THE PERENNIAL GARDEN

By its nature, my vegetable garden changes every year. I don’t know if I’d call it a rule, but everything within the confines of that fence is an annual. It gets its season in the sun and then it’s on to the compost pile. This keeps my rotation intact so that (ideally) diseases and pests don’t build up in the soil and I get to start fresh every year. Tabula rasa. And I must say, it’s amazing to see this –

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– turn into this.

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And then back again. A perfect circle.

But I also highly recommend having a perennial garden. It’s a very rewarding investment. Perennials are those plants that come back year after year. Their tops die back to the ground in winter, but when spring arrives, their dormant roots come back to life and begin to send up new growth. Having a perennial garden is like working on a long term art project that uses form, texture, shape, color, and contrast as its materials, as well as time and nature. It’s a dynamic canvas that changes through the seasons and evolves through the years. I like to think of it like a slow motion fireworks display. Plus, perennials draw wildlife to your garden in the form of birds, bees, beneficial insects, earthworms, and toads, all of whom benefit from the nutrition provided. My perennial garden reminds me of a group of beloved lifelong friends who get together every summer to celebrate.

I get to watch this (January 20th) –

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– become this (April 8th).

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And then this (July 29th) –

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become this (September 1st) –

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become this (September 20th) –

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And apart from cutting back the grasses in early March, maintenance is fairly minimal. I don’t look at weeds as a problem. Weeds are an excuse to be in the garden. As the saying goes, “the best fertilizer is the gardener’s own shadow.” I try to mulch in early spring before things get too big. And sometimes there’s some editing to be done. For that, I’ll sit across the street on my neighbor’s curb with a beer and move things around in my mind. Early spring is a good time to do the actual rearranging, while the roots are still dormant. It’s also a good time to add plants because the weather is mild and there’s plenty of moisture for developing roots. Throughout the season there’s some dead-heading to do and I try to cut back the catmint (there at the front) at some point so it will bloom again. But otherwise I just wander around wondering at the miracle of it all.

Right now I’m looking forward to the amsonia blooming. Do you know Amsonia hubrichtii? It’s an awesome perennial that’s native to the Ouachita mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Ironically, the first time I saw it, I lived on the East Coast. Seeing a plant labeled “Arkansas bluestar” was akin to seeing an Arkansas license plate when I lived in L.A. Cause for simultaneous jubilation and homesickness.

Amsonia starts like this…

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And then those little knobs begin to sprout…

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And eventually in early May it blooms these lovely pale blue star-like flowers.

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But that’s not all. The flowers last two to three weeks, but the foliage is great all season. The leaves are really thin which give it a great fuzzy texture.

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And then in autumn the leaves turn a lovely golden yellow. Once established, it doesn’t suffer in heat or drought and it isn’t bothered by deer. What more could you want from a plant?!?

I’ll talk more about perennials, design, and inspiration in future posts. As well as all those vegetables we can start planting now that we’re almost past our final frost date!

Namaste y’all!

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