May 29, 2017

Perennial Road Trips

I have had a very active May, with lots of exciting road trips.  I’ve been as far afield as Maine and as close as Waltham (just 22 miles away).  One included a stop for ice cream but what ties together all of those journeys was that they were built around buying lots and lots of perennials.

May 29, 2017.  Believe it or not, more than a hundred new
perennials have been planted this month.  Double-click
for a full screen slide show.
It was two years ago this month that Betty and I began building our new garden.   We moved into our ‘dream retirement home’ in April 2015 and promptly discovered we had a terrific house, but not a square foot of arable land around it.  Faced with such a problem, most homeowners would arrange for a few truckloads of topsoil to be brought in.  It would be placed, two or three inches deep, on top of the ‘builder’s crud’; grass seed (or sod) would be spread; and a few pretty shrubs would be added along the foundation.  Problem solved.  Time to fire up the grill.

We are not ‘most homeowners’.  Betty is a very serious and highly dedicated gardener, and she had a vision for a garden.  Her vision did not include any grass.  It included trees, shrubs, and perennials – very nearly all of them ‘natives’. 

Along the driveway,
we've added Geun rivale
'Flames of Passion'
(with the red spike)
And so our first act as new homeowners was to hire a landscape contractor to dig out the top 18 inches of ‘builder’s crud’ on the front half acre of our acre-and-a-half property.  Nine hundred forty-seven cubic yards of lifeless dirt and rock was hauled away, to be replaced by 950 cubic yards of screened loam. 

That first year was dedicated to finding and planting a dozen good-sized native trees, a few dozen native shrubs, and 1800 bulbs.  (We originally intended to move more than 200 perennials from our previous home, but moles and voles had other ideas.  Roughly thirty plants survived the winter.)  In our second year, we added a few more trees, another few dozen shrubs, 1400 more bulbs, and a few hundred carefully selected perennials, including 120 heuchera and tiarellas that had graced a landscape exhibit at the Boston Flower and Garden Show.

The purple allium was
planted  last fall. The
coreopsis will hide the
allium foliage
You might think that our garden would be fully populated after two years of planting.  Nope; not even close.  This is the year of the perennial (plus a few more trees and shrubs).  Thus, the need for road trips.  Our first one was a warm-up.  Northborough is a leisurely 45 miles from Medfield and, in early May, we visited Bigelow Nursery and brought home a Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry) and a Bartzella intersectional peony that blooms yellow. 

We next set off for a trip to the Middlesex Conservation District plant sale in Littleton, Massachusetts, where we brought home three crabapples trees, 25 strawberry plants (yes, strawberries are natives), and another dozen miscellaneous native perennials.  A week later, we were at the Grow Native Plant Sale in Waltham, where we filled our car with barren strawberry (a ground cover), monarda (bee balm), and buttonbush, among many other purchases.

Roughly 25 of the new
perennials are in this
photo.  Can you spot any?
Next, we headed to Log Cabin Perennials in East Overshoe, Maine (all, right, Saco), where Kenneth Rice sells more than 300 varieties of perennials in one-gallon pots for the unbelievable price of five dollars per plant.  It was pouring rain that morning, but we packed 30 specimens into the back of our car.  On our way back to civilization, we made a detour to a place called Kane’s Flower World in Danvers, Massachusetts, where Betty made use of a gift certificate she had won in a drawing five months earlier.  Six more perennials were crowded into the back seat (we also stopped for the aforementioned ice cream).

 Last Thursday, we set off for Bay State Perennial Farm in West Bejesus, Massachusetts.  Betty has been getting emails from Bay State since the invention of the internet, and because it was raining and 47 degrees, we decided it was a perfect day to see central Massachusetts. Bay State has an impressive plant list, and we packed the car with finds such as Monarda ‘Cherry Pops’, Geun rivale ‘Flames of Passion’, and Nepeta nervosa ‘Cat’s Meow’.  No, Betty does not purchase plants based on cute or alluring names, but it’s intriguing that few plants that come home with us are ever labeled ‘species’.

More new perennials,
all well hidden for now
Any trip beyond the Charlton Rest Area on the Mass Pike inevitably includes a stop at Andrew’s Greenhouse in South Amherst.  Andrew’s has been Betty’s go-to place for annuals ever since she discovered it a decade ago, and each year we make the pilgrimage two or three times in May and June.  It is also a major source of perennials, and Betty packed the car with Veronica, Echinacea, Guara, Chelone (turtlehead), and Achillea (yarrow); plus most of the vegetables we don’t plant from seed in our garden.  Between the two stops, we stuffed 38 perennials and an untold number of vegetable and annual six-packs into a Prius with a rated capacity of thirty perennials.  I only needed to move the flat of vegetables when I had to shift

Amazingly, we finished planting all of these perennials this morning. 

The topmost photo of this essay was taken at noon today (May 29).  I’m calling this the ‘before’ picture.  Over the course of the summer, as the plants bloom and grow, I’ll update the sequence.

The garden is beginning to show its true potential.  What were long expanses of mulch now has clusters of green that will burst into color with the advent of summer.  Next year, those plants will self-seed, spread by runner or rhizome, or otherwise fill in their allotted spaces. 

Me?  I’m waiting to find out where the next road trip will take us.

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