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LATE SPRING THROUGH SUMMER


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As the weather warms up and spring moves into summer, the delicate flowers of the cooler season give way to larger flowers with bolder shapes and colors and, in some cases, delicious fragrances as well. This is the season that comes to mind when people think of the classic perennial border. The garden at this time of year has a fullness and maturity while retaining the refinement and freshness of plants that have not yet had to struggle against the worst of the summer heat.

To make layers in the garden on the cusp of the summer solstice, the key is to look beyond the stars and create a cast of other characters to work with them. A lead sentence, no matter how beautifully crafted, does not a story make, and neither do I find garden beds full of one type of plant satisfying. Finding the right mix of the right plants in the right place at the right time is always the challenge. This task is always made more difficult because as soon such combinations reach perfection, they start to go over or get overgrown, or one element dies, and we have to start over again.

I love many garden flowers of this season, in particular, irises, peonies, roses, and lilies. Their timeless beauty remains my horticultural version of comfort food. Some people reject these old-fashioned genera as unsophisticated, but that charge only goes so far. I gravitate toward the old-fashioned and unusual, the single-flowered and the subtly colored more than the gaudy, which seem to better fit my personality and the country garden I have created.

Of course, I make exceptions: If a new variety has a color I want, I will often give it a try out in my garden. I generally have no patience for the disease-prone, often fragrant less hybrid tea roses I knew as a child, but I love the old-fashioned varieties, with their multitude of petals and heady fragrance. The young me marveled at blowsy peony flowers that seemed as big as my head; the plant-obsessed me collects tree peony species and unusual specimens like the yellow-flowered Paeonia mlokosewitschii, which would be worth having just for its tongue-twisting name if it were not also one of the most beautiful. My early love of irises landed me years later in a German woodland, in search of Iris variegata, about as far from the gardens of my childhood as I ever imagined I would be—but even then I was still in touch with the boy, with his childlike wonder, his innocent reverence for plants and the world in which they live.


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