Every few years I like to review the concept of creating a garden with a sequence of bloom. Beginning in spring, certain plants come into flower. As these flowers fade another plant in the garden will begin to bloom. By planting the proper selection of trees, shrubs and perennials, the process continues with waves of color from one plant to the next throughout the gardening season. The ultimate goal is a garden with 12 months of plant interest.
Expanding on this idea, a gardener can go beyond mere flower production to draw you into the garden picture. Seasonal leaf color, fruit and berry production, bark and foliage texture and the silhouette of deciduous and evergreen trees are all brought into the garden picture. From the dainty white blossoms of the early spring snowdrops to the pale green petals of winter hellebores, the Southwest Washington gardener can have a garden worthy of the best magazine photographer in every month of the year.
As early as March, the daffodils and tulips begin to flower. Before their foliage dies back the straplike leaves of daylilies emerge. The warmth of spring forces yellow blooms from the bare branches of forsythia. A month later, the common lilac fills the air with its heady scent and the double-flowered "Kwanzan" cherry explodes in a cloud of pink ruffles.
None of us would deign to take credit for the magic of a flowering plant but it is up to the gardener to bring an individual garden portrait into focus with the material at hand. With the addition of experience, dirty fingers and time, any gardener can conjure up a uniquely personal garden image. To put it bluntly, mastering the art of gardening is a matter of trial and error.
Fortunately, regardless of the early or late arrival of spring, the sequence of bloom remains the same. It's a matter of record that the Yoshino cherries in Washington, D.C. began to bloom on March 20 in 1945, but did not begin until April 15 in 1932, 1934, 1955 and 1965. Early or late, the garden crocus still bloom before the cherry tree and the Asiatic lilies bloom after. You learn this information by the act of gardening itself.
In time the gardener learns that Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) herald the onset of summerlike weather. The prominent flower buds unfold in overblown crepe paper magnificence. The colors range from rich reds and oranges to salmon and watermelon pink. When the flower petals drop, an intriguing seed pod remains suspended high above the plant while the rosette of lower leaves turns yellow and withers down to a weedy patch.
Part of the gardener's job is to choose a selection of plants that compliment each other's assets while compensating for any faults. As the poppy foliage dies away, a nearby "Moonbeam" coreopsis (C. lanceolata) fills the now open garden space with cheerful yellow flowers. If your color palette leans toward cooler shades, the pincushion flowers of Scabiosa "Butterfly Blue" and "Pink Mist" will continue to bloom well beyond the summer months.
Each daylily blossom lasts only one day but many plants produce enough bloom to flower all of June. An adjacent row of Japanese wind flowers (Anemone japonica) will carry the garden from summer into autumn. Both the purple cone flower "Magnus" (Echinacea purpurea) and its cousin, the black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida "Goldsturm") will flower all the way to frost. Hearty seed heads feed hungry birds in winter weather.
Occasionally a gardener will have to use annuals to fill in gaps left by perennials that go dormant in late summer. Sometimes gaps are caused by the loss of a shrub or tree to disease or stress. Think of it as another chance to experiment with color. Try a bed of all-white impatiens in a shady part of the garden, classic red geraniums along a sun-dappled path or cosmos in cool pinks for a garden in full sun.
The reality of hands on gardening is that you are free to try all the plants and colors you love with the attitude of live and learn. When collecting a bouquet of flowers, you don't always get the mix exactly right on the first time out. It's still probably a beautiful arrangement and it is surely a good experience for your next attempt at flower arranging. The real art of gardening lies in learning to enjoy the garden you have today, even as you add and edit plants to create a sequence of bloom throughout the year.
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.