Landscape view: The New Perennial movement

By Laura Ponder, Gardenwoods Nursery

Laura Ponder

Most of our readers will agree that western North Carolina has some of the most stunning scenery and natural landscapes in America. If we were forced to identify and define the elements which draws us to it, what would we say specifically? What are the best ways to interpret this vast beauty around us and scale it down for our own private property so that we can maximize our enjoyment and promote the health of ourselves, our families and our community?

The New Perennial Movement is a planting layout method that is inspired by nature itself: think of woodlands, river banks, pond edges, dry meadows. Each has their own different identifiable look but also some things in common.  1) nature gives us something of interest in every season, 2) any bare, exposed or disturbed soil will invite party-crashing opportunists and volunteer weeds, 3) plants live in layered communities both above ground which we see, but also below ground where we don’t see.

To translate the New Perennial Movement into the design of a residential landscape inspired by nature, I will begin with number 1 above: seasonal interest, currently fall color and winter presence.

With autumn superstars in mind, maybe you have space in your garden to bring in a few tall trees: Liquidambar (Sweetgum), Acer (Maple), Liriodendron (Tulip Poplar) give wonderful color this time of year! If your garden space is more limited, look towards smaller understory trees such as Cornus florida (Dogwood), Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple), Amelanchier (Serviceberry), even Lagerstroemia (Crapemyrtle), and shrubs such as Hydrangea quercifolia (Oak Leaf Hydrangea), Fothergilla (Witch Alder), and Itea (Sweetspire). Take your pick, we are so lucky here to be able to grow them all while many parts of the world are jealous of our four growing seasons, even driving hours just to see the colors.

The autumn color comes with a catch: these plants mentioned will all become dormant through winter and their leaves will drop off, their branhes bare for several months.

Consider adding several other plants which can hold your interest through those weeks of short days and long nights. Cornus stolinifera (Red Twig Dogwood), Ilex verticillata (Common Winterberry), the evergreen Ilex aquifolium (English Holly) with red berries, winter flowering Hamamelis mollis (Chinese Witch Hazel), and low growing Heuchera (Coral Bells) with colorful foliage. Of course, the evergreen conifers, Juniper, Thuja, Chamaecyparis and more, will hold your landscape design together while providing winter protection to cardinals and other wildlife. Hellebores can also keep our spirits bright until the early spring bulbs show (get these in the ground before Thanksgiving).

Another timely topic for fall: winterizing your container pots which are planted with shrubs and perennials. Typically roots of plants naturally established in the ground have a lot of soil insulation from freezing temperatures. Leaf debris, mulch, and even snow will add to this insulation. Picture the roots of plants which are trying to grow in pots sitting above ground. There is very little to protect them from the extremes of night freezing temps and sunny daytime warmth. Not only does the plant suffer but often the pot/planter will crack and crumble. The most susceptible potted plants are those on a deck off the ground or far from the protection of your house walls. Best practice is to move these pots to a snuggled-up spot near the house at ground level or even inside an unheated garage or shed. Many potted ferns, geraniums and other perennials can successfully make it through winter this way and flush out beautifully in spring giving you a head start in 2023. Wrap and tie a blanket or burlap around the pot base if you can’t move the planted pot or bury the entire pot in the ground for cold protection.

Check back for more on the New Perennial Movement and seasonal garden news and contact me if you are looking for help in designing your own garden space

Autumn color at Gardenwoods Nursery (left to right)…


Leave a Reply