Bulbs get eaten by mice and voles

Tulip bulbs in a perennial gardenAs you can see bulbs, and in particular tulips, are amongst my favourite flowers. However, six years ago I hit a big problem; mice and voles started eating the bulbs – every single one of them. In that year I had carefully planted over eight hundred tulip bulbs individually amongst the garden’s perennials!

Tulip bulbs in a perennial gardenI resorted to growing tulips in pots as the daffodils were being left alone. Each year I tried a few in the ground and most were eaten but sometimes a few were left alone – why?

Tulip bulbs in a perennial gardenA Dutch bulb grower offered two solutions to the problem: poison or interplanting with Fritillaria imperialis – Crown Imperials; apparently their smell is repugnant to rodents as much as it is to humans. Last year I tried this and it seemed to have worked, but the jury is still out as I explained in an earlier post on red tulips.

Tulip bulbs in a perennial gardenCrown Imperial bulbs are large and expensive and also difficult to grow well in my heavy clay soil. I can improve the soil when planting and will definitely add some more to the flower borders this autumn, but I am also going to try something else which may just prove to be more effective.

Fritillaria meleagrisFritillaria meleagris colonises damp soil sites by self seeding; its nodding flowers are charming, but more importantly its bulbs also smell and are very cheap to buy. My plan is to drop one into each and every hole I dig to plant my tulips. In theory this should be more effective in deterring the rodents than the occasional Crown Imperial placed one in every square meter or so. The nice thing is that, if it works, this easily grown fritillaria will seed around making the garden less and less attractive to mice and voles over the coming years.

Tulip bulbs in a perennial gardenFinally I placed my bulb order in spite of having planned to do it early this year, but fortunately they still had stock of everything I wanted. Next spring orange will be the theme featuring the sophistication of the Fosteriana Group tulip ‘Orange Emperor’ and the vibrant Triumph ‘Prins Willem-Alexander.

“Will it work?”, time will only tell.

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Summer, Perennials and Thoughts on Maintenance

Veronicastrum sibiricumDesigning mixed perennial meadow plantings is all about choosing plants that work together well over an extended period of time by uniting into a living community where each has a part to play.

Books will tell you that such plantings are low in maintenance and possibly need no more than an annual tidy-up. This can be true, but mostly mixed perennial plantings need knowledgable maintenance to keep them up to the standard of the original design intention. See my earlier post on Community Planting.

Looking around my gardens at the beginning of July examples of this are to be seen.

Mixed PerennialsThe small entrance border that was a delight in spring is now taking a rest.

Perennial borderThe wild geraniums and Lysimachia that flower there now have arrived spontaneously. They are charming at the moment but in a couple of weeks time this border will have its mid season tidy-up. These weeds and the wild aster that grows here will be pulled out. Some of their roots will remain behind and make a welcome return next year, but these plants are not going to be allowed to take over this border.

Perennial border
The two borders in the middle of this garden are low and filled with drifts of bulbs in spring. In summer they become green and restful, building in height to a late summer crescendo when eventually drifts of yellow rudbeckias and large clumps of miscanthus start flowering.

Perennial borderSome replanting was needed to redefine the edges here and stop the area looking abandoned and wild. These changes were made a few weeks ago during a period of rainy weather. With such a dense mix of large and spreading perennials this part of the garden is very low in maintenance indeed.

Perennial borderIn early summer two long, narrow borders draw attention with the combination of the purple spikes of Veronicastrum sibiricum ‘Red Arrows’ and the flat umbells of Cenolophium denutatum. The veronicastrum will continue to contribute its seedheads to these borders for the rest of the year, but the umbell will start to form seed and create a seedling problem if I don’t intervene. Also by mid July these borders look over full and the rigorous cutting back of the umbells creates space for the grasses and heleniums which will come to dominate this area in a few weeks time.

Perennial borderMaintaining perennial meadows is as much about removing things as it is about putting plants together in compatible associations.

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Tulip Order

They are early this year, but Tulipa sprengeri are flowering in the garden and this marks the end of the tulip flowering season.

