Extension Educator, Horticulture
I once though that my flower gardens would one day be this carefully orchestrated symphony of flowers from early spring until after frost. I would wave my baton and the foxglove would be a crescendo of pink flowers along with the purple coneflower. I also thought that once my garden evolved, the symphonies would be basically the same from year to year. I could just sit back and enjoy the music.
After a year or two of perennial flower gardening, I realized sometimes the orchestra picks its own symphonies to play no matter how wildly I wave my baton. And sometimes the violin section decides not to play this year because the winter was just too cold or their feet got too wet. Or the percussion section gets overbearing and takes over the whole movement.
Perennial flower gardens are continually changing as some plants succumb to winter injury, poor growing conditions and overcrowding. Sometimes we may even be joyously surprised when our plant combinations play better together than we thought. (Of course, we could always say we planned it that way.) I believe our best enjoyment of flower gardens comes when we enjoy the changes. As one Master Gardener told me, she has learned to enjoy a plant's death because now she has room to try a new plant. However it is nice to have a few durable, reliable and long blooming perennials in the garden. Luckily many perennial flowers can fit this category. The following flowers will bloom at least four weeks and many bloom more than eight weeks.
For early bloom in a shady garden add Fringed Bleeding Heart Dicentra eximia or Wild phlox Phlox divaricata. Fringed Bleeding heart will start blooming in April and will bloom sporadically into September. Like many perennials a quick haircut after the initial bloom will promote continued flowering.
Wild phlox is a lovely native flower blooming in woodland areas from April through May. There are some cultivars of this beauty including 'Chattahoochee' which is blue with a pink eye or 'Fuller's White.' May in the shady garden brings the long bloomers of yellow Corydalis Corydalis lutea, Barrenwort Epimedium sp. and Shooting Stars Dodecatheon meadia. As the season progresse,s the shady gardener can look for Meadowsweet Filipendula vulgaris, Monkshood Aconitum napellus, and Japanese Anemone Anemone x hybrida.
The sunny garden has more selections to choose from. May begins the bloom period for Columbine 'McKana' hybrids and wild columbine. For eight weeks or more of bloom starting in May, there is Perennial Bachelors Button Centaurea montana, Blanketflower Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Baby Cole,' Catmint Nepeta x faassenii, Perennial Salvia Salvia x superba 'May Night,' and Pin Cushion Flower Scabiosa x 'Butterfly Blue.'
June starts the long bloomers of Golden Yarrow 'Moonshine' or 'Coronation Gold.' Perennial coreopsis has many lovely cultivars to choose: 'Early Sunrise,' 'Sunray' or the fine leaf cultivars 'Moonbeam,' 'Zagreb' or 'Rosea.' Many of the daylily cultivars offer a long bloom period such as 'Happy Returns' and 'Stella D'Oro.' Daylilies also offer tremendous durability and have few insect or disease problems.
The veronicas with cultivars of 'Sunny Border Blue,' 'Icicle' and 'Blue Peter' can be relied on year after year. Purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea, False Dragonhead Physostegia virginiana and Balloon Flower Platycodon grandiflorus are durable long bloomers. For late season color Asters offer many colors. Some quality cultivars include: 'Wonder of Staffa,' 'Monch,' 'Alma Potschke' and 'Purple Dome.' Asters are generally much more dependable for late season bloom than chrysanthemums.
Gardens have a rhythm of their own. We may fill in the note, but we can't completely orchestrate it. The best we can do is hum along.