I regularly admire gardens chock full of perennials, and occasionally wonder if I could possibly duplicate these fabulous results. No, not a chance.
First, this garden is dominated by trees, and now so much of it is too shaded to hope to grow many perennials. Yes, there are hostas and irises, assorted coral bells, daylilies, and dozens of odds and ends, but at first glance a view from any point reveals dozens of trees to erase any doubt that this could possibly be considered a perennial garden.
Besides my preference for trees, it is out of the question that I could put in the effort to properly prepare the soil for best results. This requires digging, and probably loads of compost, and weeding to minimize competition for perennials to perform at their best. And, the perennial garden is likely to require regular irrigation. Plants that thrive in this garden are mostly ones that could survive if left on the asphalt driveway without care through the heat of July.
Instead, a visitor is likely to consider this a garden of trees, under planted with shrubs and evergreens, and with a sprinkling of perennials to fill the empty spaces between. In these gaps amidst Japanese maples, dogwoods, redbuds, fringetrees, and so on are an assortment of shrubs, with massive panicled hydrangeas, lilacs, and viburnums, as well as more petite spireas, deutzias, and sweetbox. Many shrubs offer the advantage of occupying wide spaces, and being simple to grow, so that there is a minimum of maintenance for a lone gardener who was never very energetic to begin with, and now is growing older by the minute and could be easily overwhelmed.
With varying degrees of shade from one year to the next as trees grow, and as others are lost to winter storms and summer squalls, the garden changes, sometimes for the better, and at other times for the worse. After this past horrid winter, my first inclination is that there is no doubt that the turn has been to the poorer, but each day as I stroll through the garden there are surprises that soften this hard edge.
Where wide spreading trees have vanished there is more sun, not that the spaces are now sunny, but deciduous azaleas display their approval with more abundant and vibrant blooms. Even hostas appear more robust with a bit more sunlight, and a few Japanese maples that were easing disapprovingly into shade are growing with more density, and with improved foliage color.
Massive paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha) were injured severely by the winter, and now have been cut from ten or twelve feet wide to only three. For a few years, pruning was on the agenda (but never accomplished) as the paperbushes began to overwhelm neighbors, but this spring the dead stems required drastic action. Growth is now sprouting from the base, and even towards the tips of some of the severely pruned branches, but the reduction in size has left wide open spaces. Some gaps are filling as once crowded neighbors now have room to grow, and a few perennials have been plugged in as temporary fillers until the paperbushes get going again.
The thick leaves of the paperbushes cast oppressive shade over spireas and tall asters that are now beginning to rebound, and for a few years these will thrive with more space. But, I’ll be overjoyed when the paperbushes regain a substantial measure of their former width, and if the perennials must be transplanted (or left in place to fade and die), I’ll do so without complaint.