The poppy seed head is intricately, incredibly, perfectly lovely. Sometimes I have a hard time deciding if I like the poppy bloom or seed head better. The plump globular seed vessels are topped by a petite fleur top hat, that protects the holes where seeds escape. In nature’s amazing way, as the seed head dries, the mini hats curve upwards to expose the seed release holes. Once dry, I wave about these magic wand stems to scatter the seeds, 'planting' where I would like next year’s poppy patch. This works best for annual peony poppies (papaver paeoniflorum), that self-seed so happily. The seed heads then make an exquisite addition to bouquets or dried arrangements, or for me, make a sweet bouquet all on their own!
Bee balm is the ‘queen bee’ of flirty blooms – in appearance and in attracting bees! Bee balm is also labelled monarda or bergamot, though I often call it ‘Dr. Seuss flower’, since it reminds me of his fanciful illustrations. The upright tubular petals encircle the pincushion centers in a flamboyant halo. It’s like they are cheering with hair flying in the wind. These lively blooms come in shades of pink, violet, white or red. Being part of the mint family, the blooms and entire plant are fragrant, attracting not only bees, but butterflies and hummingbirds too. Bee balm adds a special splash to the garden.
Technical stuff – Bee balm is a hardy perennial (most varieties to Zone 4), height of about 36” and spread of 24” (dwarf varieties are available), can be aggressive spreader in a happy spot, likes sun or part sun and moist soil, blooms mid-summer into fall, susceptible to powdery mildew.
Oh, how the collector in me is enthralled, enchanted, and enticed by the varieties of coneflowers! The delectable coneflower menu includes creamy yellow, glowing orange, angelic white, or candy pink with ruffles. And how can you resist with names like ‘Supreme Elegance’, ‘Summer Sky’, or ‘Tangerine Dream’? Coneflowers are part of the daisy family. The proper name ‘echinacea’ comes from the Greek word ‘echino’, which means sea urchin, referring to the spiny, arched center. My next craving is for ‘Green Envy’ (blooms open green and age to mauve) and ‘Milkshake’ (creamy ruffles). Read more about coneflowers by clicking here.
Echinacea purpurea - otherwise known as the ‘simple’ purple cone flower. I love the sturdy stems holding proud blooms. I love the jaunty character that has those blooms last until frost, and the seed heads last through winter. I love the range from pale pink, to almost neon pink-purple, to berry purple, and back to faded mauve-pink. I love the burnished rust of the bulging centers. I love the tactile touch of those spiny domes. I love the label of ‘not fussy’ that makes them grow happily in part sun or sun, and in almost any soil. I love that they spread gently into stately, orderly clusters. I love how happy they make the bees, and the butterflies, and the garden!
Read more about cone flowers by clicking here.
Coneflowers, or echinacea, are a collectable for me. They are a dependable staple perennial with strong stems and long lasting blooms. With a multitude of colours and forms, each year I try to add a couple of new varieties. This year that included ‘cleopatra’, a simple elegant bloom in creamy yellow, and ‘supreme elegance’, a large bloom in pink-purple with ruffled centers. My cherished ‘sundown’ is just opening its blooms, with its magical mix of orange-pink like a holiday sunset. There will be more coneflower photos to come! If you missed the more detailed post, you can read it by clicking here.
What do I love about hollyhocks? Their cottage garden style blooms remind me of tea stained fabrics, vintage floral prints and faded seed packets. The bloom colours are vivid, yet come in old world flavours of pink, burgundy, crimson and cream and more. Those blossoms are swirly cups, sometimes in pure colour, and sometimes fading or intensifying to a contrasting center. Their chunky stalks with crinkly, stubby buds juxtapose to their elegant, soft blooms. And don’t forget the pom-pom double pink, or deep, dark, glossy black option! Hollyhocks, or alcea, are biennials that happily self-seed. The first year produces a mound of large, rounded leaves, and then in the second year comes the majestic spires of flowers.
For more detail on hollyhocks, click here for my past post.
