Every winter I receive seed catalogs in the mail from several sources and I spend many hours carefully reading and selecting what I am going to grow in the summer. I have done this long enough that I can usually make good choices. It helps that I am only growing vegetables, which I know quite a bit about.
But if I were going to grow perennial flowers, I would have a problem and this is the purpose of today’s column. How does one get the information needed to be successful growing perennials or creating a flower bed in Alaska?
Of course there are good books on the subject. The seed catalogs you get in the mail or see online also have wonderful pictures and there are loads of plants for sale at many greenhouses around town. But how do you pick what will work for you? Books are helpful in a theoretical sense and they do provide inspiration. Pictures online or in catalogues are pretty and appealing, but scale is hard to figure and the plants they advertise often grow differently in Alaska with our long days. Indeed some of them will not grow very well here at all. Our local greenhouses have wonderful starter plants and helpful staff. Some even have flower beds of their own that you can check out.
But one of the most helpful sources of information on perennials and flower beds in Interior Alaska is just to the west of campus. And now that I am spending more of my working time at the Georgeson Botanical Garden, the solution is obvious. The botanical garden is the perfect place to start planning your own flower garden.
To begin with, right now you can see multiple types of flower beds and hundreds of kinds of perennials. Many of the perennials are labeled and efforts are underway to increase the numbers of labels. So if there is an individual plant you see at the garden that you want to try at home, you will see it in all its Alaska glory. You will get a sense of its size, its color and when the flowers start blooming.
Some perennials are done blooming for the season and others are just getting started. Many of the flower beds take advantage of this fact and as you revisit the garden over the summer you will see the same flower bed with a succession of flowers. These kinds of beds take a lot of planning, but the results can be stunning.
If you are thinking about adding perennials to your property, go to the Georgeson Botanical Garden and get a feel for the wonderful options we have here. If you have not gardened before, start small, get the best soil you can and ask for advice. If you are lucky, you will have a friend who is an experienced gardener who can help you. Watch the Cooperative Extension Service web page for gardening classes and read all you can about gardening in Alaska. An excellent publication to buy that has all the basics is “Alaska’s Sustainable Gardening Handbook.” “It was put together by Alaska Extension agents and I used an older version of the guide when I moved to Alaska over a decade ago. A newly updated edition will be available from Extension soon.
If you are an experienced gardener, visit the Georgeson Botanical Garden and use it for inspiration. Or if you see a flower bed that needs some care, offer to adopt it. We are always looking for help. The peony collection is a sight to behold, but see it soon as many will be done blooming by the middle of the month.
Steven Seefeldt is the state horticulture specialist for the Georgeson Botanical Garden, a part of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension. He can be reached at 907-474-1831 or firstname.lastname@example.org.