Tom's choices for additions to the perennial garden

By Tom Seymour | Apr 26, 2019
Photo by: Tom Seymour Poppies can easily stand up to Maine's cold climate.

For many gardeners, part of the excitement of gardening consists in trying out new plants. These don’t necessarily need to be new hybrids or anything of the sort, but rather, plants that are new to your garden. Some old favorites come immediately to mind. Here are some of my favorites.

Poppies

Someone once told me that Maine is a difficult place to grow poppies because they can’t stand our cold winters. My experience has been totally different and over the years, I have disproved that poor advice time and time again.

In fact, poppies number among the earliest perennial flowers to send up new growth in early spring. In my case, crocus have yet to stick their pointed tips out of the ground, while poppies have already sprouted lots of new growth.

Early summer bloomers, poppies vie with lupines for attention each June. The striking deep reds and oranges of perennial poppies make them a top viewing plant. And while new varieties come in a wide range of styles and colors, the old standby, orange poppies, are longtime Maine favorites. Sea captains' houses still attest to the usefulness of poppies, as offspring of plants and seeds brought here from afar continue to provide provocative swashes of dazzling color.

When planting, choose average, well-drained soil and a south-facing location. Remember that in time, poppies will consume two to three square feet of garden space. After the poppies fade, soon after blooming, make sure that neighboring plants can fill in the gap. Or you might plant annuals to fill in. The choice is yours.

Later in summer, poppies will bring forth basal rosettes (low-growing, in a circle) of foliage. This is a great time to divide your poppy stand and transplant to other areas in the garden. Do this every five years or so in order to keep your plants healthy and happy.

Stargazer lily

Among Oriental lilies, Stargazer lilies, with their spectacular appearance and heady scent, top the list of must-have selections. Developed in 1974, Stargazers come in colors from pure white to a reddish-pink. The name “Stargazer” is fitting, because, unlike some other lilies, Stargazers appear to be facing up, staring at the stars.

These magnificent lilies often grow 3 feet tall, with from two to eight, 6-inch-wide flowers per stem. Stargazers can easily serve as a focal point for any setting. Stargazer lilies like well-drained soil and full sun. These lilies, despite their height, seldom need staking.

It is possible to buy bare-root lilies in spring and have them bloom the same year. But any blooms will be small compared to what will come the following year. Fertilize once each month throughout the season with 10-10-10 granular fertilizer. Deadhead spent blooms to promote continued blooming. Allow the foliage to stand as long as it remains green. Then as it dies back, it’s OK to remove it.

In addition to their usefulness in the perennial bed, Stargazer lilies make wonderful cut flowers. With all these superlatives, it’s easy to see why Stargazer lilies have a place in every garden.

Queen of the meadow

Filipendula, commonly known as “queen of the meadow,” grows 3 to 4 feet tall, with divided leaves and gauzy, frothy heads made up of little, five-petaled flowers. The flower sprays or clusters can reach 6 inches across. Some are very fragrant.

Queen of the meadow can do well in damp soil, but it also thrives in my fairly dry raised beds.

For specimen plants, nothing beats Filipendula rubra, which grows to 6 feet tall and bears 9-inch clusters of pink- to rose-colored flowers. Hardy to Zone 3, this variety, also known as, “queen of the prairie,” will thrive anywhere in Maine.

Use queen of the prairie as a standalone planting of several clumps, or in the back of the perennial border. Whether you choose any of the queen of the meadow or queen of the prairie, remember that these hardy plants are long-lived. A plant growing at the edge of my lawn is one that I acquired almost 40 years ago. And it’s still going strong.

Pinks

My final choice, dianthus, also called, “pinks,” are low-growing, mound-forming, hardy perennials. These plants do well in front of the border, where they highlight the transition from low-growing plants to taller ones.

But the biggest thing in their favor is the heady, delightful scent. And, of course, the dazzling floral display is always an attention-grabber. Pinks need dividing every two or three years. They will thrive in most any soil.

Stargazer lilies are attention-grabbers in any perennial bed. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
Queen of the prairie has feathery, sweet-smelling blooms. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
Able to thrive in most any soil, pinks also have a pleasant, sweet scent. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
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