Perennials are the stars of the show

In this little garden herbaceous plants are the stars of the show. These are the soft-stemmed perennials that die back every fall, hang out underground all winter, then, come June, come trumpeting to glory.

Let’s make a list: bleeding heart, delphinium, lilies (any of the bulbs), columbine, thalictrum (meadow rue), meconopsis (blue poppy), verbascum, alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle), lysimachia, peony, iris, astrantia, doronicum, geranium, foxglove, primrose, dianthus, for-get-me-nots, oh my goodness — the list goes on and on but I think you get the idea. Once the snow and ice have melted away all we gardeners see are lumps of where these stalwarts are lying still dormant. We hustle out there each and every morning to check if there is any sign of life. One’s patience is tried. The wait is almost intolerable. Then BAM here comes everything almost at once, because this is the sub-Arctic. This is latitude 59 degrees north. This is ruthless country.

I think the bleeding heart impresses me the most. Mine are on the north side of the house under the eaves. I try to water them thoroughly late fall, enough to see them through the winter. When we shovel snow we throw it on top of them, providing insulation and moisture. But, really, it isn’t the most friendly of locations. Then spring attempts to be spring. Attempts to bring forth our sleeping beauties. But it seems an impossible task. So cold, so dry, so much wind. Good thing plants don’t think otherwise they would stay put and wait for a lovely day that may not come. We gardeners would be robbed of their loveliness, of their exuberance. Our lives would be short-changed.

No. These plants soldier on. They make an appearance, sometimes sooner rather than later — this has been one of those “later” years. These herbaceous plants don’t need much coddling, not like shrubs. For instance the azaleas that are tucked into the East Garden, the house offering protection from the west wind. Do these thrive? No. Do they hang in there and offer blooms early on? Sometimes. This year they have yet to put on their show, the potential is there but if they don’t get with it they will be overpowered by everything that has been planted around them to, more or less, hide them when they are finished blooming. Hopefully we’ll catch a glimpse of them in full bloom. So much for finicky shrubs.

Even the lilacs can be moody. Last year Miss Kim, the small Korean lilac decided not to bloom. But when she does bloom there is such a mass of panicles you wouldn’t know there were any leaves involved. Actually, it looks like we will be having a spectacular lilac year. Keep your eyes open, they are everywhere and this is a year that we will be in for a treat. On a good lilac year I want to thank everyone who ever planted one of these. Some of these shrubs are 50 years old and more. Think about that.

This is the time of year that friends think of friends. Molly knows I covet her astrantia so, here she comes with four delightful seedlings from her garden. I didn’t know these plants will self-sow. Really, I don’t know much about them at all except I saw them in her garden and knew I needed them in mine. I can hardly wait to have dozens of them scattered here and there. Which is what this garden is all about – here and there.

Have you staked anything that has the potential to fall over? It may be too late to make a tidy job of it, but get it done. I have yet to figure out how to keep columbine from falling over. Let me know if you have a solution.

How does your greenhouse look? Those tomatoes setting fruit? Just give them a shake to fertilize the blooms. Really, just shake the plant. You want tomatoes? Shake. Keep your electric toothbrush in your mouth.

Start your garden parties. Keep them spontaneous, short and sweet. I have been offered advice to keep my mouth shut so my guests’ eyes don’t glaze over. Just let them enjoy the scene.

* * *

Am I the only one who has noticed an uptick in the airplane traffic? On Saturday afternoon there was so much action overhead that I couldn’t hear the robins. All kinds of planes at all different altitudes, different speeds, and helicopters zippity-do-dahing along. Who’s in charge of the choreography, if there is any? Do pilots aviate along with their fingers crossed? The din was significant.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener and has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.