ex­ist­ing bed can be easily up­graded by adding five- to 15-cm of com­post, well-rot­ted ma­nure or any other or­ganic ma­te­rial. Do not deep-dig in the new soil amend­ment. Sim­ply leave it on top of the soil or rake it in, be­ing mind­ful of ex­ist­ing plant ma­te­rial so as not to in­jure roots.

Deep dig­ging is ac­tu­ally detri­men­tal to soil health. Dig­ging and turn­ing over the soil ex­poses a very del­i­cate ecosys­tem to the air, which dries it out, and to the ul­tra­vi­o­let rays of the sun, which ster­il­izes the soil, killing the soil or­gan­isms. All the fer­til­izer in the world is not go­ing to help your plants un­less they are lo­cated in the proper lo­ca­tion for their needs (light re­quire­ment be­ing the most im­por­tant), in healthy soil rich in nu­tri­ents.

My per­sonal tastes lean to­ward an English/cot­tage gar­den bor­der and my favourite peren­nial, the pe­ony, is, un­for­tu­nately, tak­ing its time to flower this year. Our harsh win­ter and un­sea­son­ably cool spring are to blame.

If you are plant­ing a pe­ony for the first time, re­mem­ber that the “eyes” should not be planted more than five cm deep, other­wise it will not flower. They also need at least four to six hours of sun and should be cut back in the fall af­ter hard frosts. And yes, they do come with ants. It’s be­lieved the ants eat the sticky sap on the buds, thereby al­low­ing the flow­ers to ap­pear.

Peonies are deer re­sis­tant and are fully hardy in our Zone 4 cli­mate and will sur­vive for many years. If you have to di­vide or move your pe­ony, note that it may sulk for a year or two, so be pa­tient.

An­other top pick is the del­phinium. These stately spires flower in myr­iad blues, white or pinks and are best planted in group­ings of three to five at the back of the bed or bor­der. They like quite a bit of mois­ture but are sus­cep­ti­ble to del­phinium worm, a bright green cater­pil­lar that can wreak havoc on the plant within a mat­ter of weeks. Cut­ting del­phini­ums down to 2.5 cm in the fall will min­i­mize the crit­ters’ reap­pear­ance next sum­mer.

If there is lim­ited in­fes­ta­tion, hand-pick and squish the worms. If you’re squea­mish and there are a lot of them, spray with bi­o­log­i­cal in­sec­ti­cide or com­pan­ion plant laven­der, sage or mug­wort be­side the del­phini­ums as a cater­pil­lar re­pel­lent. Once they have flow­ered, cut the stalks back by about one-third to one-half and, if the gardening sea­son is long enough be­fore the first killer frost, you’ll get a sec­ond flush of bloom, although not as re­splen­dent as the first. Stake the plants as the stalks are hol­low and our windy city is not the place for un­sup­ported del­phini­ums.

And what would an English bor­der be with­out the queen of the plant world — the rose? I could de­vote an en­tire col­umn to the dif­fer­ent types of roses, care and so on, but suf­fice to say, roses like full sun, lots of food and good air cir­cu­la­tion.

Other great choices for a full-sun bed or bor­der in­clude: black-eyed Su­sans (Rud­beckia); day lilies (He­me­ro­cal­lis); phlox; cone­flower; alyssum; shasta daisy (but be care­ful on this one as the shasta is a ster­ile cul­ti­var of ox­eye daisy and it can re­vert to be­come fer­tile, as well as cross­breed with ox­eye daisy to pro­duce an in­va­sive hy­brid); di­anthus; salvia; iris; and lilies, to name but a few.

A note of cau­tion on lilies. The red lily leaf bee­tle is a nasty pest that can de­stroy en­tire plants in a very short pe­riod of time. This brute is most com­monly found on Asi­atic and Ori­en­tal va­ri­eties and should be erad­i­cated as soon as de­tected by ei­ther hand-pick­ing and de­stroy­ing the lar­vae and bee­tle or spray with neem oil.

A se­lec­tion of peren­ni­als to con­sider for a shaded bed or bor­der in­clude: Annabelle hy­drangea; Ligu­laria; ferns; Brune­ria; Hosta; Astilbe; Lupines; Ber­ge­nia; and Columbine.

So, heart­felt wel­come to the first day of sum­mer! Although hearing on a weather chan­nel that the days will start get­ting shorter from now on caused me to reach for the gin. Be­fore noon, no less.


This fully ma­ture peren­nial bed fea­tures Salvia, Aga­pan­thus, Canna Lilies and grasses. The tones are of sim­i­lar vi­brancy and the grasses have a mut­ing ef­fect.

Peonies like this sin­gle flame va­ri­ety are rel­a­tively easy to care for but in our cli­mate be pre­pared to pro­vide some win­ter pro­tec­tion.

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