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I started this garden many years ago in an attempt to beautify a spot once overrun with old shrubs and weedy growth. Mainly unattended for a few decades this area was in need of a complete makeover. It started out as a potager with high hopes of growing wonderful things, but was too dimly lit for such expectations, now it is pure flowers and a place of wonder.

I once heard that a garden takes twelve years to feel like it has become. Plants grow, they die and with many changes that has gone on here that is probably true. After eight years transforming this area the garden is starting to show its maturity.

One thing that has eluded me in the art of the perennial garden is the sense of architectural design. Not so much the use of structures but the architecture of herbaceous plants that add texture and depth of character to a garden. If you view the garden in terms of black and white you will see how this design concept makes sense. Take photos of your garden and put them into black and white. When you take out the color distractions you will see the bones of the garden.

A whole world of plant possibilities and combinations are better understood this way. Hostas and astilbes are a great example, each with their own unique forms and foliage textures.  With digitalis blooming in the mix a black and white photo would look stunning. Flowers are important as they are beautiful, but the foliage of herbaceous perennials and shrubs are the workhorses of a garden.

The end of May is when the garden shows off the glories of spring. Blooming abundantly are the alliums and tree peonies. Such an explosion of bloom, the garden is transformed literally overnight and for a short week the blooms will have vanished as fast as they have appeared.

Here are the views of the garden at this time of year. Some of the shots were taken at dusk when the colors of the garden are richer and a bit mysterious.


In anticipation of bloom, allium ‘purple sensation.’

Horticultural ufos.

The Korean Lilacs are about ready to join in.

Golden Bleeding Hearts


Tree peony blooms. A color choice that was unexpected, but still beautiful.

Tree peony in full bloom.

Vines quickly overtaking the stonework with amazing vigor.

This garden was designed to have two large flower shows, one in the spring and later in the fall. Ever see gardens so full of flower power that it really is a wondrous sight, and then spends the rest of the summer devoid of excitement? It does take a large garden to have masses of blooms going off like clockwork for the entire season, annuals help, but I prefer perennials because next year the garden will be filled with even more flowers. Decide on the times you are most likely to enjoy your garden and plan accordingly. I like to be out in the garden in the spring and in the fall, just as the garden is flourishing.

Peonies are undemanding, asking little in return. Planted in the right spot will ensure a lifetime of enjoyment. As peonies mature, more and more flower buds appear.  With the relatively short bloom period let’s make the most of it. The topic for today is enhancing the size of the blooms with a quick prune.


The photo above shows the secondary buds that can be removed just below the main bud. 

The buds of herbaceous peonies will form almost immediately once the plant has filled out. Then there is an incubation period as the buds develops. The moment the flower stalk starts to elongate, remove the side buds. You can see this happen, by keeping an eye on the flower stalk tips. The buds are tightly together, as they elongate, you see the stalk expand and the buds are easily accessible. This elongation starts later in the spring when any danger of hard frost passes and safe to remove the side buds. Removal of side buds directs more energy into the main flower for a larger show that is sure to impress.


This photo shows the flower bud cluster before elongation.

Sorry to disappoint, I have no pictures of the blooms last year, but just be patient and I will post this year’s big and beautiful blooms once the show starts.

Remember to feed your peonies with bone meal after bloom. This is the time herbaceous peonies make new eyes for next year’s flowers.

Here is what is going on in the garden to date.  A cooler spring does signal more blossoms, but a longer wait is expected. Make frequent outings to your garden to enjoy the flush of spring growth.

I do enjoy bleeding hearts for their old fashion qualities and heart shaped flowers. These in the garden are the standard variety; I may plant some of the newer types with golden hues and paler flowers.

We can all over do it with hostas. They are such an easy plant to use as an edging in the garden and are usually indestructible. Since hostas come in an array of shapes, sizes and green to yellow shade combinations there is a lot of interest a garden can have if filled with one type of plant. The shade garden is mostly filled with hostas, so each year I experiment with different ones. Since the ‘standard’ hostas originally planted many years ago on the property were so massively planted, I use them to frame the beds. It gives a nice finish to the garden.

Larger strains of alliums produce very attractive foliage with graceful curves.

Each year’s flush of allium blossoms is a grand delight in the perennial garden. I do have some concern for them this year. Smaller buds may signal that they need dividing as I mentioned in the past.

The peonies are doing well, the two types of peonies that are planted here bloom at different times. An early blooming type paeonia officinalis ‘Rosea Plenta’ will produce sumptuously full and richly colored, double rose-pink flowers.  A late spring bloomer paeonia lactiflora ‘Lady Alexander Duff’ will display large showy flowers that are gorgeous.  If you want larger blooms snip off the side buds just under the main bud. They are there in case a sudden spring frost takes out the main flower bud, so wait until signs of a hard frost has past.

Ferns show their best qualities when they unfurl.


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