Tag Archive: perennials

low maintenance flower bedDo avoid disturbing the soil unless necessary. Each disturbance produces a new batch of weed seedlings.

Do keep weeds under control by removing weed seedlings and topping up the mulch before the garden springs to life each year.

Do choose plants which are self-supporting, particularly if your garden is exposed.

Don’t choose short-lived plants that need replacing every few years. Avoid using annuals.

Don’t over feed- otherwise plants will become vulnerable to damage.

Don’t plant self-seeders near gravel paths or loose-laid paving.

Source: ‘Short cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

Old School Gardener

perennial borderPlanting-

Grow trouble-free and long lived shrubs and perennials instead of annual spring and summer bedding that needs replacing every year. All new plants must be planted carefully into well- prepared soil, so that they establish quickly and are able to resist attacks from pests and diseases.

Further information:

Top 10 all weather perennial plants

Tips for designing perennial beds and borders

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’ (Reader’s Digest 1999)

Old School Gardener


close up of Xerochrysum bracteatumAs you might guess there aren’t that many plants beginning with ‘X’, but Xerochrysum is an interesting genus of around 6 or 7 species of short- lived perennials and annuals which are native to open grassland and scrub in Australia.

The stemless lance – like leaves are hairy. The flowers are dasiy like with papery white, yellow or pink bracts and a central disc of, often, yellow florets. The perennials can be used to fill in gaps in herbaceous borders and low – growing cultivars are suitable as edging or for containers.

The name Xerochrysum comes from Greek xeros meaning “dry” and chrysos meaning “gold” (this refers to the common yellow papery bracts that occur within the genus).

X. bracteatum is often grown for its cut and dried flowers and it self seeds freely. Also known as the “Golden Everlasting”, this is one of the best known of the “paper daisies” as it is a very widespread species occurring in both annual and perennial forms. It varies in habit from prostrate to a shrubby plant of about 1m in height. The leaves are usually large (up to 100mm long) and green to grey-green in colour. The individual flowers are very small but are formed into a large cluster surrounded by large papery bracts. The overall appearance is that of a large, single “flower” with the bracts as the “petals”. However, well over a hundred true flowers occur inside the ring of bracts.

The ‘golden everlasting’ has been cultivated for many years and a number of forms have been selected for cultivation. These include several which have resulted from both chance and deliberate hybridisation. Some examples are:

  • “Diamond Head” – perennial; green foliage, 0.2m x 0.5m. Yellow flowers

  • “Dargan Hill Monarch” – perennial; grey leaves, 0.8m x 1m. Yellow flowers

  • “Cockatoo” – perennial; similar to “Dargan Hill Monarch”, pale yellow bracts around a head of small orange flowers

  • “Princess of Wales” – perennial; similar to “Dargan Hill Monarch” but more compact (0.6m x 0.6m). Yellow flowers

  • “Kimberley Sunset” – perennial; grey leaves, 0.8m x 1m. Pink flowers

In addition, breeding work in Europe and Australia has produced annual forms with an outstanding range of colours – yellow, red, purple, orange. These are excellent for a massed, colourful display. Most forms are suited to cultivation in many areas. The annual forms can be purchased in packets from a number of commercial suppliers and established as instructed on the packs.

Perennial forms are usually quick growing in a sunny, well drained position. They benefit from a regular light pruning annually to encourage branching and a greater number of flowers. Severe pruning to overcome “legginess” may be successful but only as a last resort.

Golden everlasting responds well to annual fertilising, usually with a slow-release type and appreciates an assured water supply. The plants vary in their ability to withstand frost but most are at least moderately frost resistant.

Propagation of X.bracteatum from seed is easy; no pretreatment is required. Propagation from cuttings is also fairly easy and is the only way that named cultivars should be propagated.

Xerochrysum is half hardy to frost hardy and should be grown in moderately fertile, moist but well-drained soil in full sun. Those cultivars which reach 90 cms or more need staking. They can be propagated from seed in the spring. they might susceptible to downy mildew.

These very popular plants bring long-lasting colour and warmth into the garden. There are many cultivars available in nurseries with flowers varying from white through cream, lemon, canary yellow, gold and bronze. Many of the pink varieties are the result of plant breeding, most probably using South African species as this colour is very uncommon in Australian plants.

