A Few More Words on Herbaceous Stuff and Borders

Date Published: 
September, 1903
Original Author: 
J. M. Keller
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 17th Annual Convention

That herbaceous plants deserve all the attention which they receive now by the best landscapers, when laying out new grounds or when called upon to alter, improve or partially replant and renovate older establishments, may not be generally admitted, still the fact remains that there are advantages in hardy plants and it is a fact that in late years thousands of these plants are employed, where twenty or thirty years ago only a few dozen were used-it is not a passing fashion for the demand is constantly growing; showing that with each year they gain in popularity and that their merits are more and more appreciated.

It cannot be denied that, with few exceptions, the employment of perennials has given entire satisfaction-failures usually can be traced to errors and mistakes in selecting the right things for the right place. A plant which requires a moist soil or partial shade was perhaps planted in a dry position or exposed to the full scorching sun or vice versa.

The very best results can only be obtained when we are thoroughly familiar with all the requirements of the various species, with their growth, habit, height, flowering time and all other peculiarities, though very often we meet with fair success even under adverse circumstances and surroundings, showing that many of the plants are not at all fastidious as to soil and treatment.

The great majority of perennials are very accommodating and flourish under ordinary care in ordinary soil, but to grow them to perfection, we should know and study their special requirements-it will not take long to learn (one or two experiments will teach the inexperienced, if he is observing); he will know where and how to use different plants in different ways to best advantage.

A simple shrubbery, for instance, planted to screen a wall, a fence or a building may answer its purpose, but the general appearance would certainly be greatly improved if the front, recesses or spaces of such border were adorned with scattered clumps or colonies of suitable perennials, selected especially to produce color effect during the months when the shrubs are a somber green.

I do not want to be understood as advocating the profuse introduction of perennials in every possible place in a cemetery, thus creating a flower garden effect, but the shrubbery border should not be without its attraction in the shape of flowers or foliage at any time during the growing season and our hardy plants are certainly preferable to our so called bedding stuff for this purpose.

Late summer or autumn flowering plants should form the bulk of perennials in such a mixed border things that bloom from August to November, such as Gaillardias, Anemones in various shades or colors the late Aconitums as A. japonicum and A. autumnale, the Boltonias, the broad-headed, brilliant-purple Vernonias, a selection of late flowering Asters, the deserving Rudbeckia speciosa and R. purpurea, etc.

I do not want to tire you with long lists of plant names suitable for intermixing with shrubs; you can find them in catalogues height, habit, flowering time and cultural directions are generally given in these plant lists and there is an almost endless variety to select from. Neither have I any new suggestion to offer on the subject, merely would caution you against overcrowding. This is a common and widespread mistake; neither shrubs nor perennials are benefited by planting too close; in fact, individual plants as well as patches of them should not be allowed to grow or spread at will, after the first year, trimming of shoots should be practiced among all the taller robust growing perennials such as Phloxes, Heliopsis, Asters; the taller Campanulas and the like, the remaining shoots will then develop stronger growth, get stouter and the flower heads will be larger and more perfect; all weak growths and superfluous shoots should be removed before they make much headway; it pays to do it though it may look as if we were destroying promising young growth and a wealth of bloom.

Again, under high trees, on steep banks we have another problem to combat. Grass rarely does well there, although in early spring, when the earth is yet saturated with moisture, the turf may, for a while, present a promising appearance. A few weeks of dry weather will make it look brown and dried up, in spots, at least, for the remainder of the season. Such spots are an eyesore and a source of great annoyance in an otherwise well kept place. During a dry spell, any time in summer or fall, we may mark these burned up spots later on to be planted with perennials of various descriptions, which succeed in dry situations.

If we merely want the green on the bank, we can plant a lot of Pyrethrum Tschihatchewi in place of trying to grow grass there. The Pyrethrum does not need mowing at any time and readily forms a dense close - carpet over the driest bank. Close planting is not necessary--small bits, barely rooted, set eight or ten inches apart, in early spring, will have covered the ground completely by June 1st and it will remain green for the rest of the season and every year thereafter. The profuse spring flowering white Arabis alpina would also cover such spots in a short time, or the various Phloxes of the sublata section or the beautiful P. reptans may be substituted and if not too shady, Dianthus caesius, or D. arenarius, petreus, neglectus, deltoides and their allies would flourish and bloom there in their season. The Cerastiums, Alyssum serpyllifolium, Aubretia deltoidea in variety, Genista sagitallis, Cordyalis lutea, Erisymums, Helianthernums, Iberis, Lotus corniculatus, etc., would answer the same purpose.

Should it be desirable to introduce a few taller plants, we may employ some Erodiums, macradenum or manescavii, Genista tinctoria, Cassia marylandica Cityssus, Orobus, the rambling Coronilla varia; in fact any of the Leguminosae will answer to do away with these objectionable spots permanently.

Coronilla varia is especially to be recommended for rambling over dry banks; it blooms early and late, grows luxuriantly on very little nourishment in dry situations and does not require replanting.

Asclepias tuberosa, Vesicaria articulata, Cheiranthus alpinus, Stachys lanata, Antennaria tomentosa and margaritacea, Plumbago larpentae (Ceratostigrna plumbaginoides is perhaps a more correct name for it), Aquilegias of several varieties, Campanula rotundifola, Inula hirta, Stellaria holostea and Sedums in variety can be depended upon to do well in very dry situations and in barren soils without special preparation or care.

Early fall planting is advisable for all herbaceous plants, with few exceptions, especially those which have soft fleshy rootstocks. They are liable to decay in winter if their more or less mutilated roots are not healed over and firmly established in their new quarters before frost sets in.

Ordinarily, plants set out in September will have ample time to form new roots and take a good hold in the ground before hard frost stops all growth.

Fall plantings usually start more vigorous and bloom abundantly the first season after planting, though spring plantings may, under judicious treatment and with a little extra care, do equally well.

All fall plantings should, for the first winter, be protected by a light covering of some loose material to prevent lifting or heaving out.

In autumn, we can spend more time and labor on the proper preparation of beds or borders in spring we would be, as usual, too busy with so many other things which call for our immediate attention. We are in a hurry every day and are apt to postpone planting, until plants are too far advanced.

All hardy plants, with but few exceptions, start into growth as the snow disappears and if not taken up before they make much headway are liable to suffer seriously by disturbing them, after roots and foliage are in full action.

Plants should be as near dormant as we possibly can get them for transplanting and if you cannot get ready to do all your planting in the fall of the year, prepare, at least, the ground to receive them and make up your mind that the first thing to be done in spring is the planting of the hardy things--the sooner they are in the ground the better for them, especially if we should have a warm, dry and sunny spring like our last one in this vicinity.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 17th Annual Convention
Held at Rochester, NY
September 8, 9 and 10, 1903