Never forget: Your garden is to use, enjoy

It’s the best: three “grands” old enough to entrust with scissors and willing to go forth and cut slugs in half. This is akin to a dream come true. 

Our daughter and her two daughters were visiting for the last two weeks. That made a total of five “grands.” The squealing and laughter rocked our little house. I wish I could can the sound. Open it in February when all is quiet, too quiet. But, for two weeks every summer, the garden fulfills its purpose — it gets used. The tent is set up among the lilacs.  Little folding chairs clutter the deck. The sand box is in heavy use. Green strawberries are picked and delighted in. The two little visitors remember the peas and cucumbers from last year. They came earlier in the season this year and they wondered where the familiar had gone. Not yet, patience. 

I like to refer to the pictures from previous years to see what was blooming. Usually the lilacs are in full swing but this year they are over. Fortunately the dwarf Korean lilacs, all four of them, are in full bloom and smell delicious. The mock orange is starting to put on its show, which is impressive indeed. All of this seems like about two and half to three weeks early. 

The next garden chore is to start deadheading (cut off the spent blooms). I have Hesperis matronalis (sweet rocket) that I started from seed this spring. I used to have a good stand of it but it eventually died out and I’ve missed it. It’s tall, about three feet, and has lovely purple blooms with good fragrance. 

But after it has bloomed it gets weedy and rangy and downright ugly. After much hemming and hawing, I cut it down. Always, every single year — and I have been gardening here in Homer for what seems like a very long time — I am loathe to cut down spent plants. But when I do I give the next wave of gorgeousness a chance to shine. 

In this case, here come the lilies. 

I have Asiatics that have proven hardy and beautiful. Can’t beat that combination. They multiply into larger clumps that are a breeze to divide. These lovelies are easy to give away by the handful. Plant them in the fall, placing them among your other perennials. They also come in lots of colors so there is something out there for you. 

The pansies have been getting deadheaded almost before they were planted into their permanent homes. If you let them go to seed you won’t be getting blooms when you need them. Pansies are annuals and their sole purpose is to seed themselves all over the place so they can carry on next year. The main plant dies and there will be oodles of seedlings. That is, IF we have a favorable winter. So many “ifs” in gardening. 

Not so with perennials. These are the backbone of your garden. They will reappear each season and grace your beds for years to come. They need the occasional dividing, which is not to be feared. 

Let’s look at delphiniums as a prime example of a perennial that no one should be without. I do have the Pacific giants that require staking and that’s all fine and good but staking is yet another chore. So this spring I started some that don’t get as huge, thus don’t require staking. I’m really looking forward to witnessing what they can do for themselves. Wish us luck. 

Back to the Pacific giants, they are preparing to bloom. This season they are not blooming all at once. I have no idea why not. They are a spectacular show and I suppose I can appreciate them piecemeal, but the point is to have a mass of them blooming their hearts out. Anyway — they dry successfully. Cut the stems before the buds are all open and hang upside down. Lovely. 

Have you noticed the columbine this year? It seems like every year there is one or two plants that have a bonus year and this is the year of the columbine. The clumps are huge, sturdy and colorful. I’m grateful. They are tucked in with the peonies and the combination really appeals to me. 

Which brings me to peonies. They are just starting to bloom and, of course, after months of no rain, here comes the rain and peony blooms truly hate rain. Unlike the army of peony farmers, I grow mine for the blooms, not the buds. I grow them because they remind me of my grandmother; for their over-the-top lushness; for their fragrance; for their reliability; for the sheer joy of it. 

What about biennials? Well, supposedly these are the plants that last two seasons and die out. They will leave seed here and there to carry on so you need to keep an eye out what is going on with them. I had two huge clumps of Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) that were not the color I thought they were going to be (quite garish) but I let them go and behold — they are now everywhere. Fortunately none of them will bloom until next year which give me time to pull them out. Goodness. 

Foxglove is another biennial. “Foxy” is the one for us. It will bloom the first year and if it makes it through the winter it will be send up multiple spikes of blooms and be truly stunning. Then it’s done. 

But if the winter is mild the seeds that are left behind will flourish and by the following season you will, once again, have a lovely stand of foxgloves. The trick here is to start new seedlings every year for your biennials, setting out new seedlings each spring. This will ensure a population of your chosen biennial. Good luck.