Carolyn Singer
Special to The Union

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May 17, 2013
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Hardy perennials: Dependable edibles and ornamentals

When the garden explodes with growth and flowering as the soil warms in May and June, those plants that come back year after year, the perennials, take center stage.

It’s no wonder gardens are open for tours and gardeners invite friends to admire their efforts.

This weekend is the annual Soroptimists’ garden tour. The beautiful insert in The Union last week described the open gardens. Head to your favorite local nursery to buy tickets.

Coming up June 1, a very special private garden will be open to the public for “Art in the Garden” (www.sierrastreamsinstitute.org). I will be there to answer questions about sustainability, and to lead a walk through the garden in the morning.

Take a look at local horticulture (and agriculture) from an historical perspective with the North Star Historic Conservancy landscape tour June 8. In charge of the tour, volunteer Carole Miller has donated countless hours to identifying plants around the Julia Morgan house and on the acreage beyond. Her walk through the grounds begins at 10 a.m.

South of Grass Valley, this North Star property includes 50 heritage plantings of many plants that are still thriving. Recently I spotted a Luther Burbank thornless blackberry that must be more than 100 years old.

Before and after Carole’s walk, you can shop for local produce at the Grower’s Market.

Old gardens amaze me with the numbers of perennials plants surviving decades of neglect. Old roses are particularly enduring. In shady areas under old trees, violets spread from seed and runners.

Least demanding of initial soil preparation is a tall iris, Iris spuria. Even thriving in unimproved rocky clay soil, this amazing iris has beautiful buds and flowers.

Often found on old homesteads, it is clearly a perennial survivor.

Peonies are a perennial that need special attention when planting, but little care from year to year. As long as they are planted in a sunny location, the thick roots provide more flowers with each passing year.

An ample supply of colloidal phosphate or soft rock phosphate, one cup per plant, adds that essential nutrient lacking in foothill soils. It will determine the growth of the root system, the production of flowers, and even the strength of the stalk. Add the phosphorus when you prepare the soil with compost.

My rock garden is entirely perennials, now colorful with dwarf yarrows, dianthus, and the early creeping thymes. Wild bees and honeybees are active in the blossoms.

Edible perennials provide a long spring harvest. My very red rhubarb is now 35 years old and highly productive. As long as the weather doesn’t get too hot, I will keep harvesting, pulling each stalk carefully from the crown.

If the stalk breaks, I still remove the portion at the base so it will not die back. Keeping the crown clean ensures a vital plant year after year.

An asparagus bed started five years ago gives me lots of tasty spears for weeks. In winter, I renewed the mulch of compost and decomposed straw. Now green and purple asparagus are pushing through the thick mulch, and I snap the stalks where they naturally break, leaving the tougher portion behind.

The fresh asparagus are so succulent; they are a treat to eat before they ever reach my kitchen.

Perennial onions and green garlic continue a harvest, now in the third month. Sorrel has been providing lots of green leaves for soup and salad. My hands are full as I gather perennial flowers for the table and food for supper.

There are fewer trips to the grocery store at this time of the year and for the months ahead.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, now available locally. She will be at the Auburn Home & Garden Show May 17-19. For more information, visit www.carolynsingergardens.com.


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The Union Updated May 18, 2013 12:26AM Published May 17, 2013 11:30PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.