They will keep producing flowers particularly if spent flowers are continually removed. Butterflies and other insects love them and will flock to your garden adding another layer of interest. They are also excellent as dried flowers keeping their shape and colour well for years – just hang a bunch up-side-down in a dark airy place and let them dry for a few weeks.

Sources and further information:

Australian Native Plants Society


Growing Xerochrysum bracteatum-RHS

Old School Gardener

bare_root_bundlesAs we roll on towards Christmas, you might be lucky to receive a present of some bare rooted shrubs like George Wellbeloved from the Scottish highlands:

‘I’ve been given a birthday present of some shrubs but the ground is frozen in the garden and I’m not sure what to do with them. Can you advise me?’

A belated Happy Birthday George, what a great idea for a present! Most shrubs and climbers, and especially deciduous ones sent out by mail order, are despatched with bare roots, not in containers. If they dry out they will die, so when they arrive, and there is not soil at all on the roots, stand them in a bucket fo water for a day or two in a cool, frost-free place until the soil is in a fit sate to plant them. Alternatively, store them for longer periods with their roots in damp compost – this can be ‘spent’ (old) rather than new if you have some (from emptying out summer flowering hanging baskets or other containers, for example).

If the plants arrive with some soil, on the roots, probably wrapped in netting, these are best watered carefully with a can fitted with a fine rose and then stored in moist compost. As soon as possible after arrival, dig  a trench in a vacant bed of soil, lay in their roots, and replace the earth. ‘Healed in’ like this the shrubs will stay in good condition for many weeks until the planting site is frost-free, fully prepared and in good condition.

When planting shrubs there are two schools of thought. The traditional method is to mix a good supply of well-rotted manure with loosened soil from the bottom of the planting hole, but if you can’t get hold of this, try using your own compost, or spent growing bags (you might be able to get hold of these from commercial tomato growers). Spent mushroom compost is also a possibility, as it usually contains some manure, but as it also contains chalk it should not be used for lime hating plants. Lastly, you can use shop-bought composts or bulky organic materials, though the latter can be pricey. Add a few handfuls of bone meal to the material you use to encourage root development.

The alternative method is to raise the fertility level of the soil around the planting site so that the plant’s roots are encouraged to spread out and so lead to more vigourous growth as the roots are encouraged to seek out nutrients more than if all the goodness is concentrated in the planting hole. Of course for ‘belt and braces’ job you can do both, or use your judgement about whether and how much  fertility needs to be added to the site of the planting. Increasing fertility in the space surrounding the planting hole may be impractical where there are already plants in this area or where you’re planting into a lawn. Here’s a useful guide to planting bare rooted trees.

You can also consider adding Mycorrhizal fungi in the planting hole. These are now widely available in Garden Centres and online. As the RHS says:

‘Mycorrhizas are beneficial fungi growing in association with plant roots, and exist by taking sugars from plants ‘in exchange’ for moisture and nutrients gathered from the soil by the fungal strands. The mycorrhizas greatly increase the absorptive area of a plant, acting as extensions to the root system.

Phosphorus is often in very short supply in natural soils. When phosphorus is present in insoluble forms it would require a vast root system for a plant to meet its phosphorus requirements unaided. It is therefore thought that mycorrhizas are crucial in gathering this element in uncultivated soils. Phosphorus-rich fertilisers are widely used in cultivated ground and not only reduce the need for this activity but are thought to actually suppress the mycorrhizas. For this reason it is best not to use phosphorous rich fertilisers in conjunction with mycorrhizal fungi.

Neither fungi nor plants could survive in many uncultivated situations without this mutually beneficial arrangement. Mycorrhizas also seem to confer protection against root diseases.’

Root tips showing mycorrhizal fungi (the white coating)
Root tips showing mycorrhizal fungi (the white coating)

Further information:

A Guide to planting bare root trees, shrubs and perennials- Toby Buckland

Mycorrhiza- Wikipedia

Old School Gardener

450px-Tulip_-_floriade_canberraTulipa (Tulips) is a genus of some 100 species of hardy, bulbous perennials from Europe, asia and the middle east- especially Central Asia. They prefer sun but will take light shade, and must have a well-drained soil, though seem to prefer heavier soils than lighter ones. Tulips are grown for their showy flowers, which are usually at the end of a stem and upright, with six tepals. They vary from cup- or bowl-shaped to goblet-shaped, some with long, very narrow tepals, or lily-like or star-shaped- some are fringed.

