The Garden Guy: A summer's parade of perennials is here

Ken Lain/Courtesy photo<p>
The Sea Shell Peony has highly fragrant, luminous rich pink blossoms with large orange centers that open each spring.

Ken Lain/Courtesy photo<p> The Sea Shell Peony has highly fragrant, luminous rich pink blossoms with large orange centers that open each spring.

This has been the perfect week to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. The almost monsoon-like weather is just what plants need to get a good start. Mild nights, warm days, a little cloud cover and an afternoon sprinkle is absolutely the best kind of planting weather. I was so inspired to take advantage of the weather that this week I took an afternoon off to work in our yard. I created a new garden area with seven new shrubs and a new tree! It's gratifying to know that we can enjoy the flowering shrubs while awaiting fruit to form on the blackberry bush and the serviceberry tree. Everything looks great so far.

Perennials are those flowering plants that come back every year with even more flowers than the season before. They typically go dormant in the ground through winter, coming into their own in late spring. Every year they come back bigger and bolder. If you like flowers in the yard keep in mind that perennials are a great investment because when well placed can reduce the numbers of annual flowers needed to keep a yard looking its best.

Increasingly, gardeners are planting almost exclusively with perennials; their yearly investment in short-lived annuals is becoming smaller and smaller. I, too, have planted a lot of perennials, using pockets of annuals to give my garden vibrant touches of seasonal color. Perennials bring a permanent structure but ever-changing character to any garden. A towering lilac bush is as much a source of seasonal color as a robust coneflower or a hardy gaillardia. To my mind the colorful blooms of perennial shrubs are super-sized "annuals" on steroids!

I've been gardening for years with perennials and have a list of my favorite performers. These are the hardiest of the perennial flowers and when planted in clay soils I've found that watering them about twice a week is plenty. Add any of these plants to your landscape and you're in for a better summer garden year after year.

Favorite #1 - Sea Shell Peony. These highly fragrant, luminous rich pink blossoms with large orange centers open each spring. Unlike other peonies, this tall graceful variety has lighter - weight flowers that rarely need staking except in the windiest locations. Peonies keep their rich green, almost lacy, foliage until late in the season. They're excellent for beds, borders, and foundation planting.

Favorite #2 - Siskiyou Gaura. This variety gives us a new color for this outstanding native perennial. Airy masses of deep pink flowers are born on long, thin, wispy, wand-like stems that come to life by the slightest breeze. The naturally deep taproot guarantees that heat and drought are easily taken in stride. Keep it trimmed to encourage repeat bloom cycles. It's ideal for well-drained rock gardens, clay pots, or in more traditional garden beds with good drainage. This improved form has a compact habit with red tinged leaves.

Favorite #3 - Sunshine Blue Caryopteris. This is by far the best yellow- leaf form of Caryopteris available, and as summer progresses the deep gold color of its foliage intensifies. Make sure you place it in full sun and well-drained soil. It is very drought tolerant and in late summer, airy wisps of rich, amethyst blue flowers provide a vivid accent. Butterflies love it, but fortunately for those of you in deer country, deer don't!

Favorite #4 - Fringed Bleeding Heart. This superb perennial has a very long bloom season. Cherry red buds open to darker red heart-shaped flowers. Finely cut blue green foliage makes up this tidy little mounding plant. Bleeding hearts thrive in troublesome shaded areas. Use them in containers or in shaded flower gardens planted individually or in a mass, where the combined flower stalks make an impressive impact.

Favorite #5 - Origami Columbine. Extra-large flowers are held upright on delicate blue-green foliage. This compact variety offers blooms of remarkably rich colors with striking white center corollas. It blooms for many weeks, beginning in late spring and well into summer. Columbine is a favorite bed and border flower that adds that airy cottage look to gardens. It is a cheerful perennial for informal woodland gardens, beneath large shade trees, and produces exceptional blooms when placed in containers.

Favorite #6 - Blue Hill Meadow Sage. I carry a lot of different types of sage, but this spectacular perennial has true blue flower spikes all summer. Once established this little plant of 18 inches thinks it is a native. This drought tolerant plant does very well in rock gardens, containers and naturalized areas. Its vibrant blue flowers are excellent in combination with yellow flowers and is an ideal companion plant to yellow-leafed Sunshine Blue Caryopteris.

Favorite #7 - Butterfly Blue Pincushion Flower. Because their spring blooms carry over to late season color, these tidy plants are valued for their mass bedding effects and for incorporation into mixed perennial borders. Their beautiful Dutch blue flowers also are perfect for container gardens. The blooms have intricate centers resembling full pincushions atop tall stems that provide constant drama to hot windy locations. Every mountain landscape should have at least one.

This is the start of the perennial season at most nurseries where the selection changes as the different varieties come into bloom. Stop in often at your favorite garden center and take in the changing parade put on by these beautiful, dependable plants. Put them in your garden this season and enjoy them for years to come.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Throughout the week Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd, Prescott, and can be contacted through his web site at www.wattersonline.com . Ken says, "my personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes."