Medium-Term Planning: Four Plants For Next Year

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Part of having a successful garden is that you need to plan.I think garden planning can be broken down into three classes: short-term planning (which involves the garden for the next few months), longer-term planning (which involves garden elements that take time to grow and fill in, including trees and shrubs), and medium-term (which can often be the most challenging and complex).

This week, I’d like to propose four plants for your garden that you’d plant in the next eight weeks or so. You won’t see any results from your medium-term planning labors in planting these gems until next spring at the earliest but each one has some really wonderful attributes. And each will last for years to generations in your garden with little to no care.

My first suggestion is a plant that surprised me late last spring.

I had a spot marked in the garden where I’d planted a new Oriental lily in October of last year. The plant broke the surface of the soil and started to climb by inches a day early the following spring. I was thinking this rather strange, and the taller the plant grew the more I knew something was amiss. When it flowered, I knew I’d made a mistake by not tagging the second plant I’d put in with the lily. Much to my surprise and delight, six magnificent fritillaria imperialis were in full bloom.

Members of the lily family, these remarkable plants are native to the high Himalayan foothills. While some consider them a little difficult, all I did was plant the very large bulbs in the same planting trough that I’d dug for the Oriental lilies.

I’d forgotten the day I was in Lynch’s when I was awed by the size of the fritt bulbs. But at the point of purchase, I did remember that this is a plant that no deer and no squirrel, no matter how hungry, would bother.

The flowers are borne atop strong, stiff stems up to 3 feet tall. They have tubular flowers, which face the ground but are bright and full enough so they light up the garden with their orange, yellow and red faces.

Also called “Crown Imperials,” they are noted as having a fragrant scent, but I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t tell you that it’s more of an odor as opposed to a scent. It’s not terribly pleasant but that’s what keeps the deer, squirrels and other bulb-eaters away.

The bulbs are very large and the flowers and foliage are unique. They’ll cost you a pretty penny, at $7 to $10 each, but they are indeed beautiful and it’s hard to find beauty and deer-resistance at any price.

The plants disappear by the end of May to make room for others. They go dormant until the following spring.

And that’s where my second choice for spectacular blooms comes in. Just as the fritts were fading, the Oriental lily I’d planted in the same 2-foot-square hole broke through the soil.

I waited nearly four months to see the incredible flowers and enjoy the heavenly scent. I find these plants among the most exciting in my garden because they take months to grow.

Not to be confused with the earlier-flowering Asiatic lilies, the Orientals tend to flower later in the summer. They can be substantially taller, and as a gift of nature their numbers can actually increase as new bulbs are created by the mother bulbs.

The ones I’ve chosen to plant have spectacular flowers and most have outrageously wonderful scents that drift a dozen feet or more from the garden on the slightest breeze. In fact, the aroma on some of these plants is so incredibly intense I’ve found I can no longer bring them into the house as cuts, but with the windows open and breeze just right the house fills with just the right degree “lilyescence” from the garden nearby.

Like all four choices in this week’s picks, Oriental lilies need to be planted in the fall as soon as they are available in garden centers or as soon as they arrive in the mail. Follow the planting directions exactly and keep in mind that many of the varieties will do just fine with some shade, especially if they get sun until noon and are lightly shaded from the hot afternoon sun. Taller varieties will need staking as some can grow to 8 and 9 feet tall but they still take up little garden space because all their growth is in height and not width.

Depending on the variety, blooming can be from June through late August. They need little care but will do well with some organic feeding prior to blooming. Additionally, remove the seed pods when they develop and don’t cut the finished stalks until they brown in the fall. Also check out the new Orienpet hybrids.

Pick number three are the alliums. These flowers are all in the onion family. 
Depending on the variety, they grow from several inches to several feet tall and have a blooming season that runs from the spring right through early fall.

Colors range from white to pink and on to reds and near blues, but all have a characteristic dome or partial globe-like flower. Depending on the variety, these flowers can be from less than an inch in diameter to nearly 10 inches in diameter. Many of the flowers also retain a structural element in the garden for weeks after the color has faded.

After being absent in my garden for several years (some can be short-lived—say three to five years, while others last into perpetuity) I planted a grouping of Globemaster, Gladiator and Giganteum. All are fairly tall at 2 to 4 feet and all flower in the medium-purple range. And since the group flowers over a period of six weeks and some flowers can hold their color for several weeks, this made a really nice focal point where the under-plantings don’t develop until much later in the summer.

The larger varieties come from larger bulbs and can run $5 to $8 apiece but they are indeed magnificent plants both in the garden and as cuts. And don’t overlook the smaller gems, like the yellow allium moly and the reddish drumstick allium sphaerocephalon.

Last but by no means least are the peonies. With roots planted now through early October, they are insect-free, deer-resistant and (if you learn how to avoid the botrytis fungus) virtually disease free as well. A peony bed can last a quarter century or more or you can divide and spread your plants every five years.

Grown in full to light shade, if you choose your varieties carefully you can have these plants blooming for a full month in not just a range of colors but a range of flower styles as well. You can even learn how to cut budded stems at just the right time, refrigerate them and force them to bloom weeks later in the summer.

And yes Virginia there is a shade-loving peony as well. Actually there are two.

One is paeonia obovata and the second is paeonia japonica. Both are referred to as the “Japanese woodland peony.” They’ve become very popular, somewhat hard to come by, and yes, expensive as well. So get on the phone to your favorite mail-order nursery, find them on the web and visit your local garden center for their offerings. But remember, time is running out for the best picks.

Keep growing.

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