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10:49 PM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Column: This is the season to view perennials in full bloom

Courtesy photo<br>Branches of the Russian spires sage don’t flop over like the spikes of its common cousins.

Courtesy photo<br>Branches of the Russian spires sage don’t flop over like the spikes of its common cousins.

This is the best month to experience mature perennial specimens in bloom at your favorite garden center. The spring season is too early for most perennials to show off, but June brings the encouraging warmth essential to heat lovers like gaillardia, coreopsis, and echinacea. Not only do perennials burst into bloom in warm temps, they also like to be planted during warm days.

Increasingly gardeners are planting exclusively with perennials, their yearly investment in annuals becoming smaller and smaller. Although I like the seasonal color touches that my pockets of annuals give the garden, perennials provide the landscape with a permanent, distinctive, but ever-changing character. Perennials come in a great variety of sizes and colors, so that a towering lilac bush is as much a source of perennial color as a robust coneflower or a hardy gaillardia. That's why, in my mind, shrubs are super-sized perennials! Here we go with this year's list of summer's impressive perennial plantings:

Favorite #1 - Itoh peony. This cross between a tree and traditional English peony is spectacular. The large, semi-double to double size flowers measure up to 6 inches across and are held on strong stems above a compact mound of dark ferny foliage 30 inches tall and wide. As the blossoms mature, the dark lavender pink petals slowly fade to a soft pink, revealing clusters of yellow stamens in their centers. The flowers are fragrant, but this peony variety is chosen for its sheer quantity of blooms. A single plant can have up to 50 flowers open at once, outshining all other perennials in its class.

Favorite #2 - Siskiyou gaura. This is a new color for this outstanding native perennial. Airy masses of deep pink flowers are born on long thin stems that are brought to life by the slightest breeze. Its naturally deep taproot guarantees that it will take in stride summer's heat and drought. Keep it trimmed to encourage repeated blooming. It is ideal for well-drained rock gardens, in clay pots, or in more traditional gardens with good drainage. This improved form has a compact habit and red-tinged leaves for a touch of fun in the garden.

Favorite #3 - Bleeding hearts of gold. At least one plant for the shadier spots in the yard needs mention and this one outshines most others. So many shade plants have dark foliage, but this one is a standout with its vivid golden leaves. The large open plants can be used for contrast and to brighten darker plants common to shaded areas. Traditional heart-shaped pink flowers dangle from long wands above the leaves, making an impressive sight. This is ideal to plant in woodland gardens and under large shade trees.

Favorite #4 - Russian spires sage. This upright selection does not flop over like common varieties. It is a shrubby cold-hardy perennial suited to gardens incorporating a Mediterranean style. Spikes of lavender-blue flowers add a sense of lightness to the garden, and are a delightful alternative to lavender in cottage gardens. Its casual character is equally suited for wild gardens amidst rocky outcroppings or landscape boulders, and along fence lines or as street plantings. It is an outstanding choice to plant with wildflower accents along the edges of dry streambeds.

Favorite #5 - Blue Hills meadow sage. All summer long this spectacular perennial, one of the numerous sages, has true blue flowers on its spikes. Once established, this little plant thinks it is a native. Drought-hardy and only 18 inches high, it is ideal for rock gardens, containers and naturalized areas. Its vibrant blue flowers are excellent in combination with yellow-blooming plants and the ideal companion plant to Sunshine Blue caryopteris, a known butterfly magnet.

Favorite #6 - Butterfly blue pincushion flower. This tidy plant is valued for mass beddings or in mixed perennial borders for late season color. Its beautiful Dutch blue flowers also make it an excellent choice for container gardens. The blooms have intricate centers resembling a pincushion atop tall dancing stems that add constant drama to hot, windy locations. Every landscape should have at least one of these charmers.

Visit your favorite garden center at two-week intervals and you will be pleasantly surprised at the ever-changing selection as different perennials come into bloom. Keep in mind that most perennials need to be at least two years old before they bloom fully, so plant 'em and be patient. Put them in your garden this season and you will enjoy them for years to come.

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Today's free gardening class begins at 9:30 a.m. in Watters' back greenhouse. This week's topic is "Bountiful Vegetable Gardens." Next week, June 16, same time, same place, the class subject will be "Containers that Bloom like Crazy!" We will show you how to force your container gardens into frenzies of fragrant blooms. The entire course schedule of gardening classes is on my Facebook page, facebook.com/watters1815/events, and on the website, http://wattersonline.com/classes.php.

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Once again, Frontier Rotary is hosting its fundraising food and wine event July 8 at Watters' gardens.

This is your invitation to join us for live music, gourmet food, and at least 18 hand-selected wines to sample and enjoy. Tickets are $45, donations that go directly to the local Math & Reading Clinic for kids struggling to master those skills. Last year on this one night of generous fun, we helped raise over $20,000 for this most worthy cause!

Tickets are available at Olsen's Grain, Prescott Chamber of Commerce and Watters Garden Center. Join us on July 8 for a memorable evening of some "helpful fun in the garden."

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 Road, 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."