Marin Master Gardeners
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Perennials offer boundless blooms

May 15, 2015
Nanette Londeree
I love an exuberant display of flowers in my garden — especially ones that are attractive over a long flowering season and don’t require much maintenance. If those plants also thrive with less water and look gorgeous in a vase, well, you can’t get much better than that. Perennial plants fill the bill, and once established in the garden, can last for years.

Gardeners generally describe perennials as herbaceous plants whose tops die back to the ground in late fall while their root systems remain alive during winter. Once springs arrives, they regrow from those roots coming back year after year.

Perennials come in a huge array of sizes, forms, color and textures. They require the same general care as most other garden plants — place them in the right environment with well-draining soil, provide adequate moisture based on the plant’s needs and remove spent flowers. One additional step is dividing. Perennials may begin to decline after a few years, not growing as vigorously as they once did. Dividing them allows you to rejuvenate and propagate the plants. Best done when the plant is dormant, simply dig up the entire plant and cut or pull the roots apart into several pieces. Preserve the newer, healthier portions of the plant and return it to the soil.

Here are some of my sun-loving favorites:

• Commonly known as the Peruvian lily, the alstroemeria is a cut flower lover’s best friend, lasting up to two weeks in a vase. They bloom mid-spring to summer producing blossoms in shades of snowy white, vivid yellows, apricots and sunset oranges, often streaked with darker colors. Planted in full sun with well-drained soil and left undisturbed, these plants will produce flowers for years.

• Catmint (nepeta) produces loose spikes of foot- high lavender-blue flowers that adorn soft, silvery-green foliage in late spring and early summer. Rugged and easy-to-grow, Nepeta prefers average, well-drained soil and can be planted in full sun to part shade. Attracts bees and butterflies.

• The ethereal-looking Gaura lindheimeri blooms from late spring to fall with airy foliage that grows to 4 feet. The branching wand-like stems bear many closely set, 1-inch-long white blossoms that open from soft pink buds. This plant is drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, and attracts bees and butterflies.

• Penstemon sports spikes of trumpet-shaped flowers in colors from soft pastels to crimson red, pinks, indigo purples and deep blues, early to mid-summer. These durable plants do well in hot, sunny, dry growing conditions. Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies love them, along with birds that eat their seeds. And as a cut flower, they can last in a vase up to 10 days.

• Perennial salvias are workhorse plants with an immense variety of sizes, forms, flower shapes and colors. Long-blooming, deer-resistant and easy to care for, they thrive in a variety of soils, including our ubiquitous heavy clay. One example, Salvia nemorosa ‘May Night,’ is clothed in dense spikes of violet-blue from late spring through early fall; it blooms longer if deadheaded. Hummingbirds and bees are frequent visitors to salvias.

• Scabiosas have interestingly shaped flowers that resemble little pincushions. The extremely long- blooming compact, clump-forming-plants with ferny blue-grey foliage come in shades of purples, blues, pinks, whites, and even a soft yellow. When the flower has finished blooming, the equally interesting seed head remains and works well as a dried flower.

• Feathery foliage frames the flat-topped flowers of yarrow. This tough plant tolerates heat, wind and drought like a champion, is a great cut flower and deer, rabbits and most other pests won’t touch it. In shades from snow white to peachy pinks and oranges, sultry reds and brilliant yellows, the blossoms are irresistible to butterflies.

• Next time you’re looking for some color to spruce up a spot in the garden, consider perennials; you’ll be glad you did for years to come.

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