Are you just itching to get down and dirty in the garden this month? If so, I have some suggestions for you.
My first suggestion is: don’t start digging until the soil warms up and dries out. You don’t want to inadvertently destroy the composition of your soil by working in it before it’s good and ready.
Just because you can’t dig, though, doesn’t mean you can’t go plant shopping! The early shopper gets the best plants- grab your wallet and car keys and head out to your favorite nursery. If what you’re looking for is perennials for the sun, print up this blog and bring it with you. You’ll need it to be sure you make educated plant choices.
Let me talk a little bit about nurseries before you get in the car. St. Louis is home to so many wonderful, family- owned and run business that it seems a shame not to patronize them. These families are part of our community and the best people to offer help and guidance regarding our plant selections and general gardening advice.
Additionally, local nurseries have a vested interest in seeing that you continue to return throughout the season- they want and need your business.
Starting out in far West County, in St. Albans, is Fahrs. Fahrs has been a fixture on Highway T for decades and a place I would stop religiously after I visited Gilberg’s Perennial Farm on Ossenfort Road. Gilberg’s is gone, but you can still visit Fahrs for your annuals and perennials. They have many containers already potted up and looking fabulous if you don’t have the time to do your own.
Heading east, there’s Ballwin Nursery on Manchester Road for large trees and shrubs. Working your way to Barrett Station Road, don’t miss Wiethop’s, Sherwood Forest, Kirkwood Material and Greenscape Gardens. You’ll find lots of Missouri native plants at Greenscape and the bargains at Wiethops can’t be beat!
This is the first spring I won’t be able to visit Ahner’s, but you can continue east down Manchester to Sugar Creek Nursery. I can always find an unusual perennial or special Hydrangea at Sugarcreek.
The last stop on my “Buy Local” tour is Bowood Farms on Olive in the CWE. If I ever win the lottery, I am going to have a shopping spree at Bowood. They have the most unusual plants, gifts, tools, planters and fountains. Just make sure that you bring enough quarters for the parking meters- you don’t want to go home with a ticket in addition to your plants! Pass up the “Big Box” guys and give our St. Louis nurseries a try.
OK, I’m off my soapbox about shopping local- let’s move on to my choices for best perennials for your sun garden in St. Louis.
Peony- The Peony is the Queen of the garden. She blooms her gorgeous heart out every spring, enveloping the garden with her intoxicating scent. As soon as the weather warms, I’m off to check if any of the red tips have emerged on my peonies. I watch them produce strong stems, leathery foliage and, finally, full and bountiful blossoms. They might not be the longest-lasting blooms, but they absolutely are the most elegant. Every garden MUST have a few peonies. The majority of Peonies are either white, light to deep pink with numerous shades of red. Stripes are also available and great in a spring bouquet. Yellow Peonies are relatively new, but well worth purchasing if you happen to find them.
Daylily (Hemerocalis)- Daylilies seem to live forever. If you find an old, unattended garden, your will undoubtedly find some daylilies. If you live in deer country, they will be gone- Hostas and daylilies are some of the deer’s’ favorite food. Daylilies come in all different sizes and colors. Some of the older varieties are fragrant. They are so easy to hybridize that scads of new cultivars are introduced each year. My personal favorite daylily is one I dug up from my sister’s home about 29 years ago. The blooms are about 4 feet tall; the flowers are a clear yellow and smell fabulous. I named it ‘Glenmary’ since it was the name of the street where she lived. I dig them up and they move with me from house to house. They’re that special! If you have deer and want daylilies, don’t forget to spray them religiously with Liquid Fence. Deer love the blooms right as they are beginning to open- don’t give them the chance to devour them! Please don’t buy my least favorite plant on the market- the ‘Stella d’oro’ Daylily. It has been totally overused with landscapers installing it everywhere because it is supposed to be everblooming. Well, it’s not everblooming and the color doesn’t match anything else in the garden. It’s just plain unattractive and the ‘Stella’ madness need to stop!
Russian Sage (Perovskia)- Russian sage is a real workhorse in the garden. It’s about 3 feet tall, boasting lovely gray stems with purple flowers. It’s blooms like mad all season long. In late summer, you’ll notice that the blooms have faded out. Grab your sheers, cut it back to about 1 foot and wait for another show in early fall. It’s deer resistant, visually stunning and totally mesmerizing when the breezes blow. Russian sage just can’t be beat!