There is a wide range of colours and bi colours. Depending on the species, tulip plants can grow as short as 4 inches (10 cm) or as high as 28 inches (71 cm). The leaves are usually grown from the base of the main stems, are broadly ovate in shape and sometimes are wavy-edged or channelled.

Tulips can be planted in groups among other plants in a border, in pots or ‘naturalised’ in grass. They tend to be later flowering than Narcissus and crocus so growing these together can produce a flowering display lasting up to three or four months.

The bulbs should be planted 15cm deep in the autumn. Cultivars benefit from being lifted and ripened every year once the leaves have died down. Most of the Darwin hybrids (such as ‘Apeldoorn’), the Greigii and Kaufmanniana groups  and the species tulips can be left in the ground for a number of years; mark the position to avoid damaging the bulbs with other planting. The size of flowers will diminish over time and they will also benefit from being lifted and divided every few years – this should be done as soon as the foliage dies down.

Mice love tulip bulbs, so store lifted bulbs out of reach and protect newly planted bulbs from disturbance. Some people have an allergic reaction  to any part of the plant which may cause skin irritation, and all parts can be mildly poisonous if eaten (though the flower petals can apparently be eaten – see link below).

Although tulips are often associated with the Netherlands, commercial cultivation of the flower began in early Persia probably somewhere in the 10th century. Early cultivars must have emerged from hybridisation in gardens from wild collected plants, which were then favoured, possibly due to flower size or growth vigour. During the Ottoman Empire, numerous tulips were cultivated and bred. 

Bulbs fields in Holland
Bulbs fields in Holland

The word tulip, which earlier appeared in English in forms such as tulipa or tulipant, entered the language by way of the French tulipe and its obsolete form tulipan or by way of Modern Latin. The word derives from the Persian word for ‘turban’ chosen because of a perceived resemblance of the shape of a tulip flower to that of a turban This may have been due to a translation error in early times, when it was fashion in the Ottoman Empire to wear tulips on their turbans. The translator possibly confused the flower for the turban.

Between 1634 and 1637, the early enthusiasm for the new flowers in the Netherlands triggered a speculative frenzy now known as Tulip Mania. Tulips became so expensive that they were treated as a form of currency.  To this day, tulips are associated with the Netherlands, and the cultivated forms of the tulip are often called “Dutch tulips.” In addition to the tulip industry and tulip festivals, the Netherlands has the world’s largest permanent display of tulips at Keukenhof, although the display is only open to the public seasonally.

In horticulture, tulips are divided up into fifteen groups (Divisions) mostly based on flower characteristics and plant size.

  • Div. 1: Single early with cup-shaped single flowers, no larger than 8 cm across (3 inches). They bloom early to mid season. Growing 15 to 45 cm tall.

  • Div. 2: Double early with fully double flowers, bowl-shaped to 8 cm across. Plants typically grow from 30–40 cm tall.

  • Div. 3: Triumph single, cup-shaped flowers up to 6 cm wide. Plants grow 35–60 cm tall and bloom mid to late season.

  • Div. 4: Darwin hybrid single flowers are ovoid in shape and up to 8 cm wide. Plants grow 50–70 cm tall and bloom mid to late season. This group should not be confused with older Darwin tulips, which belong in the Single Late Group below.

  • Div. 5: Single late cup or goblet-shaded flowers up to 8 cm wide, some plants produce multi-flowering stems. Plants grow 45–75 cm tall and bloom late season.

  • Div. 6: Lily-flowered the flowers possess a distinct narrow ‘waist’ with pointed and reflexed petals. Previously included with the old Darwins, only becoming a group in their own right in 1958.

  • Div. 7: Fringed (Crispa)

  • Div. 8: Viridiflora

  • Div. 9: Rembrandt

  • Div. 10: Parrot

  • Div. 11: Double late Large, heavy blooms. They range from 18 to 22 in. tall

  • Div. 12: Kaufmanniana Waterlily tulip. Medium-large creamy yellow flowers marked red on the outside and yellow at the center. Stems 6 in. tall.

