Perennials – Years of Colour from Seed or Cuttings

Perennials

Years of colour from seed or cuttings

Perennials are the backbone of every small garden. There are probably more of them than of any other kind of garden plant. They are the marathon runners of the herbaceous race. Compared with the sprinters of the annuals and the middle-distance specialists of the biennials, the perennials, sometimes slow to settle down, will go on more or less for ever.

They need not, as might be thought, remain permanently in any particular spot, but are a movable feast of colour and delight, for from time to time they should be lifted or divided and allowed to start all over again in a fresh spot. Their basic advantage over the annuals and biennials is that they do not die at the end of one or two seasons. The flowers will fade and the foliage die down, but if you have done your groundwork properly the roots will remain alive, though dormant, waiting for the spring sunshine to set them on their way again.

Nearly all can be grown from seed. You can also take leaf cuttings, stem cuttings and root cuttings: highly technical sounding operations but fairly simple in fact, given a little enthusiasm and elementary equipment.

Perennials are all things to all gardeners. Some become quite shrubby in appearance. Some suddenly reveal themselves as bulbs, corms or tubers. Some — begonias, for instance — as though uncertain of their function, offer themselves as either fibrous-rooted (that is, they have sensitive hairy roots), which means they can stay in the soil all winter, or as tuberous-rooted. These latter have to be lifted and overwintered in a dry and comparatively warm bed of sand. As if all this isn’t enough, some perennials are better grown not as semi-permanent inhabitants of a favourite part of the garden, but as biennials: they are allowed to stay for a year or two and then, as explained, are moved elsewhere.

Most perennials are hardy or half-hardy, and it is interesting that whereas half-hardy annuals need protection before flowering, half-hardy perennials need protection afterwards. Annuals are dead once they have flowered and seeded; with perennials the post-flowering period is one of rest and recuperation. Cutting down the stems and covering the base is one way of getting them through winter; with some, as with tuberous-rooted dahlias and begonias and chrysanthemum stools, it is advisable to lift and store them in a frost-free place. A dusting of sulphur when they are dry will help protect them against disease.

penstemonSome people are happy to pay a high price for a small coddling. Penstemons are a prime example here: they can fall victim to frost and damp, and a useful insurance is to take cuttings (late summer is best for the semi-woody types, when the wood is young and supple) and overwinter them in a frost-free place.

Most perennials are highly adaptable; only a comparatively few are fussy in their demands as to the kind of soil in which they will grow and prosper. But all will repay some attention before being planted. The patch of soil in which they are placed will be their home for two or three years, perhaps considerably more. Like every other kind of home, it should be made ready for the new inhabitant. The soil’s equivalent of a coat of paint is a good dressing of well-matured manure or compost. The plant’s roots will feed on that soil, so obviously plenty must be made available for their use from the moment they move in.

28. April 2011 by admin
Categories: Annuals, Biennials and Perennials, Plants | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Perennials – Years of Colour from Seed or Cuttings

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