Monday, April 4, 2011

Class preview: Season-Long Bloom

Christmas fern

By Lauren Sims
Photos by Jason Holmes

Human beings are creatures of habit. This makes our lives and choices easier, when you know what is for breakfast, or look forward to the favorite TV shows, for example. But in your garden, repeating the same plantings over and over simply loses its appeal.

For people aching to escape the humdrum garden this year, Duke Gardens instructor Lauri Lawson, of Chapel Hill’s Niche Gardens, has some tips for creating a stunning season-long perennial garden.

First of all, think of your backyard garden as a year-round companion. Triangle gardeners can take advantage of an extra-long growing season that lasts well into the autumn months. Lawson urges people to make use of the full year of bloom, “from the little spring ephemeral bloomers that start the season off to the more boisterous blooms of summer,” and on into the oft-neglected fall plants which can significantly expand your color and texture palettes.
Hardy ginger lily

Lawson advises gardeners to keep in mind the nature of perennial plants when planning and planting a perennial border.

“I think the beginning gardener wants bloom, bloom, bloom, bloom all the time,” she says. But this is not the basis of a low-maintenance perennial bed. Instead, you’ll need to learn the growing times of your plants and plan for the sequence of blooms they display. That way, there will always be something interesting to see in the garden. Also, take note of the textural properties of your plants and incorporate non-blooming structural elements like ornamental grasses for added visual interest.

Finally, Lawson suggests that local gardeners take advantage of the horticultural knowledge and displays in the Triangle area. In addition to several excellent nurseries, Triangle gardeners have access to a variety of public botanical gardens, including Duke Gardens, and even private homes that hold exquisite garden tours.

“We live in one of the horticultural meccas, where there are almost too many gardens to tour,” she says.

Poke around area gardens and take notes of what plants and plant combinations appeal to you, says Lawson. Then take that inspiration home and transform your own backyard space.

If you’d like to learn more, consider taking Lawson’s Season-Long Bloom class at Duke Gardens on April 5 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The class is part of the Gardens’ new Home Horticulture Certificate program, but anyone is invited to take it. For information or to register, please call 668-1707 or email See our full list of classes & events here. Also, mark your calendars for Duke Gardens' Spring Plant Sale, featuring Duke Gardens plants, other plants ideal for this region from Duke Gardens and other vendors, and other nature-related gift items. The sale is April 30 (9 a.m.-2 p.m.), with a preview sale for members on April 29 (5-7 p.m.).

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

Lauren Sims is a graduate student at Duke Divinity School and a work-study assistant at Duke Gardens. This column first appeared in the April 2 Durham Herald-Sun.

Indian Pink

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