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Perennials - are they more trouble than they're worth?


By anget


Many of you will be aware that I have what I feel to be a very overstocked garden. Over the lockdown period we have spent hours outside working on it but it becomes more and more apparent that I am less and less satisfied with it even so.
I am asking myself why and the answers keep coming back:

1) Many plants out there are grown from seed and planted out before I really know what size/shape/height they will be. They then mingle and muddle and drown out lots of small ‘specials’. Today I rediscovered a dicentra spectabilis and an astrantia which had disappeared under rampant aquilegias.

2)Weeds then find it easy to insinuate themselves between the perennials and tangle themselves throughout the borders. So it’s a fib that close planting smothers weeds.

3)In wet weather and windy periods lots flop over and look an unholy mess (most of my borders at the moment!)
Some reasonably tidy examples of what I mean!:

So I am hardening my heart. I fall out of love with the garden every year at this time and something must be done because

a)I’m tired and bored all the hard work and want a break from it occasionally without it becoming a monstrous mess if I leave it for a bit and

b)I need to do something because I’m getting older and can’t keep up this level of commitment.

I have decided to try and turn it into more of a shrub garden (if I can convince OH, ’cos he loves his flowers).
Today lots of aquilegias have gone, irises, hemerocallis, anchusa for a start. I have my eye on hollyhocks, evening primroses and various campanulas in just one little section.
Watch this space!

What are your views on tailoring your space to the time and energy you have available? Does anyone else feel their garden is threatening to become a millstone?? (And yes, I do know it’s my fault because I want every plant on the planet….!)

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I agree entirely, Ang...if I don't tend the garden each day, weather permitting, I have the same problems....that is why I've spared one middle border only for perennials and bulbs(your OH would have his flowers) The remainder of the garden is shrubs..I find it much easier this know I'm a stickler for spaces!!! Composted bark spread thickly helps a lot.
Do you still have that beautiful walkway of arches with Clematis scrambling?That's a real focal point.
You sound as if you have been quite ruthless today.Can I encourage you to look at Hebes?

That feeling of everything getting on top us is so true....we shouldn't feel like that at our's that old age commitment,I'm sure we all have.
Hope this helpsx

7 Jul, 2021


Meadow, thanks for your kind comments. I don't want to sound like a 'Moaning Minnie' (as my Mother used to say). I do love it on the 2 days a year I think it looks gorgeous! And I enjoy gardening, I just don't want to always feel I have no choice about doing it.
I have a number of hebes and they do like my soil. I have lots of shrubs in pots, so hopefully they'll go into the borders over time, as long as I check heights and widths more carefully than I usually do!
I like the idea of having an area just for perennials - thanks for that suggestion. And yes, the arches are gradually being covered.

7 Jul, 2021


I do love a lot of perennials, Ange. However, I tend to have 90% evergreen shrubs and trees. Possibly more.
With having a small garden, it’s frustrating as I would like one of everything! My garden has changed over the years as I’ve bought new plants and sacrificed others. I’ve also had the backbone of the garden evergreens which remain and have remained in situ.
I often see patients and friends with their ‘herbaceous borders’ and admire the colours and prettiness. However, you’re right, one day of horrible weather and they have been sadly broken or blown apart..

7 Jul, 2021


I think if I'd started with a smaller garden, Kate, it would have been better looking now as I would have been forced to be more restrained. As it is I've allowed myself to get far too over-enthusiastic in my buying as plants grow better here than has ever been managed in other more tricky growing conditions in earlier gardens. So I have planted far too much. I am trying to follow the idea of a more 'green garden' which I think will help me concentrate more on shape and less on flowers (much as I love them when they are well-behaved).

7 Jul, 2021


I’m sure it is easier to be in control with a smaller garden. So far my trees are well spaced and I only have shrubs in the larger borders … I do love Penstemons, Salvias and Phloxes, and infill with a few annuals. I’ve been “lucky” this year to have rarely been to a GC or supermarket so I haven’t been subject to temptation!

But I do sympathise Ange, and hope you can sort things out to give you less work.

7 Jul, 2021


I love your garden that cottage garden is what I aim to have. I too have had similar thoughts to you and was very dissatisfied with my garden as most plants were over 20 years old and showing their age.
So last autumn I decided to change things and planted a great many perennials this year and replaced my front garden hedge with pots of Hebes on stones it was ridiculous cutting the hedge it was hard work not to mention the clearing up.
I have also got rid of some 20 year old shrubs, 2 fir trees that were far too big (a Laburnum which had died) as I found they required to much work and they looked straggly and only flowered at the top if not cut back. I took up the phlox subulata around the pond as it was old and very woody and had not flowered well for some years. I was able to divide quite a few perennials and once again the gardens looks good. Shrubs do need care to continue to look good and that can be hard work and create a lot of woody waste. Since my cancer op I employ a young man as and when I need something done that I can no longer manage. My family decided that the patio was to unsafe for me to use and I now have a new one Yes I do worry how much longer I can continue but have decided to ignore that and just enjoy it while I can.

