Flowering perennials should be the backbone of all ornamental gardens. Yet, for some obscure reason, many gardeners have a tendency to rely on purely seasonal/annuals. This, rather than making gardening relatively simple, complicates matters as well as increases costs and water usage.
A perennial plant is one with a lifespan of over two years: short-lived perennials usually last from three to five years whilst long-lived ones can, in the right conditions for the particular species, go on growing and flowering seemingly forever.
Perennial flowering plants — we are not discussing perennial trees, shrubs or climbers here — may take time to get established but once they do, they tend to need less regular care than often fussy, tender, purely annual ones that put on a brilliant display for a short time before going to seed and then dying away.
A simple guideline to selecting your perennial plants
This is not to say that brightly-coloured annuals do not have a place in Pakistani flower gardens as, quite obviously, they do, but it is environmentally and financially sound to use them as ‘secondary’ fillers instead of as the primary event.
Here is a round-up of just a few of the relatively easy to grow — either from seed or from cuttings — perennial flowers around which you can re-design your beds and borders:
Tall: Dahlia, strelitzia, kniphofia, foxglove, lilies, achillea, eremurus, lavateria cachmeriana, cynara cardunculus — cardoon, globe artichoke, verbascum, ligularia, delphinium, monarda, agapanthus, helenium, euphorbia, fuchsia and old-fashioned hollyhocks of the truly perennial types.
Medium: Carnations, chrysanthemums, dianthus - pinks, garlic chives, gerbera, dahlia, kniphofia, bearded iris, veronica, rosemary, lavender, sage, feverfew, lupin, foxglove, paeonia, day lilies, lilies, achillea, echinops, verbascum, heliconia, eupatorium, rudbekia, echinacea, phlox paniculata, monarda, mirabilis jalapa (4 o’clock flower), vinca, geranium, penstemon, heliopsis, aquilegia, trillium, euphorbia, primula, physostegia (obedient plant), liatris, scabosia, polemonium, hosta, oenothera, geum, coreopsis, kalanchoe, fuchsia, helianthum and hebe,
Low: Chives, dwarf gerbera, viola odorator (sweet violet), euphorbia, primula, osteospermum, gailardia, scabosia, hosta, kalanchoe, iberis sempervirens, hebe, oxalis and bellis.
Ground cover: Thyme, tradescantia, saxifrage, lampranthus spectabilis, hebe, oxalis, silene, arabis, anagallis and bellis.
To the uninitiated, the above lists may just be tedious lists of unpronounceable plant names that don’t mean a thing and that certainly do not bring images of gorgeous flowers flooding in to the mind. But, unfortunately, in the absence of Urdu names, these names either in true botanical Latin or in English are the names to find further plant information on either in books/magazines or on the internet as it is not possible, for reasons of space, to include species by species details here.
A plant name appearing in more than one of the above lists is an indication that different varieties of plant within the same family grow to different heights.
The lists are simple guidelines to selecting perennial flowering plant species by height alone: it is now up to all of you enthusiastic gardeners out there to do your own research into these individual species, to select the varieties most suited to your garden growing areas and — this is of extreme importance — to judge if the soil and local climatic conditions are suitable for the plants you wish to beautify your own particular environment with. Some plant species that flourish in Peshawar for instance, will not tolerate the saline humidity of Karachi. Keep it simple for a start, leaving experimentation until later on in the growing game.
A short cut to such sensibility, especially for those on a very tight budget and for whom buying even a single plant is a treat, is to make regular expeditions around every single nursery garden in your home area to check out which perennial flowering plants they have in stock: this way you get to view the ‘real thing’ and study its growth habits which is not possible from an often Photoshopped picture on a glossy packet of seeds. You also get to decide whether buying a plant and multiplying it from cuttings makes more sense than buying a packet of seeds that may, or may not, grow.
Something else to keep in mind when investing/planting perennial flowers is to make sure that only those sharing the same cultivation requirements — soil type/watering needs/sun or shade needs and so on — are planted in the same garden bed so that all can be tended equally.
Planting a sun-loving, water-guzzling species right next to one needing shade and little water makes no sense at all as, no matter what you do, one of them is going to lose out!
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Published in Dawn, EOS, July 16th, 2017