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)- The “Purple coneflower” isn’t just purple anymore. This tall, long-lived perennial comes in many colors now. You’ll find white, mango, yellow, orange and pink varieties. Personally, I like the pink series. The plants are a little shorter and compact. Plus, I’m a sucker for any pink plant! This flower is beneficial to wildlife as well. It’s a butterfly and finch magnet! Don’t cut the plant to the ground in the fall; the seed heads add winter interest to your garden!
‘Becky’ Daisy (Leucanthemum)– Some people aren’t crazy about Daises. In the past, you’d have to stake them and they would still flop over and be more of a trailing plant than an upright plant. The popular ‘Becky’ daisy is about 3 to 4 feet tall and the best daisy out there, bar none. Tall, straight stems perfect for that summer bouquet and a plant that looks great placed next to nearly anything. Purchase some and fall in love with daises all over again!
Phlox- Phlox is a large family of many types of flowers. Creeping Phlox is an early bloomer, great as an edging or in the front of the border. The flowers are pink and pale purple. The majority of Phlox have a tall habit, growing up to 4 feet tall. Colors can be white, shades of pink, purple and even bi-color stripes. My love affair with Phlox began about 25 years ago with a pot of hot-pink blooms from Gilberg’s Perennial Farm. The plant had dark brown stems and the variety couldn’t be identified. Cindy Gilberg named it “The Farm Phlox” and I have been growing it and giving it away ever since. I even gave Cindy a clump last year as her Phlox had reverted to all green stems. “The Farm” Phlox is now back at the farm! Phlox ‘David’ is white and rarely gets powdery mildew like some Phlox. Give it a try if you want a white stunner for the border!
Blazing Star (Liatris)- Blazing star is a really exceptional plant. Reliably perennial, a butterfly and hummingbird “must have” it is also a great cut flower. This native plant is stunning in a vase, deer resistant and grows nice and tall. Place it at the mid to back of the border as it can reach up to 5 feet. A white variety is also available.
Lambs Ear (Stachys)- If any of my children’s friends from Mason Ridge School read this blog, they’ll remember Lambs ear. Whenever I would take the students on a nature walk or talk about flowers, I would always bring in some Lambs ear. Yes, it is the color, shape and feel of a Lambs ear. The kids would love to feel it and all proclaimed it their favorite plant. As an edging or front of the border plant it simply can’t be beat. In late spring it sends up spikes of purple flowers on gray stems. This plant screams “Touch me!” If you have kids or grandkids, you must have this plant. Let the kids touch it whenever they like!
Bee Balm (Monarda)- Bee balm has come a long way. The first variety I grew was pretty invasive and susceptible to mildew issues. As improvements have been made, the plant is more compact, virtually pest free and resistant to disease and deer. I love the smell of Bee balm and, if you love hummingbirds, you MUST have this plant as well. Hundreds of years ago the Native Americans used Bee Balm as a poultice for skin diseases and irritations in addition to steeping it for tea.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepius)- This native plant should be in every garden. There is an annual variety as well as a perennial one. It’s at the top of the list if you want to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s about 2 to 2 ½ feet tall, has orange to red flowers, and produces seed pods in the fall. If you want to attract winged critters, purchase some Butterfly weed, Blazing star and Bee balm. Sit back and watch the show!
Hopefully I’ve wet your appetite for purchasing perennials for sun. Give these guys a chance in your garden- I promise that they won’t disappoint!
If you’d like some other suggestions, try Hardy hibiscus. They’re available in a wealth of colors, producing huge blooms from July until frost. Ditto for Balloon flower: it’s a joy to watch as the flowers open. They really do resemble little balloons!
Every garden needs Rudbeckia, commonly known as ‘Black-eyed Susan.’ It blooms continually and Goldfinch love picking seeds as they ripen on the flower. Ornamental grasses are great fillers in the garden, needing little care. ‘Karl Foerster’ is an early-blooming variety that adds much to the perennial border.
Go on and make me proud by patronizing local nurseries AND picking out some great perennials for your sun garden!