For a master garden, you'll need perennials and a strong back

April 17, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Awell-designed perennial garden is a work of art, and people spend a lot of time racing around England to see the world's best -- at Hampton Court, Sissinghurst and Hidcote Manor, to name just three great ones.

But you can have one, too. Yours will be a lot smaller and much simpler, but the variety and beauty can be wonderful.

Most perennials demand sunshine; a few of the best ones -- Lenten roses, hostas and hardy ferns -- perform well in the shade.

The location must be well-drained to suit most perennials. (A number of plants, notably marsh marigolds, forget-me-nots and Japanese irises, are well suited for wet areas.)

Perennial beds can be rectangular, oval, round or circular, whatever your property allows. But they should be at least 3 or 4 feet wide to allow enough space for a variety of plants. This will also allow you to put in a range of heights, from tall red-hot pokers and sunflowers at the back or center, then mid-sized irises, phlox and peonies, and in front, low-growing candytuft, dianthus and coral bells.

Or, move some taller plants such as day lilies and chrysanthemums near the front of the border to avoid a stair-step rigidity.

Before you plant -- even before you buy a single plant -- soil preparation is essential. The bed must be dug at least 12 inches deep -- even more if you have the back for it.

Dig in a lot of well-rotted manure, compost or peat moss. This will nourish the plants and allow roots to develop and spread.

As you dig, remove clods of soil and any other debris to create the best and deepest soil bed possible. As you make the final dig, work in about 4 pounds of complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10.

Selecting and planting your perennials will be the most fun of all, and there are plenty to choose among at garden centers.

Most garden centers stock the basics: peonies, irises, day lilies, hostas, Shasta daisies and candytuft. But some are specialists in a huge range of species and varieties.

The possibilities are so tantalizing one is tempted to uproot shrubbery and trees to make way for them.

And don't think your perennial border must be a summer garden. Spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and fall-flowering anemones, asters and mums should be worked into your planting plan for a long season of bloom.

Make sure to include a variety in form. Many summer flowers are daisies of one form or another, but a daisy garden can be a tad boring, even if the colors are white, yellow, pink, purple, orange and blue.

With these daisies, incorporate some totally different looks, such as veronica, salvia, irises and day lilies.

Your garden must also be personal. Like pink? Consider red dianthus, pink phlox, rose coneflowers and purple salvia, accented with silver foliage.

Prefer yellow? You'll want yellow coreopsis supported by day lilies in melon shades, golden sunflowers and --es of red from geum and red-hot pokers.

The all-white flower garden, supported by silver and gray foliage, is one of the classic and classy looks of the garden world.

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