December 27, 2008

Pretty Perennial Foliage (After the Flowers)

We all want flowers. We want lots and lots of flowers in our gardens. I often struggle with decisions on bloom time. Should I go for "one big show" in spring and another in summer? What happens with the perennials when the blooms are gone?

The problem with trying to achieve colorful bloom with large mass plantings of the same plant is that when the blooms are gone the foliage may look pretty bad. Since my gardens are in front of the house, I'm trying to avoid large spaces of dying or wilted foliage that even annuals interspersed cannot hide. My garden is in full sun in zone 7b.

Winter is a great time to review photos of the garden to see which perennials provided good foliage after the bloom times. This summer, I intentionally went around my garden to photograph the ugly spots where the flowers had played out and detracted from the late blooming flowers.

There's still improvement to be done, so I have a strategy of expanding the perennials with beautiful flowers that continue to provide beautiful foliage. I'm also incorporating more annuals next spring and have already sown larkspur and poppies. I will sow cleome, nicotiana, zinnias, cosmos and other annuals to fill in the gaps.

My favorite perennials with beautiful foliage after the blooms include Japanese or Siberian irises, monarda, and salvia. I'll use the irises and monarda as the main players in my examples.

Even though it is December, the monarda foliage is still showing green to burgundy colors close to the ground like a ground cover. The iris leaves have finally turned brown and are ready to be cut back with the ornamental grasses in January.

This is how the combination looked back in early June 2008 with the irises in bloom and the monarda (right) not yet in bloom:

When the Japanese Irises are not in bloom, the foliage continues to look great. The foliage of some irises doesn't impress after the blooms, but the foliage of these provides a beautiful, tall, lush spike form.

The monarda blooms for several weeks, then I deadhead it for repeat blooms. Once the second flush of blooms is finished, I deadhead again back to leaf joints to keep the foliage looking good. Another thing to note about monarda is to continue to provide watering if there isn't sufficient rainfall. Monarda will get powdery mildew if it gets too dry.

The next view is from the top of a slope looking down into a different grouping of irises, monarda and amsonia hubrichtii. There is a nandina 'alba' providing additional foliage interest in the upper left of the photo. The monarda is barely in bloom, and the Japanese and Siberian irises are providing foliage after the blooms are gone.

In another grouping, there is also white ginger on the left (will bloom in September) and a buddleia at the back. The yellow blooms of the buddleia don't show up in this view, but the monarda blooms are apparent among all the other foliage.

A few more of my favorite blooming perennials that work double-time to provide beautiful foliage include:
  1. baptisia
  2. crocosmia
  3. dianthus
  4. hypericum
  5. perennial geranium
  6. lavender (multiple varieties)
  7. nepeta
  8. salvia guaranitica and greggii
  9. scabiosa
  10. sedum (multiple varieties)
  11. stacys hummelo

For variety, my perennial garden also includes a mix of flowering shrubs such as buddleia, itea, and spirea as well as ornamental grasses, sedges and ground covers.

Photos and story by Freda Cameron
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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