Perennial gardens are living monuments

Perennial gardens are generations. They grow over time. From year to year, the relationships that develop are never the same. What a wonderful role model for caring human gardeners, connected to the earth and the growth of green things.

For starters, perennial garden plants can have very different lifespans: from 3 to 20 years or more – a reminder for the gardener to count his own days. Particularly popular for their longevity are bearded irises, oriental poppies, daylilies, hydrangeas, peonies, sedums, bleeding heart, hellebores and hostas. It’s no wonder that these are the plants that often survive in the landscape long after the gardener who planted them or even the garden itself is gone.

Perennials can also survive incredible hardships and abuse. At least 20 years ago, a neighbor planted peonies along the lot line. Then for decades, later generations cut them down. Sad to see this noble plant suffering, I took the liberty of pulling out the roots and replanting them. Two years later, these peonies began to bloom again, one white and one hot pink. As of this writing, they are still going strong.

Both bearded iris and oriental poppies are also neglected survivors of neighbor flower beds. Meanwhile, in our own garden, a previous owner had allowed an old yellow iris to spread wildly. Although regular thinning is highly recommended, these stubborn plants can still grow and spread.

The continuity of plants and the powerful stories of the gardeners who grew them are inextricably intertwined. When my mother asked us to help her move from Wisconsin to our homes in Petoskey, Arizona, she was understandably sad about the prospect of leaving her precious flower garden behind. So it was for my sake and also for my mother’s sake to move many of her precious hostesses to Petoskey. My mother passed six summers ago. But the memories of my mother as a “gardener” are still alive in those precious plants. And in Arizona, one of our daughters is still tending to GG’s latest garden project: a large potted elephant bush.

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So, I guess I shouldn’t have been at all surprised when our youngest daughter, who loves summer, at our family’s house overlooking the Bear River, volunteered to donate a new tree for the yard this summer. This was partly to replace the shade lost when the wind blew down many of the maple trees several summers ago. But her gift, Adam’s Tree, the Apple Tree, continues this beloved investment in the future: in plants that we know will survive long after we are gone.

The same daughter and her older sister teamed up to move the arrowhead and several water lilies to our small garden pond. Even in a very small space, they are starting to put out gorgeous blooms. And to keep it all in the family, another daughter is still eagerly working on creating a container garden in her new tiny house near Petoskey.

Bottom line, people have stories. So do plants. The perennial gardens are living monuments of that shared history. Whenever we teach a child or grandchild to garden, we honor this tradition.

Author of the 2006 regional bestseller Time in a Garden, Mary Agrea has won six consecutive Michigan Garden Clubs essay writing awards since 2017. Her Book of the Days of the Wandering Gardener, gardening novels and books on gardening and spirituality are available online and at Local libraries.

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