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Let’s Talk Dirt for May 8

by Susan Simons

    Week four:  This garden is getting crowded with perennials, all chosen to do well in tough conditions.  We’ll add two more this week and some groundcovers the following week.  Then it will be time to pick and choose among these winners and draw up a couple of plans for placing them in a 12’ by 6’ sunny plot.  This week, I want to add two more choices:  ‘Karl Foerster’ Grass and ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum.

    ‘Karl Foerster’ Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) grows 4-5’ tall and 2-3’ wide but not in the first year.  Many grasses are suited to hot sun and low water, but this one is especially handsome and dependable. It does well in both clay and sandy soils. The pale green plumes ripen to wheat-color in fall and look attractive all winter. This is a very upright plant. It looks best in the back of the garden and sets off spreading plants like Catmint or ‘Prairie Jewel’ Penstemon. Gardeners usually group different grasses according to height and spread, but we’ll try just this one grass this year.

    ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum (Sedum spectabile) has silver, blue-grey leaves and large reddish blooms in late summer and fall. Buy several and buy the starts larger rather than smaller (at least a three-inch pot) so that you will have a good show the first year. This sedum comes back reliably each spring and grows taller and wider each year, topping out at about 2’ tall and 2’ wide.  It is very showy in the fall just when other blooms are fading.

    You may be wondering how we will put this garden together. Our first rule for selection was hardiness under harsh conditions. All of our perennials will pass that test. Then we choose for at least three heights and blooms or interest in all seasons. In the process, we got plants that are upright, plants that are rounded, plants that are spreading. We got various shades of red, of blue, and of yellow with white coming in next week. We also have some incredible fragrances and flowers attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

    If you like, you can start drawing up a plan that suits you. Just get paper, turn it sideways, and draw in approximate heights and shapes. Begin to look for a few large rocks or boulders to add some hardscape to the garden. Or a birdbath. Or a piece of garden art.

    You will probably want edging around the outer edges. I’m going to recommend stainless steel edging because its so durable and you can easily bend it and curve it. It comes in ten foot lengths and is cheaper than plastic or rubber.  So far, I haven’t found it any closer than Hardings in Colorado Springs though.

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