  • Div. 13: Fosteriana (Emperor)

  • Div. 14: Greigii Scarlet flowers 6 in. across, on 10 in. stems. Foliage mottled with brown.

  • Div. 15: Species (Botanical)

  • Div. 16: Multiflowering not an official division, these tulips belong in the first 15 divisions but are often listed separately because they have multiple blooms per bulb.

They may also be classified by their flowering season:

  • Early flowering: Single Early Tulips, Double Early Tulips, Greigii Tulips, Kaufmanniana Tulips, Fosteriana Tulips, Species Tulips

  • Mid-season flowering: Darwin Hybrid Tulips, Triumph Tulips, Parrot Tulips

  • Late season flowering: Single Late Tulips, Double Late Tulips, Viridiflora Tulips, Lily-flowering Tulips, Fringed Tulips, Rembrandt Tulips

I mentioned my visit to the Amsterdam Flower Market recenrtly and here’s the 70 tulips I have for adding to the many groups that I already have in borders and pots at Old School Garden.

Tulips from Amsterdam...
Tulips from Amsterdam…

Sources and further information:


Growing Tulips- RHS

How to grow Tulips- Bunny Guinness

Tulips and Holland

Tulip Mania

Eating Tulip flowers

Related articles:

It’s Time to Talk Tulipsage

PicPost: Tulip Mania

Tip Toe Through the Tulips

Tulip mania and Bitcoin

Bloemen Marvellous

November in the Garden: 10 Top Tips

A-Z of Perennials: Q is for Quamash

GQT: Grow-bag Bulbs

Pleasing Planters

May in the Garden- Top 10 Tips

Plants to die for…

Old School Gardener

Camassia quamash via Charles S. Peterson

Camassia quamash via Charles S. Peterson

Quamash, the common name for Camassia, is a genus of 5 or 6 species of bulbous perennials native to damp, fertile meadowland in north America. They have large, ovoid bulbs which give rise to narrow, erect, linear leaves at the base. The flowers form in racemes on the top of the otherwise bare stems. These are showy flowers, star or cup shaped in blues, purples and white, appearing in mid- late spring.

Camassia leichtlinii via Gentry George

Camassia leichtlinii via Gentry George

 The bulbs of the species Camassia quamash were once an important food source for native American indians.

Camassias are great in borders or wildflower meadows and make good cut flowers. They are fully hardy to frost hardy and should be planted in the autumn about 10cm deep in moist but well drained soil in sun or partial shade. The soil should not be allowed to become waterlogged. They should be mulched over winter in areas with persistent frosts.

New plants can be grown from seed, which should be sown in containers in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Offsets can be removed in summer when the plants are dormant. There are no major pests or diseases affecting Camassia.


To get the best from Camassia flowers plant them against a background that will allow the pale flowers to stand out:  e.g. Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ – a good foil because the leaves are purple, splashed pink and white; Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ – blood-red young leaves; and Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom).

In borders, Camassias associate well, in light shade, with forget-me-nots, Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding hearts), Lunaria rediviva, Leucojum aestivum (spring snowflake) and Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon’s seal), and in sun with early-flowering Geraniums and Aquilegia. If naturalised in a meadow, they look good with buttercups, cowslips and the late-flowering pheasant’s eye (Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus).

I have some purple flowered Camassias here in Old School Garden, planted in a mixed border and close by to an orange Tulip ‘Ballerina’ which flowers at about the same time – the colour combination works really well.

Camassias growing in the wild via Oregon State University

Camassias growing in the wild via Oregon State University

Sources and further information:


How to grow Camassias

Camssia leichtlinii – RHS

Old School Gardener

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Leucanthemum x superbum 'Becky'

Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’

Other wise known as ‘Shasta Daisies’ Leucanthemum is a genus of around 70 flowering plants (annuals and perennials) from the sunflower family (Asteraceae).

It occurs naturally in Europe, Northern Africa and the temperate regions of Asia. Many species have been introduced into America, Australia and New Zealand. It was previously classified as a chrysanthemum and the most important group of perennial Leucanthemum- the group x superbum is still known by some as Chrysanthemum maximum. They were split from the genus Chrysanthemum, because they are not aromatic and their leaves lack grayish-white hairs. L. vulgare is the ‘Ox Eye Daisy’.

