In the Garden:
Middle South
September, 2013
Regional Report

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Early-blooming bulbs, such as these crocuses, herald the start of the garden symphony.

Begin a Garden Symphony with Bulbs

Some people describe gardens as paintings -- blank canvases of soil that you "paint" with flowers and foliage plants. Another way to think of gardens is as symphonies. Throughout the growing season, there are crescendos as the showiest plants come into bloom, then quiet spells where the foliage provides a soothing backdrop while you wait for the high drama of the next fanfare. You, the gardener, are the composer and maestro. The plants you choose will dictate when and where you'll have your own botanical drama.

The Prelude
The early spring bulbs are the prelude. Like the opening stanzas of a symphony that focus the attention of the audience, early spring bulbs draw attention to the re-emerging garden. Scilla and crocus herald the start of spring, while daffodils and tulips confirm the fact that the growing season is, indeed, here to stay and the symphony is underway. Planted under spring-flowering trees, such as crabapple, spring bulbs become a dramatic opening statement calling passersby to witness the drama to come.

The Drama
Our region's long growing season gives you plenty of time to build a dramatic ebb and flow in your garden. Late spring-flowering shrubs, such as azaleas, complement late tulips and alliums for a riot of color. Then things quiet down as the summer-bloomers gather strength. A parade of iris, lilies, cannas, and crocosmia provide progressive color throughout the summer months, and make good companions for long-blooming perennials such as coreopsis, echinacea, daylily, veronica, and Shasta daisy.

A perennial garden will naturally have lulls when blooms are sparse. Summer-flowering bulbs, such as gladiolus, caladium, and begonia, can provide welcome color during these quiet times. If your tastes run to continuous high drama, consider interplanting your gardens with annual flowers. Geraniums, impatiens, flossflower, annual salvias, and petunias will all flower for months if you provide plenty of water and fertilizer and deadhead spent blooms. Some gardeners find these flowers too garish and predictable and feel they take away from the drama of the changing landscape. It's up to you to decide how you want your symphony to play.

The Finale
During the heat and humidity of high summer, some perennials will begin to flag and gardens can begin to look forlorn. Plan to include some late-summer bloomers, such as sedum, ornamental goldenrod, aster, and Joe Pye weed, to fill in the gaps. These plants will bloom into fall, carrying the garden into the quietude of winter. But not before the riot of color provided by the changing fall leaves provides one last hurrah! Trees and shrubs with dramatic fall color not only spark your fall garden, they also provide winter interest, casting long shadows in the January sun, catching snowflakes during the occasional winter storm. Sourwood, river birch, Japanese maple, and crape myrtle provide fall and winter interest in the form of colorful fall foliage, attractive bark, and/or interesting form.

Now is the time to begin planning your own garden symphony as fall bulb planting season arrives. As you tuck your bulbs into the ground this autumn, imagine the beautiful garden music that will begin with their emergence next spring.


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