Experts: NH natives, perennials your best garden choices

Special to the Union Leader
May 13. 2013 6:56PM
Several national gardening organizations are highlighting fragrance gardens for 2013. Tracy Brown of Fuller Gardens suggests diathus for gardeners looking for an easy-to-care-for perennial with a sweet smell. (BARBARA TAORMINA PHOTO)

I't's not hard to spot a hot fad in shoes or purses, and the popular styles in cars and trucks roar around on the roads, but the latest trend in gardening and plants are a little harder to pin down.

Henniker's StoneFalls Gardens has Solomon's seal (genus Polygonatum) listed as the 2013 perennial of the year on its website, but Theresa Pearson, who heads up sales and design for the nursery, said gardeners should be a little cautious when they come across those titles and declarations.

"National growers and various groups make those decisions and you can have 15 or 20 groups that pick 15 or 20 different plants," she said.

And while Solomon's seal is a tried and true plant in a lot of local gardens, not every hot perennial will be a good choice for local gardeners who need to consider our highly acidic soil and long, rough winters when they make choices about what to add to their flower beds.

Some of New Hampshire's garden experts and designers have their own picks for perennials, but they all agree that native plants from local growers are the best bets.

"Native plants are easy to care for. They are meant to be here," said Dave Dylewski, a master gardener who works at North Hampton's Fuller Gardens, which held its annual plant sale last weekend.

And while a glossy national gardening magazines tout plants that will fill yards with birds and butterflies as a gardening innovation, staying all local puts you several seasons ahead of the trend: Native birds and bugs enjoy native plants. They always have and always will.

Still, there are some new choices with perennials. Tracy Brown, also a master gardener for Fuller Gardens, pointed out a valentine red bleeding heart that's a change from the pink version that's more commonly found.

"The color just makes such a difference," said Brown who added that the plant falls into the easy, low-maintenance category that a lot of gardeners prefer.

"People want to come home for work and enjoy their gardens," she said. "They don't want to work a couple more hours every day."

Brown also suggested nepeta, or catmint, for people looking for something new to fill spots in gardens. A relative of catnip, nepata produces stalks of lavender flowers that grow to about 2 feet.

Purple coneflowers were all the rage during the '90s, and Judy Siemonsma, president of the Candia Garden Club, said they are now a staple of many New Hampshire gardens. This year, there are more varieties and colors including yellows, pinks and oranges that look almost tropical.

"They last a long time as long as you deadhead them," said Siemonsma, who added that white cone flowers are great for dramatic contrasts.

One Saturday, May 18, the Candia Garden Club will hold its annual sale at the Masonic Hall, and Siemonsma expects the hanging baskets of lofus to sell out quickly.

"The name sounds funny, but it's a beautiful plant," she said. "The flowers are like bells."

For something different, Siemonsma suggested that gardeners check out a money plant, a biennial plant that produces purple flowers in the spring, and silver coin-shaped seed pods in the fall.

"If you put the right plant in the right place, it will thrive," said Jamie Colen, garden director at Fuller Gardens.

Colen said gardeners typically try to stretch information on plants tags. If a tag says full sun, that's not negotiable - the plant won't do well in partial shade.

He also said that when New Hampshire gardeners buy plants from big-box store, they are probably buying something that was planted and raised in Delaware or points south. Flatlander plants accustomed to other types of soil and weather are at a big disadvantage when they move into New Hampshire gardens.

Colen said more and more gardeners are paying attention to the dynamics of garden soil, climate and the intricate relationships between plants, insects, birds and all the other life forms in residence in back yards.

For Colen, it's an ongoing shift in attitudes that's allowing people to grow flourishing gardens with less care and work and fewer pesticides.

"We've been so disconnected from nature, but that's starting to change," he said.


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