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Gardens 101

On Tuesday I’m going over to a friend’s house to help her decide on a garden layout and plants. Most people when confronted with these decisions go blank.

What to plant? How do I know? I don’t even know for sure what I like! What is the difference between perennials and annuals anyway—and does it matter?

Let’s break this down and make it easy. To find out what you like you can look through magazines and gardening catalogs. But a better indicator of what you’ll have success with is to walk through your neighborhood! Note the plants and flowers that appeal to you. Do you keep seeing a color that attracts you? Or is it a type of flower? Whatever grows well in your neighborhood will probably do well for you too. Taking this walk also gives you some ideas of how to combine plants and colors for maximum effect.


White picket fences and geraniums or roses are charming!

Now about perennials vs. annuals: a perennial is a plant that will come back and bloom for you year after year. Once in your garden and watered, it is there to stay. A good investment. An annual is only there for one year (or blooming season). When it dies, it’s done. You have to dig it out and replace it. In some milder climates, some annuals do repeat because they are such good self-sowers. Like cosmos. I usually buy annuals for containers that I can change out easily. Not a big deal to replace a few petunias every spring in the pot by the front door. But obviously, you don’t want a whole garden of flashy annuals, because next year you’ll have nothing to show for all that money you put into your borders. Perennials take patience. They don’t usually show their best the first year. But you’ll be glad you planted them when you see them coming back year after year, stronger and bolder with little effort on your part.

Let’s go on a walk in my neighborhood:

In the above photo you see the white picket fence. I see a tiny shrub rose with pink petals in there, that’s Ballerina. I love it, it’s hassle free (a perennial) and cute. Shrub roses are different from hybrid teas in that they don’t need nearly so much fussing, spraying and pruning. You can whack back shrub roses with hedge trimmers and they don’t mind.

The hot pink geranium is a nice bright, punch of color contrast. Geraniums are so charming and happy. They are annuals outside (unless you are in California or some other warm place) and they come in lavender, white, pink, red, salmon and combinations of those. In the ground or in pots by your door, geraniums are hard to kill.

Climbing Cecile Brunner is a fantastic climber, older varieties are repeat bloomers.

LOVE this rose! Climbing Cecile Brunner. Most catalogs have New Dawn as a choice, pink rose for climbing. It’s got bigger blossoms than C.B, but I like Cecile Brunner’s profuse display. It’s also less fussy regarding care and maintenance. But I live near the coast and it doesn’t mind foggy days and cool temperatures. If you are in Arizona, you’ll want a rose that can stand the heat. (That’s why you walk through the neighborhood—to see what’s growing well in your area).

Here’s an example of combinations I wouldn’t have thought of myself. The ornamental grasses look nice next to this…lavatera/mallow? (That’s what your phone camera is for- you can take a snapshot and show your local nursery the plant and they can identify it for you). Sometimes I have been known to knock on a door asking about a plant. Or if they are not home, I leave a message in the mailbox. What is that plant next to your driveway with the red blossoms? My number is: xxx-xxxx. The blue agapanthus echos the swaying motions of the grasses.

You don’t have to use a fountain for water! This homeowner planted fuschia and ivy in her fountain. I wouldn’t have thought of that.

Here is another shrub rose. Possibly Bonica. I can tell it’s a “shrub rose” because it’s a big, bushy plant with tons and tons of blossoms. A hybrid tea rose looks more like this:

A single, large flower on long stems. Elegant, but needs much more care than a shrub rose.

A walk through your neighborhood will reveal to you the color combinations that invigorate you, the sights that delight you and the scents that inspire you. Take a walk!

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