Herbaceous Perennials | Flower Garden Like Grandma

by Debra on April 11, 2012

Herbaceous Perennials Garden Like Grandmother

Within recent years there has been a great awakening of interest in the plants which our grandmothers used to cultivate in their old-fashioned gardens. These plants, commonly called herbaceous perennials, include such familiar flowers as the:

  • peony
  • phlox
  • iris
  • larkspur
  • Michaelmas daisy
  • day lily
  • columbine
  • rocket
  • anemone
  • spirea

With a little care these will live from year to year, although the tops die back to the ground each year.

Perennials are valuable because:

1. They vary greatly in habit and growth and in shape, size and color of the flowers.

2. Some can be found suited to any condition, whether it be wet, dry, sunny or shady.

3. By careful selection, continuous bloom may be had from early spring until late fall.

4. In general, they are comparatively cheap, propagate easily, increase rapidly and are permanent.

5. Nearly all are good for cut flowers.

Some plants, such as peonies and day lilies, may be planted as specimens in the place of shrubs along the walls and driveways. The most common and satisfactory method of planting them is in mass in a border. Here they should be arranged according to their size, color of the flowers, time of blooming and habit of growth. A carefully thought-out planting plan should be made in which the location and relative arrangement of each variety should be indicated. The plants should be set in the border according to height, with the taller ones at the back and the lower ones toward the front. However, the grading should not be too pronounced, as an uneven line is much more pleasing. Planting in groups of ten or a dozen of one kind is also more effective than scattering the plants in groups of two or three. The plants should also be carefully arranged so that all the early sorts will not be at one end of the border, leaving this end unattractive later in the season. One should aim to have flowers at all times all along the border.

In arranging the plants for color, as with annuals, it is best to choose only two or three colors which harmonize. Harmony of color is obtained in two general ways, by blending or contrast. In the blending arrangement, tints and shades of the same primary color may be placed next to each other, arranged according to successive intensities of that color. For example, using the red primary we would place light pink, pink, deep pink, light red and red together, and expect the effect to be pleasing. Likewise with the two other primary colors, yellow and blue, successive intensities of them could be placed side by side without producing bad effects. Many of the most successful flower gardens today are laid out using only one color, or at most, two, viz., pink or blue. White flowers may always be used because white is really absence of color and does not interfere with other colors. Too much of white, however, may give an appearance of “spottiness.”

In arranging colors by contrast, two colors are chosen which are unlike in composition and therefore contrast.

The following table of colors and their contrasts will act as a guide in this method of arrangement:

The green of the foliage aids materially in maintaining a proper balanced harmony.

The following three color combinations are satisfactory:




It is a common mistake to plant too thickly, so that the roots are not given enough room to spread out. In general, the plants should be spaced a distance equal to one-half their height, varying this in the case of plants that are very bushy to a distance equal to their height, and in the case of plants that are tall and slender, to about one-fourth their height.

With the exception of peonies, Yucca, bleeding heart and a few others, Herbaceous Perennial Plants should be dug up, divided into several pieces according to their size, every three to five years. This is done because the crowns which produce the best flowers, flower only a few seasons and die. However, most of the plants spread out and new crowns are produced around the center of dead ones.

These should be dug up and reset. The best time to do this is immediately after flowering in most cases. At this time it is also best to set out new plants.

By lifting the plants as suggested, it also affords an opportunity to fertilize the soil in the border, which after several seasons of growth will have become depleted. Early spring and early
fall or late summer are good times to plant out new borders.


  • Aconitum
  • Monkshood
  • Actiza spicata
  • Barberry
  • Anemone
  • Pennsylvania Wind flower
  • Convallaria
  • Lily-of-the-valley
  • Dielytra
  • Bleeding heart
  • Hardy ferns
  • Funkia
  • Plantain lily
  • Hepaticas Liver leaf
  • Mertensia virginica
  • Blue bell
  • Thalictrum
  • Meadow rue
  • Trillium
  • Wake-robin




  • Asclepias tuberosa
  • Butterfly weed
    Aquilegia canadensis
  • Canadian columbine
  • Aquilegia alpina
  • Alpine columbine
  • Baby’s breath
  • Blanket flower
    Helianthus multiflorus
  • Mexican sunflower
  • Inula grandiflora
  • Fleabane
    Saxifraga crossifolia
  • Saxifrage
  • Stonecrop


  • Hibiscus moscheutos
  • Swamp mallow
  • Iris pseudacorus
  • Iris sibirica
  • Sibirian iris
  • Iris Icevigata
  • Japanese iris
  • Lobelia cardinalis
  • Cardinal flower
  • Monarda
  • Oswego tea
  • Polygonium cuspidatum
  • Spiraea


  • Achttlea tomentosa
  • Woolly yarrow
  • Arabis albida
  • Rock cress
  • Campanula carpatica
  • Carpathian harebell
  • Geum coccineum
  • Gypsophila repens
  • Baby’s breath
  • Phlox amoena
  • Creeping phlox
  • Sedum in variety
  • Stone crop
  • Tunica saxifraga
  • Yucca filamentosa
  • Adam’s needle

These “grandma gardens” may look like a bunch of wildflowers to you… and they are for the most part. Grandma didn’t have the local garden shop to choose a bunch of petunias.  She used the flowers found in the feels or from her neighbors.

Have fun with this idea and give grandma a run for her “garden”…


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