7 Jul, 2021


It is a difficult one isn't it, my mom's friend has recently done similar adding some gravel areas, there are some lovely shrubs aren't there, my favourite being Philadelphus Belle Etoile and scented too, which you may already have, :-)

7 Jul, 2021


Sheila, I know I have to stop buying plants! One of my downfalls is growing things from seed which then romp off through the borders, smothering anything in their path!!

DRC, thanks for your comments. I do like well behaved perennials, I just seem to have added too many different types. Your clear-out sounds satisfying. I don't mind spending time in the garden, just not every spare minute!

D'lily, funnily enough I have just spent time today clearing out round my 'Belle'. She is new and had virtually disappeared. I can see how my borders could be improved if I could take virtually everything out and then resite a lot of it (like that's going to happen...) Piecemeal is the best I can hope for.

7 Jul, 2021


I know what you mean, I've not got as big a garden as you but I did do some moving around of plants this year to hopefully improve the look, of course you can't really do that with established shrubs :-)

7 Jul, 2021


Your garden sounds like mine, choking with overgrown perennials, but I love them, they are very colourful. When they go over I just cut them back.
I grow lots in pots now, they don't seem to get too big in pots. I don't water them much in hot weather either, they tend to be all right. I only water them if they start wilting.

I couldn't get rid of any of them and if you think shrubs are less work, think again. They can grow big in no time at all and you have to keep pruning them, and weeds grow in between them just as they do anywhere else in a garden. And also they become unsightly when they grow old (just like me :D !)
I've got rid of several shrubs over the years, I now only buy small evergreen ones, and I am careful where I plant them - often in tubs.

8 Jul, 2021


Agree with Hywel...small,evergreen is the way to go,Ang!

8 Jul, 2021


I love my perennials but sourcing the well behaved shy seeders is the trick. Which I haven't really managed yet. I also found that improving the soil makes it worse so I don't feed or add much to most of the borders now. A mulch of bark shreddings tends to be all now.

I need to get in and remove spent Hesperis to reduce the load next year. and apart from a couple of perennial weeds I do find it helps keep some of the annual weeds in check.

8 Jul, 2021


Thanks, Hywel, perhaps I'm suffering from wishful thinking. I am certainly going to add more evergreens and conifers. BTW, I'm sure you're not unsightly! And thanks for your suggestions.

You're right, SBG. If I find any shy seeders, I'll let you know! Good luck with the hesperis. I have some to remove, too.

8 Jul, 2021


I couldn't agree more with ANGET.
I do love my Perennials, and well chosen boundry shrubs. This year with all the rain (and the addition of well-rotted horse poo) they have been so exhuberant. If im working in the front garden, passerbys say they do love my garden, so interesting, ( euphemism for riotous? ) The 2 properties to our left are just car parking in the front!
Taking on my allotment was a mistake? I knew it would need comittment, but more time is spent getting there, unlocking the 2 boundry gates, keeping the weeds down and the pidgeons, rats magpies and squirrels off the crops.
Cutting back at home, I'm going to remove any Dayliles that get Gall Mite. 2. Also I've only made 5 Bearded crosses this year. Pods, ripening nicely.
3. Not be swayed by garden media saying xyz plant is a must have plant!
Thats a start towards an easier life.

8 Jul, 2021


I'm obviously not the only one feeling this way, Siris, so that is comforting! I have similar comments about our front garden. Most fronts round here are hedges and shrubs plonked in by the developers. Hardly a flower in sight in some streets. So to see perennials at all is unusual.

8 Jul, 2021


Well Anget, I must be different to you as I love my perennials! I don't grow them from seed like I used to years ago, but buy them in the early spring. Most of my plants are still the same ones I put in a few years ago, so as long as I stake the tall ones early on, then it just looks after itself, apart from dead heading of course!
My only problem is the huge anemones which were here when we moved in. They are round the big cherry tree in the front ( must put a picture on) and have totally taken over even though I dug some up last year, but they keep on coming back!!
I am not as fit as I used to be, so don't think I can start again with this area! My husband is disabled so he can't help and my son lives miles away! Just have to grin and bear it!
Maybe you could do a compromise with your husband and let him have all his flowers in pots!

8 Jul, 2021


Rose, I love perennials, but I find lots of them 'get away' from me, like you with your anemones. I won't get shot of them all, just the rampant seeders. And I made a start today with planting my first golden chamaecyparis - a pillar variety. I am bad with staking, I find it a real chore. And buying enough metal supports for it all would be prohibitively expensive!

