Learning the Names of Perennials

Why It's Important and How to Go About It

Yellow alyssum (image) is my favorite spring ground cover along with phlox. Both are perennial.
Aurinia saxatilis is a favorite ground cover of spring. David Beaulieu

Many beginners at landscaping are overwhelmed by the sheer number of different types of perennials available. It's bad enough that one has to study up on the planting zones and growing requirements of the various types of perennials one is considering. But a major obstacle for many beginners is more fundamental than that: namely, having to learn the names of these perennial flowers.

To study the different types of perennials, you first have to know what you're studying -- by name.

Or, at least, it helps. Why? Because without knowing a plant by name, you're missing out on all the handy reference material written about it on the Web. The Web is all about searching. But to search for information using, say, Google about the different types of perennials, you first need to learn their names. Otherwise, it's hit or miss. I.e., you'd have to Web-surf until you stumbled across pictures of the various kinds of plants in which you're interested, thereby identifying them. While success is possible through this tedious approach, there are better methods.

I recently discussed the importance of learning the names of perennials with Darlene, a reader of this Web site, and I offered her a learning tip. Darlene had asked the following questions:

Hello:

Could you please tell me, what is the best way to approach rearranging the different types of perennials in my gardens? I am a beginner gardener, and I have planted quite a few types of perennials, but I am not happy with the way they look now. My problem is I can't remember the names of these perennial flowers. I would also like to know how to control the ones that take over.

The gist of my response was as follows:

"Hi Darlene,

"I've got one answer you'll probably like, and one you probably won't like. Let's begin with the 'bad news.'

"It's an absolute must that you learn the names of those perennial flowers! Communicating information over the Web about the various types of perennials is totally dependent on folks knowing the names of the perennial flowers in question.

If I give you information about X and you think I'm talking about Y, the result could be disastrous.

"Make no mistake about it: there's a lot you need to know when planting flower beds. You have to know the requirements of each plant: amount of sun and water needed, type of soil it likes, etc. Wish I had a shortcut to suggest, but there isn't one: you need to get on a first name basis with the different types of perennials you have.

"A good way to learn the names of perennial flowers is to visit nurseries regularly. Nurseries label their stock, thereby facilitating identification. Don't worry: you don't always have to buy something! For each visit, make it a point to identify three new types of perennials. Take notes, take flower pictures! Next visit, reinforce whatever you learned on your prior visit, plus learn three more types of perennials.

You'll quickly become adept at the names of perennial flowers, provided you have the time for this pursuit. It's really quite fun! Before you know it, you'll find yourself applying your new knowledge when you're out and about.

Driving by the homes of neighbors, for instance, you'll find yourself pointing out the types of perennials that they are growing in their yards. For the curious, such knowledge sometimes leads to a desire to learn more about the origins of plant names.

"In your second question, you say you'd 'like to know how to control the ones that take over.' Here are a couple of ways:

  1. Be vigilant and diligent. As soon as you see a shoot pushing up where it doesn't belong, pounce on it and dig it up.
  2. Some people have success installing containers of some sort that do, literally, "contain" those types of perennials that tend to take over. For instance, I've heard of people purchasing barrels or tubs (either metal or plastic) on the cheap, removing their bottoms with a hacksaw, sinking the container into the ground, then installing the plants in the center. The roots won't be able to break out of their confines, so the plants don't take over."

Now that you've begun your study of perennials, consult my list of popular types of perennials for some examples and more specific information.