The Q&A Archives: driveway plantings

Question: I have a small area next to my driveway that has a northern exposure and receives almost no sun from Dec. to March. However, during the summer it receives full sun. I am also dealing with heavy-clay soil. Any recommendations for plants (perennials) that would do well under these conditions?

Answer: I'd consider the site one that provides full sun during the growing season, so perennials that like full sun are the ones you should concentrate on. Heavy clay soil can be amended to help it drain better. If you don't amend the soil it will hold too much water during the winter months which will essentially suffocate the roots. So take a little time to amend the soil prior to planting and your new perennials will be happy. You can spread 4-6 inches of organic matter over the top of the bed and dig it in to a depth of 6-8 inches. After planting, mulch over the bare soil with additional organic matter to help suppress weeds and moderate soil temperatures.

Here are a few suggestions for your new perennial bed:

Ornamental Onions or Alliums are one of the easiest full sun perennials to grow and even though they are technically a bulb, they deserve a place in the early summer perennial border.

Monkshood or Aconitum is a wonderful plant for full sun or light shade and I particularly like the old-fashioned bicolor form. The fall blooming varieties bring fantastic blue shades to the fall garden.

One of the easiest of hardy perennials is the Coneflower or Echinacea. A sun loving beauty! Peonies are one of the superb classic perennial flowers; Hollyhocks are one of the stateliest and easiest of self-sowing perennials. And one of the longest blooming plants in the perennial border is the Coreopsis or Butter Daisy

Lavatera is a tall, shrubby perennial that produces scads of pink flowers and is a good plant for the back of the border. It will take a bit of shade too so that makes it even more versatile.

Poppies are a visually exciting garden perennial. Their bright colors scream across the garden. Fall in the garden would not be the same without the showy Black Eyed Susan or Rudbeckia family of plants. These are North American natives and fill our fall gardens with those wonderful yellows we associate with fall.

I am not sure there is a plant that is considered an essential perennial for every garden, but if there was - Baby's Breath would come very close to being that plant. This dainty flowering plant is considered a mixed blessing. In cold climates, it flowers as a biennial giving us scads of spring daisies.

Best wishes with your new perennial bed!

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