8 Jul, 2021


just spent 3 days and in total 4 skips clearing mine out lol , never bothering with any of it ever again

8 Jul, 2021


that is a shame Paul. what are you planning instead?

8 Jul, 2021


Goodness, Paul, that sounds dramatic (and exhausting)! Have you given up on gardening completely?

8 Jul, 2021


Oh Paul, I hope you don't regret it! You have such beautiful plants - did you keep the clematis? I do hope so! all your interesting little nooks and crannies are (were?) fascinating but must have been lots of work. Please let us know what happens next!

9 Jul, 2021


Looks as though many of us are feeling our age! I had two years of poor health and no energy and my garden became extremely weedy. I can still only do an hour or so at time but have had help from a gardener who does a couple of hours once a fortnight. He tends to do things I wouldn't, eg tied up a rather loose orange rose which I rather to see leaning over the very vigorous catmint and has dug up too many small perennials in the cause of tidiness, but without him I might have given up. I do love to see beautifully designed (but not over perfect) gardens but I care more about individual plants so my perennials are staying and blow the untidiness!
I'm 80 now and making the most of every chance!

9 Jul, 2021


Yorks, it sounds like your decision to have help is a good one, despite a few drawbacks. We all have a right to the sort of garden that makes us happy, whatever the style. I just want mine to make me happier than it does most of the time!

9 Jul, 2021


I echo the above sentiments. I feel you are trying to manage too much yourself. It can quickly become overwhelming. I certainly can't afford hours and hours in the garden each day. I have more important things to do. I hired a gardener, who comes on Thursdays to mow the lawn & trim the bushes. That helps a great deal. His rates are very reasonable. Now I have a huge expansive lawn. Also using mulch in the flower beds helps to keep weeds down. I like perennials because they can look after themselves.

9 Jul, 2021


still keeping what I've got but buying no more Anget - all the pests, and things you mention. I want to just enjoy it now . Your garden is always very colourful and cheery

9 Jul, 2021


B'gate, I bring it on myself! Too many different sorts of plants squeezed in. I'm beginning to clear some areas and replacing with shrubs and conifers and well-behaved perennials, like penstemons and geraniums. OH takes responsibility for lawn and hedge.

Paul, thanks for your kind words. I had pictures of you clearing all your patch so I'm glad you will leave enough to enjoy. I am giving myself a stern talking-to so that I don't indulge in any more new plants either!

9 Jul, 2021


I made the same mistake - squeezing too many plants in a small space with no regard for the fact that plants grow. I started giving plants away, then throwing plants away. I won't buy plants that need too much fiddling.

9 Jul, 2021


Yes, Paul. I've been taken by surprise here by how much and how quickly things grow. Never had that happen in any earlier gardens. I take much more notice of the info. on the plants now. And like you, I've chucked out many of my plants grown from seed, and the floppers are on their way out now! And I'm aiming for repetition rather than novelty!

9 Jul, 2021


Anget I agree with you and find exactly the same problems as you do!
Our garden looks neat and well cared for in the spring but as summer gets going it just grows like mad and everything mingles and seems to have to fight for its place!
However, neither do I want a garden with everything in its place looking so perfectly manicured and tidy! I like the more natural look of a true cottage garden.
This year the excessive rain and wind has caused even more chaos than usual, increasing the dead heading and cutting back tasks a lot!
Don’t lose heart - I’m not going to and each day I shall find something to be thankful for!

9 Jul, 2021


Some plants are very good at choking out weeds themselves - like ajuga, hostas, veronica. Those low spreaders look neat.

9 Jul, 2021


Like you and Wildrose I have exactly the same problems but then I prefer the wilder look rather than the manicured alternative.

10 Jul, 2021


Ladies, I don't mind the wilder look. I just don't want the effert any more of controlling the weedy and wilder look. Once the weeds take a real hold there's nothing attractive about that!

11 Jul, 2021


Better late than never Anget, too hot for garden so I'm catching up on Goy....
I had many years where I struggled for health reasons, I refused to give up then and I'm not going to now, I learnt during those years that I could work half blind, using one hand and not bending down, lol, being B----y Minded helped me get through, still does, the best thing I did was to change my style and grow as many perennials as I could fit in, I find I don't get many weeds as mine are planted together, which also helps support them, if I see a weed I go in and turf it out.. My garden wouldn't suit everybody but it pleases me Anget and at the end of the day that is what counts., I also like the more natural look and if something wants to mingle I allow it to...

20 Jul, 2021


You're absolutely right, Lincs, in saying that we all have the right to the type of garden that makes us happy. I would not dream of telling others how to set out their plots! I think adjustments inevitably come with age, time available and personal strength/health and the desire to actually physically 'garden'. I have periods where I find I simply don't want to do it and I feel forced to, because to my eye it looks a mess! Maybe to others it wouldn't! Like you, I want the plot 'that pleases me'...

20 Jul, 2021

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