By Barbara Smit
Maybe I watch too many disaster movies, but every winter some small part of me begins to suspect that this is the year when spring will fail to arrive. Then I spy the first catkins high on the pussy willow, and heave a sigh of relief. After all the other inevitable early harbingers, comes the lovely green haze that floats like a mist in the bare branches. Then, spring is finally HERE, and I’m ecstatic!
I wish it could last all year. Gardeners are just as inclined as anyone to “want it all.” Personally, I’d like my garden to be green all year: fragrant, sustainable, edible, wildly blooming, amusing, etc. Alive. I have climate envy, moisture envy, soil envy. Yet I suspect if someone could magically give me everything I wished for, I’d grow bored.
If it didn’t come and go, I think spring might be less thrilling. This very transience comprises a good part of its appeal. Nothing reminds me of this so acutely as the perennials in my garden. Sometimes I forget where I planted them, or just what color the flowers are. Every year they expend themselves, rest, and hopefully return. The annual disappearance makes them all the more precious.
So planting some new perennials every fall is a ritual I observe to heighten my spring anticipation. It’s a promise, a lure, a dare, a deposit in my psychic bank. Being fortunate enough to have had a peek at the list of perennials chosen by the experts at Scott Arboretum for the Scott Associates Plant Sale this September, here are some of the many perennials I am coveting:
Lilium formosanum, for one, because it’s big and over the top with splashy white blooms eight to ten inches long! I envision it surprising a border in late summer/early fall when drama can be hard to come by. I’ll plant it somewhere near the house because it’s fragrant and will leave behind elegant seed pods I can see from my window in the winter.
I think I want all the Baptisia I can get because I’m mad about lupines, but don’t happen to live in the Pacific Northwest. Tough, native perennials with a long bloom season, they come in blues, yellow, and creams, tolerate drought and poor soils, and leave attractive seed pods. The bluish-green leaves remind me of eucalyptus, which nature also denies me. There’s nothing here not to love. Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’, aptly named, blooms the most delicious shade of creamy yellow, which will work in both warm and cool colored borders.
Lastly, I have to have Syneilesis aconitifolia. There’s a lot of dry shade in my garden so I’m picturing it as a river of green behind and above the epimediums, with ferns massing behind. It reminds me of papyrus with its shredded umbrella-like leaves held on stems about 18 inches high. The bold, tropical-looking foliage is just the thing to punctuate those shady masses with some drama.
I can hardly stand it. But I know it will be worth the wait.