The superbum group (the Shasta Daisy proper) consists of robust, easy going plants which grow well in sun or half shade in any good soil – but in heavy clay they have a reputation for not surviving. Growing to a height of between 0.5 and 1 metre tall, they are lax plants and so some form of support is usually required. Gardener Richard Barrett says,

‘If you find they grow too tall in your border and require too much staking, then dig them up each winter and replant them insitu. This has the side effect of keeping the foliage and flowers to a compact size, this method works well for other robust herbaceous plants.’

They reappear every spring with fresh dark green leaves before flowering with the typical daisy configuration of long elegant petals around a yellow eye. Their foliage is handsome, but can be attacked by slugs as the planst break ground kin spring – this tends to result in no regrowth, so protection is important.

Making a great display in your borders from June to September during which time it is good at attracting butterflies and bees, flowers are solitary and can be either single or double, and with simple petals or frilly, feather-like structures. Flowers of Leucanthemum are excellent for cutting and are favoured by flower arrangers.

L. 'Sonnenschein'

L. ‘Sonnenschein’

L. 'Goldrush'

L. ‘Goldrush’

Although other species in the genus have yellow flowers, the flowers of these hybrids had been exclusively white with yellow discs (tending to be paler in double-flowered types). However, the cultivar ‘Sonnenschein’ has yellow buds that open to cream flowers and there are other yellow cultivars available. New varieties include several with more petals to give a ruffled effect and a striking golden yellow version. Most will re-bloom happily if cut back after flowering. Leucanthemum combine well with Phlox in August. White flowered varieties make an excellent contrast to the blue of Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’ whilst the strong yellows are great to accompany Gaillardia aristata ‘Goblin’.

Leucanthemum x superbum 'Snowcap'

Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Snowcap’

Old School Gardener

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Dicentra Dicentra is a genus of about 20 annuals and perennials (of which about 8 are perennial) and many cultivars. They are native to both Asia and North America (though possibly an ‘honorary native’ in the latter, dating from colonial times), mainly in woodland habitats.

Their roots vary between rhizomes,tubers or fleshy tap roots. All varieties are reliably hardy. Most are deciduous but some are evergreen and have fern-like, divided foliage, some of a silver – grey colour.

Flowers – which come in shades of red,pink and white – hang as pendents on racemes or panicles and are very distinctive – two outer petals are pouched, giving a heart-shaped outline with the two inner petals forming a hood over the anthers. Not surprisingly this arrangement has led to many descriptive common names such as:

  • Bleeding heart (most usually used for D. spectabilis)
  • Showy bleeding heart
  • Dutchman’s breeches
  • Chinaman’s breeches
  • Locks and keys
  • Lyre flower
  • Seal flower
  • Old-fashioned bleeding heart

Flowering time is late spring into early summer. The flowers and foliage are useful in flower arrangements, the flowers lasting well in water.

Dicentra canadensis (Squirrel Corn)

Dicentra canadensis (Squirrel Corn)

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's breeches)

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s breeches)

Dicentra formosa oregona 'PEARL DROPS'

Dicentra formosa oregona ‘Pearl Drops’

Dicentra formosa pink

Dicentra formosa

Dicentra formosa

Dicentra formosa – close up of flowers

Dicentra peregrina (Komakusa)

Dicentra peregrina ‘Komakusa’

Dicentra spectablis

Dicentra spectablis

Most of the perennial Dicentra make good border plants, though a couple are rather invasive (spectabilis and formosa) and are best used in a woodland garden, where seedlings or spreading rhizomes can be allowed to expand or be easily removed. D. spectabilis is not long-lived. All Dicentra are low in allergens, but all parts of the plant are poisonous and a skin irritant.

Most varieties prefer growing in half shade in moist fertile soil – but they are drought tolerant so can be useful in drier shaded positions.

Most varieties grow to between 25cm and 45cm tall, though D. spectabilis is taller and the white form (‘Alba’) and ‘Gold Heart’ (with striking yellow foliage) grow to 90cm tall and spread to around 50cm.

Further information:

Dicentra spectabilis

Varieties and growing Dicentra

Dicentra ‘Stuart Boothman’ AGM

National Dicentra collection

Dicentra photographs

Old School Gardener

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