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Common garden peony. Photo: Darwinek via Wikipedia Commons.
Common garden peony. Photo: Darwinek via Wikipedia Commons.

Big flowers can anchor a garden

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Cornell Cooperative Extension horticulturist Amy Ivy shares her love of "anchor" perennials: flowers like peonies, baptesia (false indigo), hostas and others that are pretty big, and fairly permanent. Many have foliage that's beautiful all season long.

Planting the right flower in the right place can give a garden extra appeal, and give a gardener a reliable performer year after year.

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Reported by

Martha Foley
News and Public Affairs Director

Peonies are blooming in gardens throughout the northeast. These big and fairly permanent flowers are the topic of this conversation with Amy Ivy, a horticulturist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service of Clinton and Essex counties.

“Peonies are a classic one. I really, really love them,,” said Ivy. These flowers don’t last long, but they are perennial and will grow again next year. Ivy described them as being tough, durable plants capable of surviving North Country winters. They grow to be about three feet tall and four feet in diameter.

However, if planted incorrectly, peonies don’t necessarily grow to their full size. “They are a plant that you really want to just kind of plant and treat just like a shrub,” said Ivy, who described an ideal location for peonies as a place where they don’t have to be moved from later.

Foley, who has peonies in her garden said, “And they are so wonderful even after they bloom because they have strong foliage that lasts. It’s pretty through the summer and even into the fall; it’s pretty when it changes color. So you really can count on it as sort of a feature in your garden from start to finish.”

Peonies are typically planted in the fall and therefore might be difficult to find for sale now. However, now is an ideal time to plan ahead and order some.

Baptesia, or false indigo, is another large, flowering plant that blooms just as peonies begin to fade. It is in the pea family and, according to Ivy, resembles a lupin with its compound leaves and similar flowers. It stays in bloom for approximately two weeks. Baptesias are also difficult to move once planted. They come in blue and white, and are typically about four feet tall.

“What is striking is the width; it literally takes six feet in the garden, which is a lesson learned for me,” said Ivy. She explained that she initially planted two baptesias three feet apart in her own garden and then had to remove one once the plants had reached maturity. Given the size of the plant, it is ideal to place it in the back of the garden or against a fence.

Another similar flower is the amnsonia, which is a vertical plant that has more finely cut foliage. It has small, star-shaped blue flowers in the early summer and turns bright yellow in the fall. Like peonies and baptesias, it is convenient for gardeners since it requires little maintenance, doesn’t have pests and crowds out weeds.

Finally, hostas are a popular flowering perennial that tolerate both shade and sun well. “Hostas are one that you can divide,” said Ivy.”They take to it very well, it’s just hard to do since there’s such a dense root system.” The downside to hostas is that they are adored by deer and therefore will have their leaves eaten off.

“Any of those are nice to have, and then you can put other things around them that kind of come and go in your garden. But if you have a few of those in your garden, it can kind of help simplify some of the chores,” concluded Ivy.

It is the time of year at which peonies are blooming in gardens throughout the northeast. These big and fairly permanent flowers are the topic of this conversation with Amy Ivy, a horticulturist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service of Clinton and Essex counties.

 “Peonies are a classic one. I really, really love them,,” said Ivy. These flowers don’t last long, but they are perennial and will grow again next year. Ivy described them as being tough, durable plants capable of surviving North Country winters. They grow to be about three feet tall and four feet in diameter.

However, if planted incorrectly, peonies don’t necessarily grow to their full size. “They are a plant that you really want to just kind of plant and treat just like a shrub,” said Ivy, who described an ideal location for peonies as a place where they don’t have to be moved from later.

Foley, who has peonies in her garden said, “And they are so wonderful even after they bloom because they have strong foliage that lasts. It’s pretty through the summer and even into the fall; it’s pretty when it changes color. So you really can count on it as sort of a feature in your garden from start to finish.”

Peonies are typically planted in the fall and therefore might be difficult to find for sale now. However, now is an ideal time to plan ahead and order some.

Baptesia, or false indigo, is another large, flowering plant that blooms just as peonies begin to fade. It is in the pea family and, according to Ivy, resembles a lupin with its compound leaves and similar flowers. It stays in bloom for approximately two weeks. Baptesias are difficult to move once planted. They come in blue and white, and are typically about four feet tall.

“What is striking is the width; it literally takes six feet in the garden, which is a lesson learned for me ,” said Ivy. She explained that she initially planted two baptesias three feet apart and had to remove one once the plants had reached maturity. Given the size of the plant, it is ideal to place it in the back of the garden or against a fence.

Another plant is the amnsonia, which is a vertical plant that has more finely cut foliage. It has small, star-shaped blue flowers in the early summer and turns bright yellow in the fall. Like peonies and baptesias, it is convenient for gardeners since it requires little maintenance, doesn’t have pests and crowds out weeds.

Finally, hostas are a popular flowering perennial that tolerate both shade and sun well. “Hostas are one that you can divide,” said Ivy.”They take to it very well, it’s just hard to do since there’s such a dense root system.” The downside to hostas is that they are adored by deer and will have their leaves eaten off.

“Any of those are nice to have, and then you can put other things around them that kind of come and go in your garden. But if you have a few of those in your garden, it can kind of help simplify some of the chores,” concluded Ivy.

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