Gerry Daly: Perennial flowers can be low maintenance... Just choose wisely
It might seem strange to be thinking about flower borders when autumn flowers such as aster and river valley are still in evidence. But believe it or not, now is a good time to prepare for next year's flowers. Perennials get off to a good start in autumn.
In former times, when herbaceous borders were popular, the effort involved was considerable.
Shrubs are often given credit for being lower maintenance, however perennial flowers are not necessarily difficult to maintain either.
Most of them flower in summer after the shrubs have finished, so perennials can be handy to complement shrubs.
Perennial flowers are now generally not grown in a herbaceous border, but in mixed borders along with trees and shrubs, or even just at the front of a shrub border.
This is a much better way to grow perennial flowers - and it is a natural approach that suits practically every garden. The flowers benefit from some shelter and the shrubs make a good backdrop for the flowers.
If you choose varieties that do not need staking and are not inclined to spread very much, a lot of the effort of staking and division of perennial flower plants is taken away. Many of the perennial flowers offered in garden centres do not need staking, such as hosta, penstemon, phlox and kniphofia, and do not need division either, unless new plants are needed from divisions.
The dead seed-heads have their own charm and can be left in place, or only removed when they get messy looking.
Some perennials have soft leaves and flower stems, such as hosta, nerines and lobelia, that wither and rot away and do not have to be removed, and this saves a lot of effort too.
From this, it might seem that there is little or no work with perennial flowers, and it is certainly true that by choosing the labour-free kinds, there will be relatively little effort in growing them - but there is still a need to carry out some work. And this is a good time of year to do it, although it can be done at any time until spring in good, dry weather.
For existing plants, the work of lifting and division can start now. The trick is to lift selectively those that need division, keep some healthy parts of the clump and re-plant.
With a bit of luck only a small proportion of the plants will need this treatment. Indeed, if there are too many kinds that need staking or that spread too much, they might be replaced with ones that are less demanding.
This is an excellent time of year to plant newly purchased perennials.
Take a look around the garden and see whether there are spaces where some perennial flowers could be planted. Often there are spaces between and in front of shrubs where flowers can be grown, adding to the decorative value of the border and helping to keep weeds down.
If an area or border is planted out with shrubs and there appears to be no space for flowers, you might consider removing some shrubs, especially over-grown specimens to make space for flowers.
This would amount to turning a shrub border into a mixed border. The result will be much more colour, especially in summer, and a better decorative effect without causing any significant amount of extra work (as long as you choose low-maintenance plants).
Plant from pots or your own divisions, or from a piece chopped off the edge of an existing plant. Loosen the soil in the area to be planted. If you're adding compost to open the soil and encourage new roots, it should be dug in. Dig a hole bigger than the pot or division. Plant to the soil surface level. Firm lightly and water once to get soil moisture rising naturally.
And then just watch and wait.
SEE IT: Autumn foliage is superb this year and the Botanic Gardens in Dublin are running a guided walk for those who want to know all about it. First come, first served at the visitor centre, 11.30am and 3pm, Mon to Sat; 12 noon and 2.30pm, Sun.
PLANT IT: One of our favourite cooking apple varieties is 'Bramley's Seedling' which has been grown commercially for over 150 years, and has excelled this year. The variety was named after a Mr Bramley, who owned the cottage where a local nurseryman spotted a good apple tree.
HEAR IT: June Blake's garden in Blessington, Co Wicklow is a jewel. It's closed to the public for winter now - but if you are lucky enough to be in Kenmare, June (inset) will discuss its development in 'The Evolution of a Garden - from farmyard to present day', at 7.30pm on November 8 in The Gateway, Killarney Road, Kenmare. Admission fee.