Ripped out perennials -- now what?

mbarstow(6)August 19, 2010

I desperately need help. I just ripped out my perennial garden that I had for 20 years. I got tired of the lack of life and color after their 2 weeks of splendor. I would love some ideas of dwarf shrubs that offer different shapes and color, like low growing blue spruce and shrubs with silvery leaves. Maybe a border along the rocks of light yellow hosta? This area is 20' long by 12' wide and then narrows down to 6' wide in front of 4 arborvitae that are 12'tall. The area gets at least 5-6 hrs. of sun. All suggestions would be most welcomed. We are just north of Boston, no rain for weeks, obvious by the lack of lawn. Thanks so much for any help.

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Sure,shrub,tree shape designing are important,I add some...

Here is a link that might be useful: if need more pics designing

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 8:25PM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

too sunny for Hostas.

This is mostly a case of deciding what you like. You suggest you want life and color. Lots of people would argue that perennials have more of that than shrubs. A yellow hosta is yellow, but it just sites there all summer.

I love blue spruce and have about 6 varieties, but when i go out to the garden it is the perennials that are flowering that attract me most. they change all the time. the shrubs and evergreens don't change much and therefore seem to have less 'life'.

It is possible that you had the wrong perennials. some look like dogs before or after they bloom. Others make nice clumbs that look good all summer.

grasses are also nice - if you like them. A lot add movement in the wind - the life you are looking for.

I suggest you visit some nurseries and see what you like. then walk around the neighborhood and do the same. Find plants that excite you.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 8:44PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Heather and heath are sun-loving. They come in all different sizes and shapes, as well as many foliage colors (some very odd indeed). Some change color with the seasons. Flowers are in the white-pink-rose-purplish range.

I like them as a groundcover and filler. I also find the foliage attractive (some cultivars more than others), but I'm sure that doesn't appeal to everyone. Different cultivars bloom at very different times of the year; many put out buds months before blooming.

I have four varieties of winter-blooming heath, all very low, and they didn't like being covered with snow for most of this past winter (very unusual for us here). The blooms fizzled. So if you have a lot of snow, cultivars that bloom at other times might be better.

These sites will give you an idea of what's out there:

As far as hostas go, it might depend whether the sun is morning sun or afternoon sun.

How about adding bulbs that bloom at different times of the year? Crocuses, daffodils, re-blooming or ever-blooming daylilies, Asian lilies, alliums, and so on. They'd add different foliage types as well as color.

You'll have a lot more choice if you buy from catalogs or online. See the Daylily and Bulb forums. Now's the time to order for fall planting.

We've had little rain all summer, and higher than usual temps. Parts of my lawn are dormant, and in other places, the weeds have taken over. I've learned to identify the two kinds of crabgrass, because one withstands the bone-dry soil better, while the other curls up and is near to death.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 9:36PM
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Well, it will be hard to decide what to plant. One suggestion I have is to search 'renegade gardener' a guy in Minnesota. He has a great website. He is a proponent of interesting foliage and textures. I find these shrubs are very easy maintenance and pretty in Mississippi in full: variegated weigela, dark-leaved cultivars of weigela, "mopheads" which are evergreen and yellow-green, I love knock out roses, I find the red ones the best. Nandina - various kinds and some are dwarf, dwarf crape myrtles, dwarf conifer, golden vicary (privet?), cleyera, rosemary and other herbs, there are some hostas that like sun and are bred for that. Also spirea, grasses, limelight hydrangea which likes sun. I have recently said "if I had to do this all over again, I would chose shrubs with different foliage and textures, and seasons of bloom". Shrubs are easy and usually live long. Good luck and have fun.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 10:15PM
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Thanks for all the suggestions. I should have mentioned that I took out hundreds of daylillies, salvia, baloon flowers, coneflowers, etc. What I disliked the most was the dry folliage of the daylillies. I'm retired and don't want to be a slave to this area like I have been for years. I have 4 more areas that require care, with over 100 hostas because most of our property is in the shade. This area is our only sunny spot. I love the idea of low-growing shrubs, a few perennials thrown in and annuals for more color from May 30 to the first frost. I will check out those suggested sites. Thanks,

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 10:36PM
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Add a rock or two. .