Tulipa sprengeri

Tulipa sprengeri

There is no better time to plan your bulb order than now whilst the memories of the past season’s bulb displays are fresh in your mind. In my earlier post I showed how well the red tulips had worked dotted amongst my masses of emerging perennials. Most of these red tulips were Darwinhybrid Group tulips which are amongst the most likely to return of the many  types that we can grow. In these borders I plan to add more of the reds as well as some glowing orange tulips to extend next year’s display.

Orange tulipsRepetition and large numbers of the same varieties and colours are the way to create the most impact with your tulips. Never buy less than thirty of anything; I mostly order a hundred of each variety and limit the selection to five or six varieties. Each when flowering will have a vivid impact  and, if well selected, their season will be long with early, mid-season as well as late varieties flowering in sequence.

Purple tulipsYou need not limit yourself to a single colour. The central area of my garden will be red and orange next year, but I have one border in which over the years I have played with different mixtures of violet, purple and lilac flowering cultivars. In another small border I use mainly pink varieties with just a few darker coloured cultivars such as mid-season flowering Tulip ‘Jan Reus’ and the later flowering Tulip ‘Queen of Night’ for touches of contrast.

Tulip 'Prins Willam-Alexander'Tulips look fantastic in pots, but these are best when used as focal points within the garden’s planting schemes. When they are dotted amongst other plants in wide drifts they have greater impact in a far less formal manner.

tulip gardenIf you are interested in getting the most out of tulips you should really try and get hold of a copy of my book – Gardening with Tulips by Michael King. The book is comprehensive in its coverage with an emphasis on planting design. History is summarised as a means of explaining the current assortment offered today. I cover twenty different groups of tulips each offering a specific set of features that allow us to carefully integrate them into planting schemes. The hundreds of species and cultivars illustrated and discussed in the book are only just the tip of what is available to adventurous gardeners.

Plan your tulip order this weekend and send it in as soon as the catalogues arrive.

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Shrubs with Perennials

Flowering ShrubsShrubs are at their most useful when they bring height and flower colour to those gardens dominated by perennials. This is the case in my own gardens in early summer.

Flowering ShrubsI try to select shrubs that will sit high and command the borders in which they grow.

Shrubs in early summerBy late summer those that once drew all the attention may vanish into the background  behind tall-growing, bulky perennials, but in spring and early summer they are indispensable.

Flowering ShrubsInspired by the dominant leaf colour of my neighbour’s purple leafed hazel I have also added to the garden a number of other shrubs with bold purple foliage.

Purple leaved shrubsThe two Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’  on the left will eventually rival the hazel tree in stature whilst the various forms of delicate maples add variety to this purple foliage theme in other areas of the garden.

Purple leaved shrubs

If you want to learn more about my ideas of how to combine shrubs and perennials please check out my eBook on Shrub Features which I put together a couple of years ago for gardeners interested in naturalistic planting.

 

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A small geranium to complement your planting schemes in a big way

Geranium tuberosumI have just discovered that it was back in 2012 when I last wrote about Geranium tuberosum. Inspired by what I have just seem in the garden, my plan was to write something similar now, but having reread my earlier effort, I have decided to save time and repost it below.

You may ask, “why all the fuss about a low-growing ephemeral perennial that only flowers for about three weeks and then shrivels up and disappears until the following year”? Well the point is that it flowers now, earlier than the others and before doing so has furnished the ground with a soft green blanket of foliage for many weeks. Geranium tuberosum is a good example of the plants I add to my planting schemes to bring interest at those times of the year when the leading theme plants are not at their flowering peaks; this is mainly in spring, early summer and/or autumn.

Geranium tuberosumThis week the little geranium is popping up everywhere amongst mounds of fast growing perennials filling the borders with the colour blue. Yes, I could have forget-me-nots, bluebells or brunner, which I do in other placed, but they all come with drawbacks; this geranium simply vanishes when its job has been done, leaving the area free for other plants to take over the space.

Geranium tuberosaFor those who missed it the first time here is the original post. And maybe some of the other plants that appear in the Top Perennials section of the web site will be of interest to you as well.

 

 

Geranium tuberosum

Geranium tuberosumOver time we all develop a list of plants that we know we can rely upon and which will grow well in various situations. Some designers end up using the same plants in every garden and proudly call them their signature plants!

