Perennials are mainstays of many East End flower gardens, and for good reason. Unlike the annual impatiens and petunias and geraniums planted in pots and beds for the summer, perennials don’t need to be replanted every year. Perennials die back to the ground in winter but regrow the following spring. Their many colors from pastels to brights, flower forms and plant heights can be combined to create symphonies of bloom. The only problem with perennials is that most of them bloom for just a few all-too-brief weeks. The rest of the growing season they’re green and leafy. To have color in the flower garden from spring to fall you need to carefully orchestrate flowers with different blooming times to have something blooming throughout the growing season. The results can be breathtaking, but it does require planning, and who has enough time for that?
To the rescue come a group of heroic perennials that bloom far longer than the 2- to 3-week average. Many of these stalwarts flower for a month or more, others will bloom again if you cut back the old flower stems when the blossoms fade, some when you trim back the plants themselves, and still others bloom off and on for much of the growing season with no help at all from the gardener. These terrific plants are real workhorses, and adding them to your garden can keep it colorful as other plants come into and out of bloom. Here are some long bloomers to consider including in your flowery landscape beds and borders. They’ve all performed well for me in my own garden and those I’ve cared for across the East End.
Achillea, or yarrow, bears large, flat-topped clusters of tiny flowers in rich golden yellow, pale yellow, pink, red, orange or white. They bloom atop tall, stiff stems lined with grayish green leaves, through much of the summer. Give them a sunny location, in soil that is well-drained, not soggy. Two personal favorite varieties are Coronation Gold, a classic whose flowers are rich golden yellow, and Moonshine, which has soft yellow flowerheads. Other varieties to look for include Paprika, orange-red like its namesake spice, and Gold Plate, whose flowers have a slightly mounded form. When the flowers fade, cut back the stems to a lower set of leaves, or just cut back the stems by half to stimulate another round of bloom.
Daylilies are favorites in many gardens, their trumpet-shaped flowers carried in clusters on tall stems, with each individual flower lasting just a single day. Most varieties bloom for a few weeks, but some, especially lower growing ones such as Stella de Oro and Rosy Returns, will flower all summer. When all the flowers on a stem have finished, cut back the stem to its base and the plant will produce a new stem, and another round of flowers. These plants are nice additions to the front of the garden. Ask your local nursery or garden center for other related varieties they carry.
A real star of the perennial garden, and one that’s super easy to grow, is sedum. The flower garden sedums have thick, fleshy leaves and thick stems, and they slowly develop clusters of tiny florets that as they form look like small heads of broccoli, beginning as light green and gradually deepening over a couple of months to darker green, then turning pinkish, then taking on an orangey tinge that becomes salmon, deepening to rich russet and finally, brown in fall. Some gardeners like to leave the plants in the garden all winter long, standing as sculptures when other plants are gone. The first popular sedum of this type is Autumn Joy, which is still a standout in many gardens, including mine. It has been joined in more recent years by neon pink varieties such as Brilliant, which bring eye-popping color to late summer gardens. Another bonus is that these flowers attract bees, which are endangered now and whose continued survival is critical for pollinating a wide variety of the fruits and vegetables we depend on seeing in our farmers markets and grocery stores.
Including these long blooming flowers in your garden is a great way to enjoy color all summer long.