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Consider an old-time favourite: the peony
Sure they miss the mark when it comes to hot, new, or trendy. But if you want hard-core reliable, look to the old-time favourites.
Yes, we are talking grandma’s peony, great auntie’s maiden pinks, the ubiquitous cotoneaster.
These plants have been around for so long, it’s practically impossible to seriously think of using them. But consider this — there are abandoned farmyards where long after the house crumbled and fell, the peonies continue to flourish, year after year. Call them clichéd if you want, but any plant that’s been around for decades, and is still around, is the making of a very desirable plant.
How do we adapt it to fit with today’s gardens?
Use it boldly.
Peonies, in particular, are game for change. Peonies love Winnipeg’s climate, and they go all out with their springtime flowering. Big flowers — splashy reds, yellows, pinks, whites — oodles of them. Major drama. But then they settle down into a medium green, and provide an ideal green backbone, or backdrop. Move them out of the foundation planting, and into a part of the garden where a low summertime hedge is needed, and where their pals the ants won’t bother you.
If you’ve got a contemporary-style garden, put them in a row or a mass planting. Peonies prefer full sun, some will put up with partial sun, and all like moist well-drained soil.
Maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoides) are traditionally used in rock gardens. They happily snuggle up with boulders and stones, softening and calming as they go. They are mat-forming, so plant them as ground covers and let them spread.
If you have a xeriscape or dryland garden, or a composition of large stones and boulders, maiden pinks are a natural fit. If you are reducing your lawn, maiden pinks will happily fill in a small area. Make sure they have good winter protection.
Snow itself will do the trick. In windy locations, cover them with evergreen branches to collect and trap the snow. Maiden pinks require full sun, and well-drained soil.
Visit any neighbourhood that’s 40 years or older, and you’ll find cotoneaster hunkered down, establishing property lines. It’s a workhorse. It’s ubiquitous. But if you want a green summer garden, or you need a medium height privacy screen, cotoneaster delivers. Give it full to partial sun, and moist to dry soils. And its flaming florescent fall colour? Amazing, and totally reliable!
Carla Keast has a master’s degree in landscape architecture and is a Winnipeg-based freelance landscape designer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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