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Favorite Perennials

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

"The great mistake in growing hardy perennials," writes the late C. L. Allen of Long Island, New York, " is the almost general opinion that when once planted they can forever remain in the same place without further care or attention. This is a fatal error from the fact of its being in direct opposition to. the universal law that the rotation of crops is an agricultural necessity. The period that some plants will thrive in a given locality much longer than others, as is the case with arborescent plants, many of which require centuries to perfect their growth, does not detract from this principle in the least.

All of our herbaceous plants require frequent changes of locality, because they have taken from a given soil a certain active principle essential to their growth, and will no longer thrive in that place until nature, through her own resources, has restored the elements essential to their growth. Space will not permit our going over the whole list of those desirable plants, so we shall give cultural instructions for only a few of the most essential, with the understanding that these rules, with slight modifications, will apply to all. As a rule, it is safe to conclude that when any plant ceases to thrive vigorously, a change of soil is an absolute necessity as is also a division of its crowns of tubers.


" Perennial phlox is one of the most useful of our hardy plants, not only because of the great variety of color and marking of their flowers, but because of the fact that with proper care and attention they wilI keep in flower much longer than almost any other f this class of plants. They should be taken up every spring and the plants separated to a single shoot, and not returned to the same place in the border. The distance, however, from where they grow need not be great. When rootbound the phlox will not produce such magnificent trusses of flowers as when occasionally separated.

Phloxes are gross feeders, requiring strong soil, made rich with well-rotted manure, which should be thoroughly incorporated in the soil. In light soils, to get satisfactory results, a sufficient mulch of coarse litter to keep the soil moist and cool is essential. The single plants should be set 6 inches apart each way,, in clumps or rows in the border, and when the flower buds appear, cut back, say, one-half of the plants, just below the flowering buds ; this will cause them to throw out flowering branches at the axil of each leaf and keep up a succession of flowers until the chrysanthemums appear.

If the first flowers are cut for table decoration, the plants quickly throw out new branches, which will keep up a succession. When the plants are allowed to remain undisturbed, the flowers will soon grow smaller and lose vigor and intensity of color, simply from the want of nourishment from both air and earth.


" So far as cultivation goes, chrysanthemums and the phloxes require the same general treatment. The former should be set singly as soon 'as they show growth in spring, and given a good, rich, and deep soil which should have a liberal mulch if the soil is naturally dry and sunny. Set the plants foot apart each way; when 6 inches high, nip the tops from all. Side branches will quickly appear, making vigorous growth. About the middle of July nip the terminal bud from each branch to cause plants to become strong and bushy; and when season for flowers arrives, plants will be loaded.

" If large flowers are required, disbud as is the custom of the florist with the more tender sorts. By leaving only the terminal bud to each branch the flowers will be double the size of those on the plants where all the buds are allowed to perfect their flowers. We must, however, say we are not in happy accord with the disbudding process. The chrysanthemum is the culmination of the season, and we like to encourage the plant to produce as many flowers as possible without regard to size.


" There are but few plants in the garden so generally useful as the delphiniums; in fact, they are indispensable, and are grown with the least possible trouble. They will grow anywhere, and with a little trouble the flowers can be had nearly the whole season. The old clumps will come into flower in early June, and by cutting half the plants down to, say, within a foot of the ground, before they show flower, a new growth will soon be made to keep up a succession. In early spring sow a few seeds in small pots in the house, or in a hotbed or greenhouse, and they will come into flower just before the frost, a few degrees of which does not injure them. We prefer growing a few seeds annually to the division of clumps, as young plants do much better than old ones. When the old plants begin to wane, throw out and replace with young ones. The delphiniums will show by their flowers a just appreciation of all the care and attention paid them, and they fully deserve all they get.

"Dictamnus fraxinella; the well-known gas plant, so called because its flowers, on opening, emit a gas that may be readily ignited by holding a lighted match over the flowers during the evening, when the gas is emitted most freely. This plant will thrive almost anywhere and under all circumstances. It seems to delight in neglect, and in a solitary position, whether in shade, or in partial shade, and in soil too poor, seemingly, to sustain plant life. This plant can be propagated only from seeds, which must be sown as soon as ripe. Plants of the Dictamnus have been known to live in one place for 75 years."

The foxglove family is old and well known. The most common is Digitalis grandiflora. These plants are the most showy and intensely beautiful as well as the most easily managed, hardy perennials. They will remain long undisturbed, and can be removed without injury. They are propagated readily from seed, which should be sown like common garden annuals. Their long season of flowering is an excellent feature for border plants.


" The campanulas are the old-fashioned flowers of our childhood, worthy of a place in every garden. They thrive in almost any situation, even under the shade of trees. Campanula grandiflora, now called Platycodon grandiflorum, of which there are two varieties, one with white, the other with purple flowers, is a charming plant. It comes into flower after the others have completed their work, thus keeping up a succession. One of the virtues of this species is that it can be removed without injury or remain for a long period without removal. The Turban Bellflower, another late flowering sort, is one of the most useful. The flowers are salver-shaped, and very large for the size of the plant, which grows only 6 to 8 inches tall. It is a charming plant for the border. There are many species, all desirable and of easy cultivation.

" Where there is plenty of room the iris should be largely grown in the herbaceous border. A collection of well-assorted species will furnish flowers at least from May until July. If there is but little space it can be more profitably filled with other plants. However, there is one species, Iris Kaemp- f eri, that Should be found in every collection of choice plants. The flowers are large and vary in color from white to dark maroon and purple, both single and double, with every shade of markings in blotches, stripes, and pencilings. The iris will grow in almost any soil, but prefers a lively loam and a moist or wet situation. It will thrive in a marshy soil or beside a brook.

" In ordinary seasons in this climate the flowers will not come up to expectations unless the soil is moist. Deep cultivation is also desirable, as the roots will go down at least 2 feet in search of moisture, if it is not provided for them nearer the surface. To secure moisture in a dry location a liberal mulching is needed. Unlike most plants so fond of damp situations, the iris dislikes shade and thrives best in a hot, airy place. Propagation is easily effected by division or from seed. The former method is preferred, as a bed of seedlings gives but a small proportion of choice flowers. Division should always be made in autumn, and it is best not to let the clumps die out in the centers, In the ordinary garden the best results can be obtained only by deep cultivation, heavy manuring, and deep mulching. With such treatment the open border will show clumps of plants bearing flowers that rival the orchids.


"While the peony belongs with hardy, herbaceous plants, its treatment is so different from those noticed that I will briefly call attention to some of its peculiarities. It will not do well in a crowded border, where other plants thrive luxuriantly, but must have an open, airy situation, a good, strong soil, and an abundance of plant food. It should never be disturbed as long as it produces its flowers freely, which it will do if left entirely alone. Division of its tubers, the only means of propagation, is an injury rather than an aid to its flowering. I have known clumps that have not been disturbed for 40 years to produce their flowers in abundance annually, and have seen old clumps, divided with care, and seemingly under the most favorable conditions, to stand still for a number of years without producing a flower. Propagation, or division, should be done in October when the plants are at rest and the roots, or tubers kept out of the ground as short a time as possible. Usually the plants will produce a few flowers the second season. If so, success is assured, and an annual display of flowers certain."

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