The Dirt Diva

Tailoring your garden to your needs!

Perennial Favorites and the Fleetingness of Spring


WARNING: This post contains some serious garden porn, so if you’re embarrassed by close ups of swollen buds and dew-drenched foliage, then you may want to redirect away from this page.

Still with me? Goody. This spring has presented some very photo-worthy moments in my little North- facing garden, which I typically rush by every morning, list and tools in hand, en route from shed to truck while loading up for a day’s work.

Copper Beech with Cerastium tomentosum
Copper Beech with Cerastium tomentosum
Copper Beech with Cerastium tomentosum









One rainy morning, the sight of my little Copper Beech seedling against the silver foliage of the Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-Summer) stopped me in my tracks, and I vowed to stopandsmelltheflowers every once in a while, so as not to totally miss the fleeting moments of a garden in spring. Besides, the whole point of having gardens is the eye candy, no? What excites me more than plants in flower are plants that are about to flower, or adjacent plants with contrasting foliage and texture. Flowers come and go. But if you design and plant with contrasting foliage in mind, you’ll get a lot more interest over a longer period. That’s why I never design with Lilacs or Weigela, since they are only interesting for the 2 weeks they’re in flower. The rest of the year I think they’re rangy and uninteresting. Sorry Grandma!

Swollen Oriental Poppy bud

Now for some naughty pics. Look at this Poppy bud. Doesn’t your heart stop just thinking about what’s inside there? They are just about to burst open, orange with purple pollen and very short lived, but the fuzzy leaves and buds have been showing off for weeks now.These are Oriental poppies, perennial and very showy when they open, and a relatively well behaved garden perennial, as it stays where you put it.

Lupine getting ready to bloom
Lupine getting ready to bloom

Lupines are best planted en masse like they appear naturally in dry prairies and meadows, but a friend gave these to me, and they seemed a good fit for the memory garden I made for my dog Frannie, Lupus (the wolf) and Lupine sharing the same Latin root. They are tall, super showy and happen to have interesting fine cut foliage, so they make the grade. I love them most at this phase, just before the silver buds open to reveal pea flower like blooms, iridescent purple exclamation points in the landscape.

Digitalis aka Foxglove in bud stage
Foxglove patch

Digitalis (Foxglove) is another favorite, though technically a biennial. Individual plants flower in their second year of life, but since they drop thousands of seeds every fall, there’s always something blooming in the foxglove patch. Another exclamation point like plant, they add a dramatic appearance in a shady garden, rising up from among Hostas and ferns, or wherever they feel like it. This patch has evolved nicely, with a little editing from me, to concentrate them into clumps rather than individually placed spears. The throats of the flowers are particularly interesting, all red and speckled, so be sure to look down their open mouths when the buds open.

Giant Blue Green Hosta with wood fern

It’s taken me a while to appreciate Hostas, the ubiquitous leafy plant with billions of cultivars that is nicknamed “deer lettuce” b/c if you plant it and you don’t have a fence or a dog, then just forget about it. These plants ended up in my garden because a client had them but did not have either dog or fence. Lucky me! These aren’t fenced, but my dog and the adjacent highway deters the deer. They are at their best now, even before they flower, as slugs will soon make Swiss cheese out of the leaves.

Mature Thalictrum (Meadow Rue)

If you asked me what my favorite perennial was, I’d probably say Thalictrum rochebrunianum aka Meadow Rue, variety “Lavender Mist”. This plant shoots up like a rocket, emerging looking like a delicate little Columbine in early spring, then leaping to 5 feet tall, with blue green mitten shaped leaves arranged in tiers on horizontal branches.

Thalictrum leaf cluster close up
Thalictrum leaf cluster close up
Caterpillar feeding on Thalictrum

The shape of the plant reminds me of a waterfall and it moves with a slight breeze. Very sculptural. Then the flowers. OMG. They are flourescent lavender and practically glow in the dark. I should have located this at the back of the border due to it’s height, but it’s an airy plant, and I just love looking at it close up as I walk up and down the stairs every day. If it was at the back, I would have missed this little guy, who’s been busy feeding on this one plant for the last 3 days. I think its some kind of butterfly larva.

What are your perennial favorites? What makes you all weak in the knees (garden-wise)? Remember to observe your plants, they’ll bask in your pride!


All content and photos in this post are copyrighted by Adrianne Picciano, The Dirt Diva, 2015.

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