Late winter’s the time for perennials

Violets, baby’s breath, and candytuft sound like bit players in a nursery rhyme but they are, in fact, the names of some of the packaged cottage perennials that are available at this time of year.

Perennials are sometimes termed the “backbone” of the garden. Unlike the bright and flamboyant annuals, perennials will last for at least three years and often much longer.

Because they’ll be in the garden for such a long time, it’s vital to spend some time preparing the planting spot. Most perennials prefer an open, sunny position in the garden, but there are some exceptions. Liliums, for example, do well in a morning sun/afternoon shade aspect in most areas, but will grow happily in full sun in cooler climates.

Although the majority of perennials enjoy good drainage, there are some that deviate from this pattern. Arum lily ‘Green Goddess’ will grow in a wet spot, and astilbe, with its feathery plumes of summer flowers, also likes damp feet. The ultimate water-loving perennials are the waterlilies (pictured). Pink, white, yellow and red waterlilies are found in packages at this time of year. A sunny pond with a water depth of at least 40 cm is all that’s needed to grow most waterlilies successfully – and dwarf varieties require even less.

Before planting perennials in the garden, add some organic matter to enrich the soil. Old manure, your own ready-prepared compost, or Dynamic Lifter pellets are all suitable. In most soils (especially in higher rainfall areas) perennials will also appreciate some Yates Gro-Plus Dolomite Lime mixed into the planting spot. Dolomite raises the soil pH level and adds beneficial magnesium. Give it a miss, however, if your soil pH is naturally high.

There are many other perennials that will suit almost any garden:

Achillea is a very hardy plant that grows to about 50 cm, with heads of tiny flowers clustered on top of the stems. It’s a rapid grower that may need dividing each year.

Astilbe, as previously mentioned, loves a damp spot. Astilbe leaves look a bit like they belong to a member of the berry family. Upright spikes of fluffy summer flowers rise above the foliage. Established astilbe plants can be divided every second or third year.

Gypsophila (baby’s breath) is the flower arrangers’ favourite plant, with its dainty, cloud-like blooms setting off almost any other type of bloom. Hang clusters of stems upside down in an airy, protected place for a few weeks after picking and the tiny flowers will dry well.

Iberis (or candytuft) is seen most often in its widely grown annual forms, but perennial candytuft is a useful addition to a cottage bed. White candytuft is the most popular.

Violets The traditional clumping violet is often left to languish in a shady corner but, if planted in an open, sunny spot, it will produce a much better show of perfumed flowers.

Packaged perennials, a good selection of summer flowering bulbs and edibles such as rhubarb and raspberries are available for sale at this time of year.


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