Monday, November 24, 2008

Let Your Perennials Grow Wild

Let Your Perennials Grow Wild

There are two ways to have colorful plantings and still hold the line on upkeep. In addition to bringing flowers from woods and meadows to your garden, you can let some of your garden flowers run wild.

Many perennials that grow in dignity in a well-ordered, well-weeded border will, if permitted, contribute the same color, fragrance, and beauty to another area. Suppose you let them run loose in your own tiny or large meadow or woodsy area.

Wherever you set them to naturalize, bee balm, spiderwort and dianthus become as independent as the native flower, needing no watering, weeding or feeding. This is an ideal way to simplify gardening at no sacrifice of beauty in the ground or indoors in cut flower arrangements. After all, most if not all of our garden flowers were once wild; the domesticated state in which we are accustomed to seeing them isn't their natural one.

I was first inspired to experiment with this idea one day towards the end of summer when I found iris and corn trying to occupy exactly the same spot in our vegetable garden. I uprooted the iris, but it looked so good I simply could not throw it away. Neighbors took some but there were still plenty of clumps left. I took them down the South Meadow to a spot where it is sunny all day and slightly boggy. With no heart for digging in the tough grass, and also in the spirit of experimentation, I merely dumped the plants, though I did take the trouble to set them right side up. Picking up some loose hay that lay nearby (the meadow had had its annual cut a few weeks before) I tossed it over the rhizomes and promptly forgot them. Yes, you've guessed it. The next year, up came the iris, all blooming like mad. They're still going strong.

Of course, I don't recommend such casual treatment. But, actually many perennials can be handled in ways not much more complicated than that. Thus you can transfer to the uncultivated areas of your outdoors a great number of flowering plants with small effort and rich rewards.

My mother's favorite flower was lily-of-the-valley. I always wanted some but hesitated because of the need for clearing an area, digging a bed, keeping it tended, etc. There is no place for such a bed in our wild meadows. But one day when walking in the neighboring woods we came upon remnants of a long-since vanished house—only a stone section from the cellar wall remained standing. And the whole area in and around this was one mass of lily-of-the-valley, so solid and dense that no weed could struggle up in its midst. If lily-of-the-valley would do that here, why not for us? With permission, I dug up some of the plants and settled them under the trees along our old stone wall. There they now thrive with no care, producing masses of flowers each season. The first year or so I kept the weeds out—and now in December if I feel benevolent I give the plants a few tosses of manure. (Since they grow next to the manure pile, this is simple.)

Bee balm offered another pleasant experience in carefree gardening. Down in a semi-shaded area along the stream where the ground is not boggy but never gets really bone dry either, there was a tangle of jewel weed and miscellaneous grasses. I planted a red-flowered variety of bee balm in the midst of the tangle. All I did first was to sickle the area. This time I did not set the plants on top of the earth but in it, though I did not worry about surrounding weeds. In three years they have grown and multiplied amazingly. We have the fun each year of watching the humming birds come to this plant for their summer dinners, and from the terrace we often look down and see several ruby throats hovering among the scarlet blossoms.

In our meadow I set out a half-dozen plants of sun-loving coreopsis. I had seen them running riot over New England meadows, so I had no qualms. Ours have exceeded all expectations, spreading over three times their original area. All summer we can, at will, cut a golden bouquet for the house.

No comments: