By Michael Jenkins
Perennials are plants that return year after year. These can be bushes and shrubs that stick around between seasons, or flowering plants that die back in the winter and then re-emerge from the soil each spring. Either way, perennials are a welcome addition to many gardens, marking the passage of the seasons and providing a returning joy every year. The right perennials can also provide a supportive habitat for birds, bees, and other creatures, blending into the ecosystem in a way that is both helpful and aesthetically pleasing. Starting a perennial garden is actually easier than many new gardeners think, so let’s take a look at some steps for making a perennial garden.
If you’re new to perennial gardening or gardening in a new space, it’s important to plan your garden before you start digging. Take a look at your space, its soil, and the amount of sun, shade, and rain it receives. If possible, talk to neighboring gardeners and see what their experiences have been. Spend some time in your space throughout the day and get a feel for how it fits into the broader natural world before you start planning you garden. Another good idea is to start small and expand your perennial garden in stages. It’s easy to dream big at first but biting off more than you can chew is a fast route to frustration. Your garden should be a source of joy, so go slow!
All gardens start with the soil, so consider your soil conditions before planning your garden in full. Each type of perennial plant has its own soil needs—azaleas and blueberries both like rich, acidic soils, while hydrangeas and forsythia prefer more alkaline conditions. Having your soil tested is a good step, and making regular use of a soil testing device to monitor moisture and pH can help throughout the season. Enriching perennial beds is much like enriching any other garden bed—you’ll want to add organic matter and nutrients in order to help your plants grow. With perennial garden spaces, however, you’ll want to pay special attention to soil aeration and drainage. Again, particular garden sites and plants have different needs, but in general you’ll want to ensure that your soil is enriched, well aerated, and well drained to a depth of at least 12 to 18 inches/30-45cm for best results.
Now that you’ve learned your space, decided on a plan, and enriched/improved your soil, it’s time to talk about plants! This is the fun part of perennial gardening, so choosing the right plants is a chance to dream, experiment, and explore. The good news is that you’ve got a variety of potential perennials to choose from, depending on your garden conditions. If you have a sunnier space, you may want to consider peonies, azaleas, camellias, sedum, and bearded iris. Shade-loving perennials include hostas, bleeding hearts, hydrangeas, leopard plant, and Jacob’s Ladder. Vegetable gardeners have man perennial options as well, including asparagus, rhubarb, artichokes, and horseradish. When choosing plants, you may want to mix and match growth height, and flowering times in order to add interest and flair to your garden and to ensure that there are colors popping off all season long.
A perennial garden is always an ongoing project, but we hope we’ve provided some information and inspiration to get you started. If you have a perennial garden, we’d love to hear from you, so get in touch and tell us what you’ve planted, how it’s going, and what you’ve learned along the way!