Steele: The pleasures of a flower garden

To get the most out of my perennials I rely on my favourite reference: ‘The Well-Tended Perennial Garden’ by Tracy diSabato-Aust.

  • Aug. 30, 2014 7:00 p.m.

I have just come in from a delightful hour puttering in one of my large flower gardens.

It was a meditative break from working at the computer.

There were lots of pollinators to watch as I removed dead flowers.

Lovely scents filled the garden when I sheared back lavender, sage, thyme and hyssop herbs.


It’s interesting to see what plants have produced babies. Many will be potted up for the Okanagan Xeriscape Associaton’s spring plant sale May 2 in the unH2O Garden.

I deliberately leave plants to go to seed in the garden if I want babies. It’s an easy way to propagate them. The trick is to recognize the seedling plants and not weed them out.

Some plants are just too eager to reproduce themselves. I try to cut off their dead flowers before seeds germinate.

I love collecting interesting seed heads for winter bouquets to mix in with ornamental grasses.

Large poppy seed heads are like a sculpture and look elegant as a bouquet on their own.

The seeds are very viable so I avoid shaking them in the garden as I don’t want thousands next year.

Jerusalem sage (Phlomis russeliana) and blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) both have a relatively short (three week) bloom time in spring but have fascinating seed heads/pods and good foliage so they get a place in my gardens.

At the end of June, I cut back some catnip plants (Nepeta Walker’s Low) that had been blooming since late April and were covered in seed heads. The plants have re-grown nicely and are blooming again. The ones I didn’t cut back continued to have some bloom—enough for bees to still visit.

The plants now have strong regrowth in the centre so today I cut the fading spring growth all around the outside of the base of the plant just leaving the new centre growth.

That improved their looks, although they are much smaller than the ones cut earlier.

To get the most out of my perennials I rely on my favourite reference: ‘The Well-Tended Perennial Garden’ by Tracy diSabato-Aust.

It’s my ‘perennial bible.’ I strongly recommend it if you love to grow perennials and want to know how to best care for each variety.

Right now, I’m really enjoying some giant annuals. Sunflowers have seeded themselves and done exceptionally well.

Red amaranth is a spectacular focal point in my vegetable garden. Both of these attract many songbirds and will continue to do so when I leave the plants standing over winter.

I love the giant zinnia plants my friend gave me. They have such spectacular, vibrant colours from late summer to frost.

This fall I will be teaching my two night xeriscape class on Thursday, Sept. 18 and 25, and  Wednesday, Oct. 1 and 8. Details and registration information are on the OXA website.

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