Hardy geraniums are such cheery faces in the garden. Their spritely flowers, sprinkled amongst mounds of perky detailed foliage, can’t help but make you smile! If you missed my earlier post on this garden staple, just click here for more detail – and above are some of the many faces of hardy geranium blooming now…
It’s so easy to rave and ramble on about peonies – they have been labelled one of THE most beautiful blooms (there’s a stressful title to live up to!), and are beloved and collected by many gardeners. I do rejoice that these gorgeous, abundant bloomers are also hardy, drought tolerant, and can survive over 50 years. The wonderment of the peony starts with their glossy, succulent shoots that splay into steadfast dark green foliage. Then the glorious tight buds that erupt into spectacular, frothy blooms. And for most peonies, the fragrance, ahhhh, the spell binding fragrance! Peonies can have a rose, lemon, honey or musk scent. Their blooms can be single, semi-double, double, ‘bomb’ or Japanese. Herbaceous peonies are your old fashioned peonies that die to the ground each winter and come back in the spring. Tree peonies have woody stems that lose their leaves in the fall, but the wood stays intact over winter. Itoh peonies are a cross of those two types, but do die to the ground each winter and come back in the spring. It can be daunting to choose a peony with so many cultivars. I would start with an herbaceous peony in a colour you love, and check the label to confirm it is a fragrant variety. Peonies can stand alone in a sunny part of your garden or add great bones to the back or end of a mixed garden. If you get addicted, you can certainly collect from there!
Technical stuff: Herbaceous peonies are perennials hardy to zone 2-3 depending on variety, prefer full sun and well-drained soil, most varieties have height and spread around 30”-36” (read labels), blooming in late spring/early summer.
Poppy buds and blooms are captivating, enthralling and absolutely joyous! I can’t take enough photos of the bulging buds, the bursting blooms, the raucous petals open to the sun, and then the fading, dripping blossoms that leave intricate seed pods. Oriental poppies are striking, brilliant…and an indulgence. Their large, furry, pronged leaves have a sprawling habit that takes up real estate hard to justify in a small garden. And after blooming, the fuzzy foliage browns as it moves into unattractive hibernation for next spring’s show. I have tried to under plant with several perennials, with no luck as the poppy foliage has been too vigorous through the spring for other plants to coexist. My best approach has been to plant other perennials around the poppies that grow up to surround and hide the browning foliage. Rudbeckia or yarrow both do well to rise up and embrace the browning leaves in camouflage. Photos above of this year’s crop, and if you missed my more detailed post on poppies, you click this link to read more!
Even though my garden is stuffed full of plants, every year I buy more. Some perennials die out and need replacing; I may expand a bed, add a new bed, or find a little bare spot where I can just ‘tuck something in there’. And so do I add a staple, a favourite, or an experiment? To earn the accolade of being a staple perennial (which I also call work horses), there are two huge criteria: performance, and ease of care. A staple perennial has multiple desirable attributes that provide show and garden structure over the growing season, for example: long bloom time, detailed or changing foliage, funky seed heads, or spectacular colour, which includes shades of green. Ease of care is important for any garden – you need bones that don’t take big work so you can enjoy. Easy care perennials are often drought tolerant, adaptable in siting for sun exposure and soil conditions, and don’t require much if any pruning, deadheading or support. What makes a favourite perennial is another discussion – this is more personal, where we crave a stellar bloom even though it may be short lived, we want a certain clear blue colour, or maybe a remembered fragrance of rose, and we may be willing to do extra work to get it. The best is when a favourite perennial is also a work horse! Below I have included a few photos of perennials blooming in the garden now – some favourites and some staples…
Sedums are favourite, multi-tasking perennials, and thus I have an abundance of them sprinkled throughout the garden. This time of year when they are all bursting out of the ground, it is like the gift of rosebuds every day. Sedum emerge from the ground with their juicy, unfurling foliage forming rosebuds in green, pink, burgundy, lime, grey-mauve. How can such a simple plant offer such varying beauty!? It can be easy to miss the rosebuds; a busy week that keeps you from a garden walkabout, and the rosebuds will have progressed to still pretty, but proper, sprouts. If you have sedum in your garden, take a moment to enjoy the gift of rosebuds!
