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Summer Stars: Perennials That Give Their Best
by Jodi DeLong
by Jodi DeLong


Writing about plants and gardening is just one part of Jodi¹s professional writing business. She¹s been a garden columnist for the Atlantic Co-operator for over five years, and last year was invited to do a biweekly column in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Canada¹s oldest independent daily newspaper. In addition, she writes regular garden features for Saltscapes magazine, Manitoba Co-operator, Grainews, Rural Delivery, and has also had various feature articles in Canadian Gardening, Cottage Life, Complete Canadian Gardener, Aquascapes Lifestyles, and East Coast Gardener. Jodi sits on the National Board of Directors for PWAC, the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, as Atlantic Regional Director, and is also a member of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. When she¹s not writing, she¹s gardening, reading about gardening, photographing gardens, thinking about gardening, or ignoring the housework.

November 4, 2007

Although it’s true that many perennials tend to have strappy, long green leaves with little to differentiate one species from another, there are also a host of plants with great leave texture colour, colour and shape There are silver plants plants like lambs-ears (Stachys) rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) and artemesias, all of which which boast lovely silver-gray foliage, often covered with a soft down. Others boast exciting colours in their foliage, such as hostas, heucheras, and lysimachias such as ’Firecracker’ with its deep purple leaves.

Still others have spectacularly shaped foliage to complement equally interesting flowers. Three of my favourites are sea hollies (Eryngium), globe thistles (Echinops), and ferns.

One of the best descriptions of eryngium flowers I’ve ever seen is by Canadian garden guru Larry Hodgson, who calls them “a Star Wars version of an Elizabethan collar.” The ‘collar’ is a frilly, spiny bract which surrounds the cone shaped composite flower heads. Complimenting these remarkable flower heads (which can be blue, purple, or silver-green), are the leaves, which are often spiny and serrated.

Globe thistles have coarsely toothed foliage and produce wonderful balls of small purple, steel-blue, or white flowers, much loved by bees and butterflies. Both seahollies and globe thistles can be used in dried flower arrangements and look great in the garden whether in bloom or not. An added bonus is that most species will produce seedlings to share with others, but are not overly enthusiastic self-seeders.

If you’re fond of great foliage, try any of the many different types of ferns that are available on the market. Ferns tend to require light to deep shade and moist, humus-rich soil in order to thrive, but some, including the so-called flowering fern (Osmunda) and the shield fern (Dryopteris) will also grow in sun if the soil is moist and rich. A particularly popular fern is the Lady fern, (Athyrium), which includes a variety known as Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum.’

Some perennials have particularly long seasons of bloom, meaning they either keep flowering for a long time, or their flowers or seedheads hold well on the plant for long periods. Included are the coneflowers--echinacea, rudbeckias and ratibidas--as well as campanulas, yarrows (Achillea) salvias, speedwells (Veronica) and evening primroses (Oenothera). Some species need to be deadheaded to keep them flowering, but it’s my experience that most gardeners tend to enjoy deadheading far, far more than they do weeding, so this task is a more welcome one.

Confession is good for the gardener’s soul, so I’ll confess that I haven’t really gotten into the pleasures of grasses yet. This is mostly because one of the biggest plagues in our gardens are several weedy annual and perennial grasses, including couch grass, (almost as irritating a plant as goutweed), but also because we’re still working at amending our heavy clay soil so that it offers good drainage in all areas of the gardens. Despite my own slowness to plant grasses, I appreciate their spectacular seedheads and the music of a breeze rustling through their leaves. They’re especially great for adding architectural variety to a garden’s structure, and often keep their form and seedheads well into winter.

Instead of many grasses, our gardens include plants with grasslike foliage. Daylilies should be a staple part of any garden. Depending on the variety, in normal seasons they start blooming as early as mid-June and go right until frost; there’s a daylily for just about every growing condition, they are not finicky, and the selection of colour combinations is almost limitless. Another favourite for midseason is the red-hot poker or torch lily (Kniphofia), which puts up amazing spikes of flowers that look like bottle brushes, much beloved by hummingbirds. Tradescantias tend to bloom profoundly, with blossoms that look like miniature trilliums in shades of magenta, purple, and white with other colours.

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