There are two truisms about most nursery customers: they tend to shop in the spring, and they tend to buy plants in flower. The inevitable consequence of this is a riot of spring flowers followed by a long summer of endless green.
Recognizing this, here at Bowood we’ve always encouraged our customers to plan and plant a year-round garden, adding summer and fall blooming shrubs and perennials, choosing for beautiful fall foliage, and creating winter displays of interesting bark and sculptural shapes. Since we grow most of our plants up in Clarksville, we have the advantage of bringing down “whatever is flowering now,” to keep our nursery in bloom – and in the past that’s what we’ve done. Customers have always had the opportunity to order plants that will be blooming later, but even that wasn’t really practicing what we preached, right? Observant customers will notice that in the past several years, we’ve moved away from “only the blooming,” so not everything out here in the nursery is in flower! Even though I despair of finding places for all the different plants that come down from the farm each Thursday in order to make a pleasing nursery display without too much endless green, I know this is the easiest way to help customers design year-round gardens.
When customers arrive in early April and are enchanted by the gorgeous columbine and charming poppies, they can also choose yarrow, iris and butterfly bush for later and find a full display of summer-blooming natives such as bee balm, milkweed and cardinal flower and a good selection of ornamental grasses, asters and black-eyed Susans for fall. It’s fun to shop for Japanese maples when their feathery leaves are just appearing, and their bare-bones sculptural form can be appreciated, and early spring is when we also have an abundance of their favorite companion, Hinoki cypress. Planting peonies and roses before they begin to bloom will mean these traditional favorites for Mother’s Day will already be establishing and bouquet-ready. I encourage customers to plant rhododendrons and azaleas (especially those rebloomers!) before they flower since they love the spring rains and establish quickly. Consider planting hydrangeas as they are leafing out instead of in June when they begin to bloom, to better appreciate their bounteous display from bud to blossom. On the other hand, summer planting of super-early bloomers such lenten rose, witch hazel, spruce and other conifers will mean a lovely spring surprise next year!
Like many of you, I have a small garden, so I must edit my desires so that each choice will have optimum space and reward me with a great bloom-time performance. After almost a dozen years of vicariously enjoying everything Bowood has to offer, here is my list of “must-have perennials” for every season:
Early Spring – winter is finally over: Epimedium, Galanthus/Snowdrop, Helleborus/Lenten Rose, Mertensia/Bluebell, Polemonium/Jacob’s Ladder (‘Stairway to Heaven’ has variegated leaves), and all those daffodils and species tulips
Spring – busy time, these guys don’t need my help to put on a show: Baptisia/False Indigo (I have ‘American Goldfinch’), Paeonia/Peony, Pulsatilla/Pasqueflower, and oh, those emerging Hosta
Early Summer – when everything is bursting: Phlox (I love ‘Minnie Pearl’), Thalictrum/Meadow Rue, Veronica/Speedwell (‘Whitewater’ is an incredible groundcover), Aralia/Golden Spikenard, hardy Geranium (love them all!)
Summer – looking out to the garden from inside: Achillea/Yarrow, Anemone, Asclepias/Milkweed (A. tuberosagrows best for me), Astilbe, Calamintha, Callirhoe/Poppy Mallow, Coreopsis, Salvia/Meadow Sage (‘Caradonna’ is my favorite), Stachys/Betony, Oenothera/Missouri Primrose, and Ruta/Rue for the swallowtail butterflies
Fall – time to sit out in the garden and relax: Anemone, Ceratostigma/Hardy Plumbago (beautiful deep red foliage), Chelone/Turtlehead, Echinacea and Rudbeckia (leave those seedheads!), Sedum sieboldii/October Daphne Stonecrop, Symphyotrichum/Aster, Thymus/Creeping Thyme
Winter – keeping color and texture in the garden: Carex/Sedge, Liriope/Lilyturf, Heuchera (especially the red and purple ones), Panicum/Switchgrass