Secrets to a Beautiful Perennial Garden

Perennial BorderWhen I think of perennial gardens, English cottage gardens come to mind.  That beautiful mixture of color, texture, and drama that looks completely natural but you know it’s not!  How do you achieve that look in Atlanta? Well, there are numerous perennials that do great here, you just have to put a little more thought into your plant choices so that you have pops of color at different times of the year and the garden doesn’t totally disappear in the winter time.  I tend to mix some colorful shrubs into my perennial gardens to help get them through the winter blues, but there are a few winter flowering perennials to mix in.  Here are some guidelines to help you achieve a beautiful perennial garden. Oh, and if you are confused as to what is an annual and what is a perennial, a perennial plant comes back each year and an annual completes its life cycle in one season.

Sun or Shade?

I am not going to cover shade perennials in this blog as there is a great blog on shade gardening that covers some of the wonderful shade perennials.  This blog will purely be for the sun lovers.  Most of the sun-loving perennials prefer full sun but they can also survive on at least 6 hours of sunlight.

Soil Prep

Definitely add some organic matter to your clay soil.  This can be in the form of compost, or a soil amendment planting mix. We like the Fafard Complete Planting Mix as it contains fertilizer and organic components to improve the soil.  You can till the whole garden, or just amend the planting holes by mixing a 50/50 mixture of organic matter with your clay soil. Remember the planting holes should be 2-3 times the width of the container, but no deeper than the container.  Also, fertilize every six weeks in spring and summer.

Take some Time to Plan

Most perennial plants are herbaceous which means they die to the ground in the winter and then emerge again in the spring. So give some thought as to what will be there in the winter time.  There are some evergreen perennial plants so definitely include some of these in your plan.  Some of the low growing, border type plants are Lamb’s Ear, Hardy Ice Plant, Acorus Grass, Liriope, Dianthus, Phlox, Candytuft, and Creeping Rosemary.  They also flower at different times which is an added bonus.  Some evergreen plants that give you a bit of height include Lavender, Rosemary, Euphorbia, Santolina (Lavender Cotton), Powis Castle Artemesia, and Hellebores.  Hellebores are a shade plant, but they can also take a few hours of sunlight.





Four Seasons of Color

This is where some more planning will pay off.  Perennial plants usually flower for a short season, so pay attention to when they flower so that you can time different pops of color at different times of the year.  Of course, you could have them all flowering in the summer which would look stunning, but then what about the rest of the year.  I have made a list of the four seasons and included some perennials under each list. This will help a little in spreading the blooming season over the whole year.

Iris (featured), Shasta Daisy, Dianthus,
Foxglove, Daylily, Catmint, Peony, Scabiosa,
Verbena, Candytuft (early), Phlox,
Euphorbia (early), Amaryllis, Red Hot
Poker, Lamb’s Ear
Coneflower (featured), Canna, Coreopsis,
Gaura, Daylily, Lantana, Liriope,
Bee Balm, Elephant Ears (adds drama),
Agapanthus, Russian Sage, Phlox Paniculata,
Black-eyed Susan, Salvia, Santolina, Veronica,
Verbena, Lavender, Yarrow
Muhly Grass (featured), Miscanthus,
Chrysanthemums, Sedums, Asters,
Joe Pye Weed, Goldenrod
Hellebores (featured- part sun), Rosemary,
Candytuft blooms very early spring so
it sometimes flowers late winter

Well winter looks a bit bare!  This is where some of the flowering winter shrubs come in handy such as Camellias, Forsythia, Edgeworthia, Winter Jasmine, and Quince.  Also think about adding some colorful shrubs such as Nandina, Arborvitaes, or Loropetalum to fill in gaps.   You also quite often see roses in perennial gardens.  Roses are shrubs, but their flowers complement a perennial border.  We have a great selection of roses, but you need to be in quick as they sell out fast!

Vary Heights and Textures

Try to use taller perennials to the back of the border, but also they can be mixed in the middle to add some variety. Keep the smaller ones to the front. Add some drama by including perennials that have great texture. These would include Elephant Ears, Canna Lilies, Yucca, Grasses, and Artemesia. Also check out the Herb section. Oregano and Thyme make great border plants for a perennial garden as they stay evergreen.

Bring the Flowers Indoors

Perennial Cut Flowers

Perennial flowers make great cut flowers so you can not only enjoy them in your yard, but make beautiful displays inside as well.  The best time to pick them is early in the morning as they will stay fresher longer.

If you are still not sure where to begin, come in and see us at the Family Tree, we carry a wide selection of perennials. We also offer a free Quick Sketch or a full Landscape Design Service that will help you get started.

Happy Gardening!

Tracy Davis