WHEN WE WERE PLANNING OUR FIRST backyard perennial garden, a visitor from England told us that it takes a minimum of 50 years to create a fine garden and, if possible, one should allow 200 years. We were still young, but 50 years seemed like a long time, and the prospect of an outstanding border became dim. Fortunately, he was wrong. Although our gardens have never rivaled those at Sissinghurst or Kew, they have been a joy to us, which was all we asked of them.
In the early years, we made many mistakes, and when we were discouraged, it was tempting to remove the herbaceous plants and grow rows of shrubs instead. In retrospect, we realize that if we had been better educated on plant growth and maintenance, we could have avoided most of the problems.
Initially, we experimented with many types of gardens, each consisting of all bulbs, annuals, or perennials. Finally, however, we realized that including several types of plants together in one flower garden would make it more interesting than using any one of them alone. Certain wildflowers, as well as bulbs, shrubs, herbs, ornamental grasses, and vines, also proved valuable for adding variety and interest. As we experimented with different combinations, our gardens improved. We found that combining several different types of plants has many advantages: Annuals, for instance, bloom for most of the gardening season, while perennials provide a display that changes every two or three weeks. Spring bulbs supply flowers very early, flowering shrubs offer year-round substance, and evergreens contribute color to the winter scene. Vines add a vertical dimension to the garden, and ornamental grasses have contrasting foliage and fall blooms.
In the following articles, we offer you descriptions of many different plants, with the hope that these will help you decide which to include in your own garden. Plus, we share what we’ve learned about caring for our own plants, to help you avoid making the same mistakes we once made. We hope that building your gardens and working in them gives you a great deal of pleasure!