Designing a Perennial Garden
Excerpted from Successful Perennial Gardening
It may be tempting to choose perennial species for your garden by looks alone. But, as in choosing a spouse, you need to be aware of what is unseen before you take the plunge. The thousands of different perennials vary widely in their growth and blooming habits, and each has different needs that must be met in order to thrive. Read about the plants you'd like to grow, find out if other local gardeners have had success with them, and try to see them bloom at a nursery or neighbor's garden before allotting them space in your own backyard.
Starting a Perennial Garden
Some famous gardens include huge beds of perennials, but a few strategically placed plants can do wonders for a small-scale landscape. A perennial garden, like a vegetable plot, is more beautiful, productive, and satisfying when kept to a manageable size. The Chinese have a saying to which all gardeners should pay heed: "Praise large gardens, plant small ones."
Choosing a Site
Most flowering perennials prefer full sun. Ideally, a perennial garden grows for many years in the same location, so make a note not only of present light conditions, but also of future possibilities. If you or your close neighbors have young trees growing nearby, the amount of shade will increase as they grow, and some pruning or perhaps complete removal of trees will be necessary to ensure adequate sunlight for your perennials.
Most common perennials like soils similar to that of vegetable gardens. However, some perennials prefer dry soil, others like it moist. Most thrive in soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5, but there are exceptions. Wild orchids need very acidic soil; delphiniums prefer it alkaline. Read descriptions of each perennial to learn about any special light and soil requirements it may have.
The concept of clumping is basic to good garden design. To create the masses of color and the shapes that make perennial borders so attractive, plant clumps of the same variety at intervals throughout the garden.
When spacing plants, allow plenty of room for the expansion of each clump. Each grows differently, but as a rule allow at least 1 foot between every plant in a clump, and 2 or more feet between each clump. However, even with generous spacing, most perennials will need to be divided from time to time and the clumps reduced to a manageable size.