My big fondness for coneflowers goes way back to it being one of the first perennials I ever purchased. Coneflowers are named for the impressive burnished cone at their centers – the perfect butterfly perch. These perennials are often included in children’s gardens because they attract butterflies and bees. Coneflowers sturdy height, clumps of deep green background leaves and colourful, joyful blooms provide easy garden bones. Their happy demeanor lends a wildflower quality to any garden. They are a stellar mixer with many perennials like hyssops, shasta daisies, russian sage or rudbeckia, especially in mass plantings. In the past few years, there has been a plethora of new colour offerings, giving you a choice of the traditional purple, or creamy yellows, vivid oranges, soft pinks, and elegant whites. My favourite varieties include the classic purple (ruby star, magnus), white swan, tangerine dream and sundown. The large, long lasting blooms are also a wonderful cut flower. Deadheading keeps coneflowers blooming, but I leave lots of seed heads in place for winter interest and to attract the birds. Unlike many perennials, the latin name echinacea is well known thanks to its reputation as an herbal remedy.
Technical stuff – Coneflower/Echinacea, hardy perennial to Zone 3, prefers full sun and good drainage but is adaptable, height of 30”-48”+, spread of about 24”, though dwarf varieties available, blooms mid to late summer, drought tolerant once established.
I often get asked, what is your favourite perennial? It’s like asking a foodie what is your favourite flavor – just impossible to narrow down to one! But always in my top ten would fall coral bells. I love the variety in leaf colour, pattern and texture. Coral bells’ foliage enriches the garden show from spring to frost. Orderly clumps of rounded leaves add to the garden brocade with an incredible variety of offerings: classic green with spritely coral blooms bouncing on tall stems, to leaves of marmalade, deep purple, russet, green with maroon veining, grey green…palace purple was one of the first rich colours to arrive in greenhouses, and though quite common now, still a fave. The variety names are as much fun as the plants: caramel, lime rickey, green spice, solar power, berry smoothie, chocolate ruffles, electra and many, many more. Some have white or pink bell blooms adding to the variety. The blooms do make a long lasting, varied interest cut flower for bouquets. Coral bells can also double duty as a wonderful container plant, mixing with other foliage favourites like coleus, for a lavish part sun display.
Technical stuff – Coral bells/heuchera, hardy perennial to Zone 4, leaf clump height about 12” with flowers stemming up to 36” and spread of 12”+, full sun to part shade preferring light shade with moist, average to rich well drained soil, blooms late spring to summer.
This steadfast, old fashioned perennial, with showy majestic spires in varied palettes, is an integral part of the quintessential cottage garden. The upside-down bell flowers often have contrasting mottled interiors, like colorful fat freckles. ‘Purpurea’ is the most common cultivar in white and shades of pink. You can also choose from wonderful creamy yellows, mauves and purples. Foxgloves are actually biennials that perpetuate through self-seeding. They happily pop up here & there in the garden, and can easily be transplanted. The first year, the plant is a mound of bristly green foliage, with the second year producing flower spikes. I have wondered if lupines, hollyhocks and foxgloves are all good friends considering their similarities. The scientific name ‘digitalis’, means ‘finger-like’, referring to the tubular flowers that can fit ‘like a glove’ over fingertips. My son takes delight in pointing out foxgloves in our garden, ‘They’re poisonous!’ he whispers ominously. Yes, foxgloves are poisonous if ingested - in fact, the heart medication digitalis is derived from extracts of foxglove.
Technical stuff – Foxglove/digitalis, zones 4-9, biennial/short lived perennial that continues by self-seeding, height 24”-60”(dwarf varieties available) and spread of up to 24”, prefer part shade and moist, fertile soil but adapt to most conditions, blooms in summer.
