One of the biggest challenges to creating an attractive landscape is getting plants to bloom throughout the seasons. This task is especially difficult because most perennial flowers, trees and shrubs typically only bloom a few weeks out of the year.
Looking around Ellen and Howard Duncan’s yard in Lecompton, Ellen’s careful planning of bloom sequence is apparent. Right now, the vibrant colors of Oriental and Asiatic lilies and daylilies steal my attention, while the green foliage of hundreds of already-bloomed irises makes a perfect backdrop.
There are also shrubs and roses, and Ellen tells me the irises and daylilies are mixed with tulips and jonquils that bloomed early this spring.
“They usually start in the snow,” she says. “There are bulbs blooming out here from January to May.”
As the last of the bulbs fade, there is Japanese kerria, phlox and columbine to take their place. On a shady hillside, multiple varieties of hostas and coral bells fill the spaces and add interest with different hues and variegations in their foliage.
Ellen points out a grouping of my favorite plant, the Japanese toad lily.
“The blooms on these don’t look like much,” Duncan says. “But they bloom in late summer when not a lot of other things do.”
Also on this shady hillside, Ellen has also hung tropical ferns from a few of the trees. Potted begonias that she overwinters in the house fill an area beside the wooden bridge. This area in particular feels very manicured and very natural at the same time.
Higher up the hill, in the sun, butterfly milkweed, coneflower, bee balm and salvia are all blooming now, and a mimosa tree in the yard is just getting ready for its mid-summer show. Although the false indigo has finished blooming for the year, the plant still bears pretty seed pods.
Ellen draws my attention to a sea of red poppies.
“The poppies are annuals but they re-seed every year,” she says. “That makes it easy.”
In another area, a butterfly bush that will bloom the rest of the summer is tucked in with more lilies and several varieties of coneflower.
“About the time these finish, the mums will start,” Ellen says.
The crape myrtles and toad lilies should be taking off then, too. After frost, she will rely mostly on the lungworts in the shade garden — their foliage remains green throughout the winter. Then it is a short wait for the bulbs to start blooming in January. She’s also planted a witch hazel, a shrub that is one of the first plants to bloom in January.
“This whole thing has been kind of an experiment to see what grows,” Ellen tells me. “We put things out here, and if they don’t grow, we try something else.”
I think it is an experiment with careful planning.