One of the pleasanter aspects of perennials is that they are so dependable. A gardener could easily write plant names on a calendar one year ahead of time and still be on the mark when the flowers finally bloom.

Many gardeners eschew perennials and perennial gardens because they seem like such prissy things, planted under a certain system, with tall in back, medium-height plants in the middle and low-growers in front. While a well-managed perennial garden stands as a thing of beauty that keeps on giving for years and years, the process of beginning such a garden may seem just too daunting for some folks.

And that’s why it’s OK to just plant a few perennials here and there and call it good. For this we need simple, uncomplicated varieties that, once started, will show up on schedule year after year.

Several varieties lend themselves to mass plantings, and for perennials that can be a good thing. For instance, the lawn at the community building here in Waldo, where I live, is home to an ever-widening circle of iris. These bloom at approximately the same time every June. And when not in bloom, the foliage itself makes an attractive eye-catcher in an otherwise nondescript surrounding.

Underground network

Although the above header sounds like a description for some clandestine spy operation, it really is an apt explanation for the underground parts of the iris plant: rhizomes, swollen roots that grow laterally beneath the ground in an ever-spreading network. This growth habit makes it easy to propagate new plants by simply digging up some plants, along with their rhizomes and starting them in a new location.

This spreading habit explains why gardeners are usually more than happy to divide their iris plants and give them away to friends and neighbors. Indeed, if left unchecked, iris can take over a garden bed and crowd out other varieties.

My own iris crop had an inauspicious beginning. A half-dozen plants set in the middle of a perennial bed gave some limited color and form. And then several years later something odd happened. They exploded. Now many times wider than when first set out, this iris patch shades oriental poppies and other desirable plants. This allows me only one path of action, and that is to haul the iris and transplant them to another location.

So, given my experience, it’s plain to see the wisdom in giving iris their own place and allowing them to spread as they will. They will repay that kindness by growing more thickly and becoming a regular and welcome part of the panoply of June blooms.


Lupine, named after Lupus, the wolf, comes to us in several varieties. Hybrids, specifically, those named after a British plant breeder named Russell, come in a variety of colors, including red, blue, white and yellow. These like rich, trending toward acid, well-drained soil. When planted in tight groups, the brilliantly-colored flower spikes make a stunning addition to any perennial garden.

But another kind of lupine, wild blue lupine, doesn’t much care for living in such a confined space. These are the lupines we see growing along roadside banks and field edges. Wild blue lupines are what come immediately to mind when we hear the word “lupine.” Wild blue lupines are the mavericks of the perennial world.

It is interesting to note that people have discovered a ready source of pin money in the sale of wild blue lupine seeds. Displays of seed packets adorn counters of businesses from restaurants to hardware stores to garden centers. These are picked later in summer when the seed pods fill out, just before they expand, twist and expel the many seeds.

But the “secret” here is that anyone can pick lupine seeds and from them, and begin what may later become a long, wide swath of June-blooming lupines. Garden writers recommend a spring dressing with a balanced fertilizer. That certainly won’t hurt, but the whole idea of having wild blue lupines around is to let them have their head and do as they will, with no further assistance from us.

Some years ago a big flap occurred concerning the wild blue lupines growing along roadside banks in Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert. Since the lupines here are not native to Maine, a sizeable contingent of people felt that they had no place in Acadia, the crown jewel of national parks. But the last time I (begrudgingly, because of the ever-present traffic and congestion) drove around Mt. Desert, lupines were still in evidence. It’s hard to do away with a plant that self-seeds so readily.

Broadcasting lupine

Lupines around my place grow along the edge of my lawn, near the treeline. Some also grow near a flowering crab in front of my cottage. And every year I pull out lupine seedlings from my garden beds. How they get there is difficult to fathom, since my gardens are nowhere near the established lupines.

In the beginning, instead of buying started plants, which, by the way, is always a good and dependable option, I just went out and gathered lupine seed from a nearby lupine patch and spread them by hand, broadcasting them in the manner of sowing grass seed.

The first year, despite sowing many handfuls of lupine seed, only a few plants resulted from my efforts. But the following year more plants started and now, 35 years later, lupines are well established and in fact have naturalized, becoming an established part of my local landscape.

Pea-like (lupine belongs in the pea family) blossoms open from bottom to top on the long, tapered spires, or flower spikes. This is a gradual process and it ensures that we have blooming lupines to enjoy for several weeks each June.

In fact, what would June be without lupines? To me, lupines are synonymous with June. I can wander, in my mind, to many years ago and memories created in the different Junes from the distant past always conjure images of blooming lupines. That’s a wonderful melding of past times, intermingled with tall spikes of lupine swaying in the wind.

Tom’s tips

Iris and lupine both lend themselves to plant photography. Iris, the living version of France’s fleur-de-lis, offers the photographer equipped with a macro lens wonderful opportunities. And lupine, even before they bloom, have their secrets too, secrets that only the camera can reveal.

One of my favorite plant photos is of a dewdrop nestled in the cupped center of the whorl, or circular fan of lupine leaves. Trees and even an outbuilding are mirrored in that one little dewdrop.

Fortunately, even inexpensive digital cameras sold today have a close-up feature, so don’t hesitate to go out and experiment. Your images may have lasting value.