Some perennials require little care, thriving in most soils and varying light/water conditions (so perfect siting is not needed), and are susceptible to few pests. These delightful plants reward with greenery and blooms – these are the work horses of the garden, and daylilies top the list. Soft blades of green, hinting blue with the sheen of morning dew, form dense clumps that spurn weeds. And such decadent blooms in sumptuous colours and forms! Choose from a vast menu of palest yellow to chocolate brown, delectable rosy apricots, grape purples, ruby reds or rich golden and more. Many varieties have contrasting throats, and can be trumpet shaped, starry, or frilled. I have not counted how many varieties of daylilies are in my garden. Come July, when most of them are blooming, it reminds me of a fancy ball with daylilies all dancing in assorted elegant gowns. The proper name hemerocallis comes from the Greek ‘hemera’ meaning day, and ‘kallus’ meaning beauty – as the blooms last only one day, but ample buds means they keep on rewarding!
Technical stuff – hardy perennial, bloom time can vary by variety with some blooming May to September, full sun to full shade (more sun equals more blooms), prefer moist, well drained, fertile soil but adapt to most conditions, size greatly varies with variety 12”to 48” for height and spread. Lily beetle doesn’t bother with daylilies, but mows down on oriental and asiatic lilies.
Fluffy romantic doubles in pastel, brilliant stacks of single rosettes, or the illusive black bloom – hollyhocks are a classic, cottage garden flower. Their regal spires of old fashioned bloom can reach 8’-9’ high in a delicious choice of shades like pink, purple, magenta, yellow, peach, cream and yes, even black. They are infamous for decorating abandoned gardens, which makes one think they are easy to grow, and if the conditions are right, they will self seed and succeed for years. But for those that love hollyhocks and don’t have the right conditions, they can be a frustration. Sometimes you love a flower like crazy, but it doesn’t love your conditions, so you can try to revise nature (never ending work I don't endorse!), or just enjoy it in other gardens. Hollyhocks want sunshine, average soil on the dry side, wind protection, and a warm wall or fence to lean on.
Technical stuff – hardy biennial that self seeds, height of 24” to 100+” (dwarf varieties are available) and spread of about 12” to 24”, prefer full sun, dry soil with average to rich fertility, blooms in summer, need protection from the wind and/or support, susceptible to rust, leaf spot, and aphids.
Hardy Geraniums are a win, win, win perennial! They are super easy, happy in most conditions, have attractive foliage and many bloom from late May to late September. There are a multitude of varieties, so many it’s hard to choose, but bloom colour and form will help you narrow it down. You can decide from whites, pinks, purples and blues. Form can be low spreading clumps speckled with cheerful blooms, or taller bushier varieties with upright bundles of perky flowers. Starry leaves make a pretty green backdrop for delicate blooms. I am partial to blues with Johnson’s Blue and Rozanne as favourites, and Samobor gives me early blooms in part shade. Hardy Geraniums are also known as Cranesbill, as the seed pods resemble little bird heads. They are wonderful mixers with many perennials (perfect to cover browning bulb leaves), spreading to fill in gaps, and meld the tapestry of the garden.
Technical stuff – hardy perennial, part shade to full sun preferring part sun, lower varieties are about 12” tall spreading to 24”, and taller varieties can reach 36” tall with blooms, with bushy leaves below. There are also many dwarf varieties now with height of 6”-8”. They prefer good drainage but are happy in most sites unless it’s very wet.
Oriental poppies are luscious – probably the bloom most painted by artists. I have pink, orange, white and red oriental poppies in my garden (as with many perennials, I collect poppies!). The petals have a lustrous sheen, the leaves are fern-like and hairy, and fat, furry buds define anticipation. As their Latin name ‘papaver’ eludes, the freshly opened petals are fragile as paper. My favourite is ‘Beauty of Livermere’ - deep cherry red with powdery brown-black centers. The glory? - Oriental poppies put on a stellar display in June. The suffering? - they die back after blooming leaving not so spectacular dried up foliage, so plant them amongst summer blooming perennials like cone flower or yarrow that will overcome the brown.
Technical stuff – hardy perennial prefers full sun (okay in part sun but can get floppy), 36-40” tall, blooms in late spring/early summer.