by Connie Oswald Stofko
Gardeners aren’t looking for plants, they’re looking for solutions, Dr. Allan Armitage told the audience of professionals and Master Gardeners at PLANT WNY’s Education Day on Feb. 5 in Depew.
Armitage, a perennial guru, wrote the books Herbaceous Perennial Plants, Armitage’s Garden Perennials and Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens.
He also has a new app for Android and Apple devices called Armitage’s Greatest Perennials & Annuals. The advantages of the app over a book is that you can easily refer to the app when you’re shopping for plants, and it is updated frequently.
When gardeners are shopping for plants, they are trying to solve problems in their gardens, Armitage said. “Solution gardening” is a new trend that encompasses several other gardening trends, such as a trend toward smaller gardens.
“The garden of today is the deck,” Armitage said. “Gardens are smaller. We’ve transformed the half-acre vegetable garden into containers on the deck— but you can do just fine with two tomato plants.”
Another reason the deck has become the garden for many people is because they want a landscape that is low maintenance.
“People simply don’t have the time,” Armitage said. “That seems a bit of an excuse– we never had time, but we have less time now.”
In addition to having less space to garden and wanting low-maintenance plants, gardeners are looking for plants to provide other solutions for their landscapes, he said.
- Foodscaping. Rather than relegate vegetables to their own area off in a corner of the yard, gardeners want to incorporate food plants into their attractive landscape.
- Deer resistance.
- Feeding birds.
- Attracting pollinators with native plants.
- Finding a ground cover to work in shade.
- Fragrance. “Fragrance is back in,” Armitage said. “It’s not just roses anymore.”
The trick is to find plants that solve your problem without creating a new problem, he noted. If you’re looking for a plant that is pretty and attracts butterflies, a butterfly bush is a good choice. But if you have a small area, a variety that gets eight feet tall and proportionately wide might not work for you.
Before you choose a plant, think about what you want to achieve. Talk to your landscaper or to the trained professionals at local garden centers and let them help you choose appropriate plants.
One last piece of advice: “Have fun and don’t be too serious,” Armitage said.
Here are a few of Armitage’s favorite perennials:
Amsonia. This is as good as it gets for ease and tolerance, he said. It’s a native plant (or you can find “nativars” or cultivars of the native plants), so it’s low maintenance and drought tolerant.
Baptisia or false indigo. When you see this at a garden center, it may look like twigs in a pot, he said. It takes two years for this plant to look good in your garden, but once it’s established, it will look good for 20 years.
Heuchera. There are many varieties of heuchera, which are colorful and work in shade. Also look for X Heucherella, which Armitage calls the next Heuchera. It’s a cross between Heuchera and Tiarella.
Helleborus. Also known as the Lenten rose, he calls this one of the best breakthrough plants in the last few years. It works well in shade and is deer resistant.
Nepeta. Armitage calls this northern lavender and recommends planting it with roses to cover up the roses’ “knees and ankles” when the rose plant isn’t blooming.