I don't mean in a small way, but something big enough to make a statement. If you can pick it up, it ain't big enough. Not gravel or pebble mulch...I hate the stuff. But more along the lines of something that eats up some of the square footage. Not sure where it needs to be to make sense, but big enough to make your new evergreens and small shrubs look more interesting around it.

Added benefit...a great slab of solid rock is the only truly full-proof weed barrier I know. Won't mean the whole bed is weed proof, but the 20% or so that is under rock won't need weeding.

Just a thought.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2010 at 11:11AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Wellspring, I'm not sure if your interpretive software told you that there is a rock wall bordering the bed in question (actually it looks to be a terraced area) so I'm not sure I'd put boulders in, but putting in flagstone stepping stones to allow you in to tend the area is not a bad idea.

I agree with the sentiment that you had the wrong plants, though just for full disclosure I should say that I despise daylilies so that may not be an objective opinion. I have even tried to grow some this last couple of years and though I can nurture an appreciation of the flowers, I cannot like the foliage. I would grow them only where you can grow nothing else, and that won't be here.

I don't know if Crambe maritima will grow for you, or Cephalaria gigantea, but look them up; they'll give you a sense of just how interesting a perennial garden CAN be. Plus, consider irises if you mostly need to fill space. The foliage does look good for much of the year. Stachys and Phlomis are two others that I like for covering ground in sun.

Many hostas will grow in full sun, just look for plantaginea hybrids. Ask on the hosta forum for details.

I'd consider a conifer garden here too. More life than you'd believe, though I suspect livening it up with some herbaceous growth will be more to your liking. Visit the conifers forum.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2010 at 4:37PM
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Slow growing, low growing Globe Blue Spruce (Picea Pungens Globosa) is a winner; so is the Birdsnest Spruce (Picea Abies Nidiformis).

It's not a huge space and I personally like some ground relief rather than plants cheek to jowl. That way you've got somewhere to put your feet without putting in paths. A really tidy deciduous shrub is Potentila Fruticosa "Pink Beauty". It's a non-stop heavy bloomer. The blooms stay pink when the temps are 80 and below (which is the summertime norm here) but turn to a peachy cream above 80.

All things considered, sedums are hard to beat - the flower heads have the faintest show of color now. The green/grey green upright varieties seem to be better clumpers. A scattering of Russian Sage gives you grey foliage with lavender flower spikes - that's just coming into bloom here now, too. Peonies are good looking plants even when not in bloom. Iris are textural, but my choice between the tall bearded and Siberians would be the Siberians. Ephemeral - but many things of beauty are.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2010 at 5:19PM
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We don't have a lot of rain in the summer, either. Try pontilias, (love these and pretty yellow flowers all summer) barberry, blue boy and girl hollies, alberta spruce (they stay small) cotoneaster, low growing junipers, oregon grape. I'm thinking with your arborvitaes, these plants would look nice all year.

If you don't mind using a little water in the hot part of the summer, a few lilacs or butterfly bushes to fill in along the back, of the deeper part of the garden would look nice. I also love blueberries. If they do well for you (my favorite are Chippewas) they look great all year long...and you get fruit you can eat, as well as for the birds.

Shadbushes (serviceberry) and wild roses (rosa woodsii)have naturalized throughout our area and survive with no additional water in the summer. They'll look better with water, but they'll survive without it. Some people worry about the roses and RRD, but we don't have that in our area. May be a concern in yours.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 4:42PM
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What I've discovered through trial and error that planning for year-round interest in areas with "real" winters starts with planning for winter first, then fall, then summer, and finally spring.

Why? Well, winter will be about evergreens (many of which will be among the largest shrubs), which are also your year-round backbone. Fall is the next hardest season to plan for, so put in vignettes that look good then next. Summer is fairly easy and will take up most of the rest of the space. And spring is something any idiot can do well--all you need is a bit of space for a few perennials, and the rest will be ephemerals that will be covered up by the summer and fall plantings.

Try not to plant annuals over your bulbs, and you're good.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 10:42PM
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