Perennials offer flowers, forever

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— Site selection and soil preparation are the two most important steps in the design of a perennial garden. Consider sun, wind and water characteristics of your site before selecting plants. Although some perennials such as bleeding heart and columbine require shade, most perennial plants require abundant sunshine. Air circulation, prevailing winds and amount of natural moisture also are important considerations for a successful garden.

Devote special attention to soil because perennials may occupy the site for several years. When possible, add organic matter such as bark, peat or compost to soils.

When you have a tentative plan, draw it out on paper. When you start adding the plants to your sketch, draw to scale. Check the descriptions in books and catalogs to see how wide the plant will grow to determine how to space the plants in your drawing. Choose plants for flower color, bloom period, and height as well as light and moisture requirements. Be sure to choose plants that will thrive in our zone 3-4 mountain community.

Strive to have something blooming spring through fall by filling the bed with plants that have different bloom periods. You can start with the bulbs of spring and end with fall mums and asters. There are a few long-blooming perennials such as the achillea (moonshine yarrow) and delphinium, which will flower all summer.

Use small evergreen shrubs, flowering trees, or such features as a fence, stone, bench, birdbath or art to enhance your garden by adding a focal point to carry it through all the seasons.

One of the easiest design tricks is to interplant groups of flowers that have contrasting shapes. For example, daylilies can have their large flowers set off well by the spikes of blue salvia and the round flowers of yarrow. Colorful, attractive foliage helps keep the garden interesting all season. Silver queen artemisia, palace purple coral-bells, lady's mantle, hosta, and autumn joy sedum are all good foliage plants.

Repeat favorite plants throughout the garden to give it at least one unifying element. Above, all, don't let the idea of a new garden intimidate you. Start small and have fun!

Kathy Conlon is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County.

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