Rosy Hardy is well known as an authority on Herbaceous Perennials. I always enjoy catching up with Rosy and her husband Rob at Chelsea Flower Show for an indulgent tour of the Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants exhibit. As a bit of a shrubby, used to dealing with woody plants I so admire the delicacy, colour, texture and grace of perennials. This is a much softer, world where plants drift together in charming associations.
Of course I do grow lots of perennials, but in my garden they take their chances amongst everything else. One day I promise myself that I’m going to learn more. Rosy and I do lots of talks to gardening clubs and horticultural societies, and we seem to follow each other on the lecture circuit. Wherever Rosy has been she leaves gardeners inspired and they all talk about how much they gleaned from spending a couple of hours with her, and they rave about the wonderful perennials they bought!
I invited Rosy to share her love of perennials and gardening with us, and to give us a few tips on how to achieve success with them. I’m really delighted to welcome her as a guest to the My Garden School blog
Hooked on perennials more by mistake than design. I have always loved flowers from early on in life and loved wildflowers firstly, knowing all their names wherever we lived: Russia, Scotland, Hampshire or Northumberland. The latter being my first place for this interest as I rode either my pony or horse around the countryside. Also being a nosy person horseback is an amazing place to be able to peer over people’s walls and hedges and see what they are growing. Even better for being able to pick the odd plum out of reach from anyone else!
I studied at Writtle Agricultural College doing Commercial Horticulture specializing in vegetables. A few positions down the line I ended up digging up my garden and selling plants at carboot sales in Ascot. Everyone loved the perennials and so it started. My sister-in-law Anne Liverman has an amazing garden, with a collection of superb perennial varieties, Dove Cottage, Ashbourne, Derbyshire. We were allowed to lift and split and propagate from there to build up our collection.
So are you and Rob into gardening in the broader sense? Do you grow your own vegetables for example?
If we had some free time during the growing year we would be vegetable growers but sadly not to be… but I do have a gravel garden, which gives me pleasure and I find can be easily maintained with my busy schedule. Rob is a maniac with the lawn mower and attacks what can become a hayfield when he can. Our garden is a conglomeration of plants left over from various exhibits, usually Hampton Court Daily Mail Gardens.
I always think of perennials as rather hard work. All that lifting, dividing, staking; are they all like that. Have I got it wrong?
Hard work never hurt anyone?? Seriously they are not hard work if grown correctly and allowed to prosper. At least if you get them in the wrong place you can lift them Spring or Autumn unlike shrubs and trees…
Do not over feed them and allow clumps to become moderately mature before splitting. Make sure that if you have a mixed border use the shrubs as your growing supports. Remembering to use techniques like Chelsea chop properly, so it is a chop not a snip, which means that the plant is cut to an inch of its life and then will grow far more compactly. Dead heading as with roses encourages more flowers, and always water wisely.
What is your number one tip for gardeners growing perennials?
People often say to me that they would love an herbaceous border. Does anyone grow them like that today?
There are plenty of people growing true herbaceous borders, even in the smaller garden, and they can still plant in three’s or five’s. It is getting that layer planting correct whereby you use the ground wisely with taller plants creating the shade for the lower storey.
Even traditional herbaceous borders have their keystone plants that were evergreen shrubs, to draw the eye, or used as a backdrop such as Taxus or Lonicera nitida.
If I you had to choose your three “Desert Island Perennials” what would they be, and why?
Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’
Andy’s comment: I just love this zesty orange. Team it up with anything sapphire blue for a stunning combination.
Andy’s comment: A lovely light airy plant for late summer. Plant it at the front of the border and look through it to give your planting depth.
Andy’s comment: My favourite too. I love it with Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ and the copper leaved Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diable d’Or’
What’s the big “buzz” perennial for this season?
Now if I had a crystal ball I would be a very rich plants-woman….
Lets say all 3 of my new introductions from British breeders, Nepeta grandiflora ‘Summer Magic’, Gaillardia ‘Fanfare Blaze’, Leucanthemum ‘Real Neat’.
All have the fact they re-bloom in common, giving a really long flowering season.
We’ve seen lots of perennials trending in recent years: echinaceas, heucheras, agapanthus. What’s still in and what’s had its day?
These trends are because the breeders can get so many different colour variations into these plants, making it possible for people to want any new variant available, whether it is good or not.
I am not so keen on trends; plants that stand the test of time are always to be appreciated first, as gardeners will be successful.
Here today gone tomorrow plants tend to be grown more in containers and a lot of these trending plants are grown this way and treated more as disposable or annual planting.
The truth? we don’t!
We have to grow about 3 times the quantity required and give them various treatments such as heat and supplementary lighting. Sometimes it is potting up at different times and stages in their development that makes the difference. It all comes down to knowledge of the plant material and a great awareness of plant physiology. An awful lot is to do with observation of what the plant is doing and then timing treatments accordingly.
What are your other guilty pleasures apart from herbaceous perennials and gardens?
That will be Scuba diving, Champagne, and lunch with girlfriends.
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Photography: © Rosy Hardy