The characteristics often stated for a top perennial are not the only ones to consider as it should be their usefullnes within a total design that counts. Top perennials are said to be those that look “good” before they come into flower, flower over a long season and then remain looking good when going to seed or even when dead. It is these features that characterise the plants I like to call theme plants.

Hopefully anyone following this blog for a while will have worked their way through the Meadows 101 section and know that theme plants alone cannot make a successful perennial planting scheme; we need complementaries to extend the scheme’s season of interest and to break up the monotony that can too easily develop in repetitive mixed perennial meadow schemes.

Geranium tuberosun does not qualify as a top perennial when considered using the standard criteria. It is low-growing and the flowering season is short; three weeks tops. And when Geranium tuberosum finishes flowering it dies back to remain dormant for the rest of the year. However, it is one of my top perennials as it flowers at just the right moment in my flower borders.

Geranium tuberosum with Euphorbia pallustris

Geranium tuberosum with Euphorbia pallustris and Thermopsis

The foliage of this humble perennial appears early in spring and can make an effective setting for spring bulbs if present in sufficient numbers. But what matters for me is that just as the last of the tulips fade and the early euphorbias come into flower, its lavender blue flowers pop up randomly in between its neighbours. In what I call the patio border this coincides with the flowering of Thermopsis, another valuable complementary plant that resembles a delicate lemon yellow lupin. The geranium’s flowers contrast with the yellows surrounding it and it is a perfect match for the cascade of Wisteria ‘Caroline’ hanging overhead.

Wisteria 'Caroline'

Wisteria ‘Caroline’

If Geranium tuberosum flowered in summer it would not be worth bothering with, but for late spring it is definitely one of my top perennials – and, yes, I would probably go on to call it one of my signature plants.

If you found this interesting, you might also appreciate what I wrote about so-called ephemeral perennials here.

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Community Planting

Mixed PerennialsHere is the small border at the entrance to my trial gardens in Amsterdam. It has been the same for more than ten years and requires less than an hours maintenance per year.

Plants live together in communities sharing the same space and resources. Over time conditions change and when this happens, it will favour one of them more than the others. The community adapts and maybe one species becomes more evident than others, but together they coexist, each finding a niche within the total community by taking advantage of a specific aspect of the available resources and thereby maintaining their position within it.

Mixed PerennialsWhen designing a so-called naturalistic planting scheme, our aim is to create a community of plants in which the balance between its different components is retained over time. Over time maybe one species will grow strong at the expense of its neighbours and, as designers, we will realise that our original mixture of plants was not so perfectly balanced as we had hoped. We have just two choices here: either we replant the weaker species each year to maintain the visualised design, or we accept the adapting mix of species and follow its progress for as long as it still fulfils our general design objectives.

Mixed PerennialsMy entrance border has been used over the years for trialling many plants. I also added some trees and large growing shrubs which over time have dramatically altered the available growing conditions there. Today this border has reached a sort of equilibrium in which what grows there can grow there as long as I, as the gardener, take certain steps each year to maintain the look I find acceptable.

Mixed PerennialsIn this specific case a mix of tough ground-covering perennials and bulbs have found their niche in the dry soil amongst the roots of the shrubs and trees, but there is one exception. A wild aster had seeded itself into this border many years ago. In flower this aster is tall and airily attractive, but it is an aggressive spreader, both by seed and root. In a fertile garden border such a plant would become an intolerable weed, but here it must fight for its existence. Inevitably though it is stronger growing than its neighbours and this is where I as the gardener come in. In mid summer I walk through the border and remove by pulling most of its stems, leaving just a few at the rear of the border to flower. Again in early winter I give this border its annual tidy-up and rigorously pull up every one of the aster’s stems; what remains are the roots which facilitate its reappearance the following spring.

Naturalistic garden borders are not wild plant communities, but rather artificially conceived evocations of nature. As designers and then gardeners the ways we manage them will determine their aesthetic appeal. In the case of my entrance border, were I to allow the aster its freedom it would come to dominate the ground layer at the expense of its more attractive neighbours.

Mixed PerennialsUnderstanding how plant communities adapt and evolve over time is crucial to establishing successful naturalistic planting schemes including both mixtures of perennials and also trees and shrubs.

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