A Perennial Garden That Takes Care of Itself

on 50+ Perennials



is a group of plants that the garden literature warns
us against with such phrases as “spreads rapidly” or
“tends to get weedy,” or “not for refined areas.” These
plants gradually have been outlawed from the aristocratic
seclusion of the perennial border. But they can take
care of themselves once they have been given a start,
and may become useful citizens in the right environment,
such as, for example, the garden of a summer home.

It isn’t really difficult
to win the cooperation of these outlaw plants. There
are many species, many colors, and many habits of growth
short of downright aggression that can be made use of.
Some of them are quite beautiful, with varied desirable
characteristics; and in company with their own kind,
they can fight it out. The fittest survivors will cheerily
greet the owner when he arrives for the summer, season
after season.

Among them are low-growing spreaders from
6 inches to one foot high, that will serve as ground
covers or edgings – if one is not too particular about
the exact area he wants edged. Others of medium height
will supply bloom nearly all season. Several varieties
yield gracefully to cutting – welcoming, perhaps, the
opportunity it affords to reestablish themselves socially.

The accompanying plan
suggests a way to use some of them in borders near the
house. The place originally planned for is a farmhouse
in New England with an old Apple tree as the focal point
of the garden. Under the tree is a ground cover planting
of Gill -over- the -ground (18), Nepeta hederacea,
which aims to inherit the earth by its meekly aggressive
spreading. The foliage is interesting, the blue flower
has a charm, and the leaves a strong odor. It will grow
in the shade, in wet or dry soil. Wherever a branch
touches the soil, it takes root. To compete with it
is the charming and equally aggressive Creeping Charlie
(17) or Moneywort, Lynmachia nummiilarla. The flowers
are yellow, the leaves round, smooth textured and light
green. It is vigorous enough to crowd out grasses and
makes a beautiful carpet. The familiar ‘ Runningmyrtle
(16) or Periwinkle, Vinca minor, is also quite
capable of caring for itself, and Lily-of the-Valley
(4) is another cooperative spreader, once it is well
established in a place to its liking.

In the gardens of long
ago, the favorite edging plant seems to have been the
Variegated Bishop’s-weed (2), Aegopodium, podagraria
a crisp, neat foliage plant with white-margined
leaves. This is so persistent that often it is the only
thing left to indicate that in the past a garden stood
there. Bugle-weed (1) Ajuga genevensis, is a
fine edging plant that produces flowers which vary from
dull red to white and blue. The Purpleleaf Bugle (3),
Ajuga reptans rubra, is prostrate in habit, has
deep purplish-blue flowers and purplish leaves. Since
it is very low-growing, it can be used in front of the
other edging plants mentioned. The Purpleleaf Bugle
will do well in shade, but if the situation is -very
sunny, Bluebells of Scotland (19) or Harebell, Campanula
rotundifolia, will
probably be more satisfactory.
Its neat foliage and airy blue flowers make it welcome
wherever it is found.

There are many border
subjects among the- horticultural outcasts. The Sweet
Rocket (15), Hesperis matronalis, one of our
most fragrant flowers, is one. Its Phlox-like blooms,
varying from white to magenta, are particularly sweet
in the evenings from June to September. Although it
is a biennial, it self-sows to such an extent that it
becomes a weed in the garden, . and often escapes. Its
charm and fragrance plus its self-assurance make it
ideal for the summer home. Another’ vagrant is Bouncing
Bet (12), Saponaria officinalls, which has the
buxom vigor its name implies. In its way it is quite
beautiful, as the color of the blossoms when they open
is an exquisite rose-pink.

A favorite in early New
England gardens was Maltese Cross (7) or London Pride,
Lychnis chalcedonica. The typical color is fiery
scarlet, which makes a vivid display in the hot midsummer
sun. The Mullein-pink (20), Lychnis coronaria, combines
soft woolly gray foliage with vivid crimson blossoms,
producing a rich effect that can hardly be surpassed.
Another summer-blooming perennial is the False Dragonhead
(9), Physostegla virginiana, whose colors vary
from rosy-pink and lilac through white. The plants
grow very rapidly, so become a nuisance in a refined
area; but are excellent for supplying bloom where no
care can be given.

This survival -of-the
-fittest garden can have a variety of colors. Nominees
are not limited to any particular race, creed or colors.
Take the Bellflowers, for instance: we tend to think
of them as rather refined garden subjects, but there
is one of the family that refuses to accept conventional
bounds. The European Bellflower (8), Campanula rapunculoldes,
although an immigrant, has accepted all of our country
it can lay root to.

