There are some long-established guidelines for planting perennials that are worth considering each spring as you add new plants to the garden. Planting in groups of three is usually better than one plant by itself. Plant in a triangular pattern, with one plant at each point of the triangle. Space each plant considering its mature size. If a plant grows 12 inches wide, place the same plant 12 inches away. Plants may look sparse at first but will grow into each other, with room for each plant to mature to its natural form.
Flowers do not grow in straight lines in nature and we should not plant them that way in the garden. One dies and your picture is askew. With the natural garden firmly in mind, we see that plants typically grow in sweeps of one variety. Think of tossing a handful of seeds across your garden in a backhand manner, like extravagantly throwing dice. Plant your perennials out along this imaginary line. Expand your planting sweeps in groups of odd numbers. Five or seven of one variety of plant makes quite a statement.
If the wonderful weather this year has convinced you to include a small plot of vegetables in your garden, keep a few important facts in mind. Vegetables need plenty of sunshine for steady growth. Like roses, plant veggies where you can expect six hours of full sunshine a day. This means keeping them free of shade from tall shrubs, trees, fences and houses. It also helps to make sure that vegetables are in a wind-free area. Since water plays such an important role in the success of vegetables, wind can be dehydrating and increase the plants water needs.
It is suggested that you run rows of any food plants in a north to south alignment so that each plant receives an even amount of sunlight during the day as the sun moves across the sky from east to west. You’ll save money by planting seed, but if it’s your first foray into vegetable gardening, give yourself a head start by planting well-grown transplants. If your veggie garden is successful, you will have spent less on starts than you would on trips to the grocery store.
There are many reasons for a homeowner to grow a vegetable garden. Once you have tasted homegrown, you’ll know that flavor is a viable reason to grow your own. Garden veggies taste better. Growing vegetables as a family brings us closer together. Let each member of your group pick their favorite fruit or veggie to grow and share the preparation, upkeep and bounty of everyone’s efforts. Nothing unites people more than a shared purpose.
Plant a bit more than you will need and designate a row for the hungry in your vegetable garden. Before the summer crops are out, I’ll give you an idea of how to share your surplus. For those of you who cook, grow your own herb garden with all your favorites. Dill for me, please. Any gardener with a passion for cooking should have a plot of herbs, onions, garlic and peppers. Using fresh produce from your own garden will raise the level of flavor in any recipe. The only thing better than one passion is having two that complement each other.
While reading over one of my garden journals from 1995, I found the following April entry:
“I spend a lot of time in the month of April looking for signs of life returning to the perennial borders. Today, I scoured the earth of a sleepy shade bed in search of seven peach-colored flowering astilbes that I planted out last year. The first six were easy to find, their red stems firm and shiny and standing half a foot tall amid emerging foliage of hostas and persicaria. At the top of each stem a little flag of unfolding leaves fluttered in the breeze. Astilbe number seven eludes me.
“In my search, I ran across a cluster of pencil-thin, leafy protrusions from the soil. It took a while to recognize this new plant growth as a rose-colored variety of lily of the valley. This delicate, rosy-flowered perennial is a very desirable, scented groundcover that multiplies once established. I planted them more than two years ago and had never seen a sign of them since. Now, here they were, strong and stout and only half a foot from my missing astilbe.”
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener.