Strategies for Designing with Plant Beds that Grow, Peak, and Die Back Every Year
Nine times out of ten, if you’ve seen a perennial bed, it was a photograph of the border at the peak of its floral glory. There are many people who assume a perennial bed looks colorful year-round. That word “perennial” can be misleading. Editors don’t publish pictures of perennial beds the other eleven months of the year. Showing only peak bloom gives a flattering, but false impression of gardening with herbaceous plants. The majority of the year, a traditional perennial bed will be only foliage or bare ground. As a designer, you need to plan floral borders in the landscape with the understanding the plants you choose will have a time for monochromatic, vegetative growth, a time for color, a time of declining vegetation, and a dormant season when much of the plant material is cut back.
It is best to create separate borders for the differing seasons of the year. Perennials don’t bloom from early spring to late fall. If the flowers are organized to bloom in concert, the color lasts only a few weeks. Consolidating all the early spring bloomers in one bed, the late spring bloomers in another, the early summer flowers in another, and the late bloomers in yet another plant bed is the way experienced garden designers use perennial beds to transform the feel of the landscape with seasonal transitions.
It is very important to remember when you design a landscape that herbaceous perennials die down completely after a hard frost. Annual color offers winter-blooming options, but the soft stems of herbaceous plants are made from watery cells that burst and die when exposed to freezing temperatures. A perennial bed should not be located in areas that receive year-round, high traffic. Groom spent beds, and they will be, essentially, invisible in the landscape until next year’s “moment in the sun”.