The flower is dainty and
the color is good, so we grant it citizenship. Another
flower of a clearer blue is the native Spiderwort (13),
Tradescantla virginiana, which has long held
its place in old-fashioned gardens. It makes a strong,
dense clump bearing rich blue flowers from May to August.
One wishes that the proportion of flowers to foliage
were greater, but the foliage is a good green.

The charm of the early-blooming
Cornflower (25) or Mountain Bluet, Centaurea montana,
with its deep blue, rose or white flowers, often
wins * a place for itself in the perennial border. It
spreads rapidly by underground stems,

and the civilized. gardener
must be vigilant to keep it in check. However, this
quality makes it a desirable one for our purposes. Anchusa
or Bugloss (10), Anchusa azurea, variety Dropmore,
with its Forget-me-not flowers, is also an acceptable
border subject. Its ability to self-sow very readily
makes it a*self-reliant plant wherever it is established.
The roots are juicy and brittle, and break easily when
the plants are dug. Each piece of root that remains
in the soil will produce a new plant.

Perhaps the Lupines (11),
LuPinus polyphyllus, do not belong with these
easily established plants, for some gardeners try unsuccess
fully to grow them; but if the temperamental things
like a location (usually one with poor soil), they insist
on taking more and more. Since they are so stunning
in color and habit of growth, they may be worth encouraging.

If tall background plants
are needed in the border, Bee-Balm (23), Monarda
-is an excellent choice. The flowers are
deep red and rather striking in appearance; the foliage,
in addition to being dense and of good color, has a
pleasing minty fragrance. BeeBalm roots form a thick
sod or mat that is proof against being crowded out by
other plants or by weeds. The background may be varied
by planting some of the Asters. There are many kinds
of wild Asters that would readily adapt themselves to
border conditions. One species, New England Aster (24),
Aster novae-anghae, is common in cultivation,
but there are many other good ones.

A few accents of yellow
and white are desirable in most borders. Sundrops (5),
Oenothera biennis, are among the most charming
of those banished from formal areas. Their habit of
opening their satiny yellow Poppy-like flowers in the
evening has given them the common name of Evening-primrose.
Another charming yellow is the Golden Marguerite (22),
Anthemis tinctoria, which can be used for cutting,
too. The beautiful, Daisy-like flowers are borne from
midsummer to frost. It is splendid in masses, and good
for hot, dry places, although it will bloom in partial
shade. It spreads rapidly and will happily fulfil the
command to multiply and cover the earth. Another self-reliant
species that is doubly useful because it is good for
cutting as well as for its landscape effec*t is the
Yarrow (14), Achillea ptarmica. A double variety,
The Pearl, has been developed and fortunately still
retaifis its wild vigor and is able to compete even
with grasses. The Common Valerian (6) or Garden Heliotrope,
Valeriana officinalls, is another plant that
was prized in old-fashioned gardens mainly for the fragranc
e of its flowers. It is an ideal filler or background
in bouquets made up of brighter flowers, and the masses
of white or pale lavender sprays are dainty and charming
in themselves.

Horticultural outcasts,
it is clear, are not so because of lack of color, variety
or charm. Their vitality alone has caused their downfall.
They love life. They love it so vigorously, so abundantly,
so exuberantly that they do not recognize the bounds
of civilization. Vacations grant us freedom from some
of the conventions; therefore it is fitting that our
summer gardens be populated by these hardy vagabonds.



The clooryard garden suggested in the little sketch
on page 28, and shown in the plan opposite, is made
up of the species listed below (plan key numbers in
parenthesis). They are listed according to use or flower
color. It’s easy to fit them into a plan for your own

Bishop’s-weed (2)
Bluebells of Scotland (19)
Bugle-weed (1)
Lily-of -the-valley (4)
Moss-pink (21)
Purpleleaf Bugle (3)

Creeping Charlie (17)
Gill-over- the -ground (18)
Running-myrtle (16)

Golden Marguerite (22)
Sundrops (5)

Valerian (6)
Yarrow (14)

Bee-Balm (23)
Bouncing Bet (12)
False Dragonhead (9)
Lupine (11)
Maltese Cross (7)
Mullein-pink (20)
Sweet Rocket (15)

Aster (24)
Bugloss (10)
Cornflower (25)
European Bellflower (8)

Lupine (11)
Spiderwort (13)
Valerian (6)

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