Year one of the perennial circle: hope wins over hare, hail and heat

Perennial_Circle_2015_08On the shaded porch of the brand new freshly-painted Parkdale Community Garden shed, 3-year old Kian is helping his grandmother by writing makeshift popsicle stick labels for the Perennial Circle in the centre of the raised beds. Like many things in the Garden, things happen quickly, and all the perennial plants in the circle – just planted over the last eight weeks – need markers. Perennials overwinter and when they emerge next spring they won’t be so easy to identify.

From toddlers to septuagenarians, the Garden is surrounded by a cluster of gardeners and urban farmers who have been tending their highly productive gardens for decades, sharing knowledge, plants and seeds with each other and now with us.  Eventually there will be some pedagogical panels, almost all the plants will have markers and some will have more permanent illustrated labels with QR codes, so you can check them out online.

Since early summer, inter-generational volunteers- people on the full spectrum of gardening experience- have been digging, planting, watering, mulching, pruning and weeding. In one energy-intense planting session, soil amendments were mixed on a tarp, carried by wheel barrel to the Circle and one-by-one, plants were placed in the rich mixture.

Most of the plants were donated from established Parkdale gardens and some were carefully team-selected purchased plants. It went from an empty bed to a young garden in a day. Sincethen more were added and mystery waterers kept them alive during summer vacations and a heat wave. In the center of the Circle is a young cherry tree chosen to provide some shade and to visually anchor the Circle. All the perennials in this bed are listed as Zone 3, a measurement of plant hardiness.

Some of them like the prairie sage- used for smudging ceremonies- are native plants. Others are heritage plants, like the Iris Germanica, which comes from gardens surrounding the Parkdale Addition postwar homes, shared between neighbours and generations. Unlike the colourful but needy annuals, many of these perennials are drought-tolerant- once established – with low-water needs.

Featured in the southern section of the Circle is a Blue False Indigo plant which will only come into its full beauty and maturity in three years. It is now protected by annuals, scented geranium and verbena, Echinacea purpurea, yellow poppies and small specimens of Gaillardia and Rudbeckia.  In the northern section are Autumn Joy Sedum plants, which will provide fall colour and Russian sedum, a ground cover. To the east are clustered bellflower, speedwell and Marcus salvia.

Beside a small rock garden with some cacti is sorel. Tucked under the three Artemesia silver mounds and edging the border are creeping phlox, creeping thyme, lamium and fairy thimble bluebells.  Perennial beds are like an orchestra with different plants coming in bloom at different times.

The art of the perennial bed is to have something in bloom during the whole growing season, with companion plants that have blossoms at the same time or foliage that will complement not compete. In mid-June Iris Germanica, a hardy tall bicolour bearded Iris, will be in blossom, with upright white standards and purple falls as will the cranesbill geranium and many others.

This is the first year and we have had hares, hail and heat but in equal measure, indomitable volunteers. When I see the garden through the lens of informed hopefulness, I see next year’s blossoms.

The Perennial Circle is one part of the larger Parkdale Community Garden multi-year, multi-faceted project spearheaded by Audrey Smith. Generous volunteers make gardens grow.

Maureen Flynn-Burhoe is a Parkdale visual artist who spends a lot of time gardening.

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