It took me several years to take up perennial gardening.
Many people tried to get me hooked. As a newlywed nearly 40 years ago, my aunt gave me hundreds of plants from her own garden and told me what to expect from each one. I wish now I had paid more attention.
I was a vegetable gardener, and my plans were to grow my own food and to be nearly self-sufficient by stocking my freezer and pantry with everything I could grow. My plants had to be functional. Later, my vegetable gardening interests moved to herbs. Herbs are the garden's multi-taskers, both ornamental and functional.
It helped that the husband is allergic to bees. Other than the pollinators that visited the beans and tomatoes, I didn't want to have to worry about him every time he brushed against a fragrant flower. What if he inadvertently stirred up an angry bee? Using keeping the husband safe from bees as an excuse to avoid perennials, I spent my gardening time tending to carrots and kale instead of petunias and pansies.
Then one day, the husband decided he wanted flowers in the yard. After promising to steer clear of any potential bee bait, I agreed to put in a few flowers. I was a novice perennial gardener. I began visiting garden centers, perusing catalogs, and touring public gardens everywhere we went. Through the Master Gardener program at Trumbull County's Ohio State University Extension, I took advantage of every opportunity to learn more about plants and garden design. I bought books, lots and lots of books, and asked for more on my Christmas and birthday lists.
Hundreds of plants have come and gone in my yard. Many were donations from friends or plants I bought that were everything from invasive disasters I couldn't get rid of to precious plants I couldn't convince to live longer than a year or two. I learned that sometimes, it wasn't my fault when a particular plant decided it didn't want to live in my garden any longer. I also learned that most times, it was.
I still grow vegetables - a lot of them - and although I never became totally self-sufficient (raccoons like corn so well it wasn't worth the time, effort and money to keep trying to grow it), flowers, particularly blooming perennials, have become equally important in our landscape.
Which is why I was delighted to get a Facebook message from a friend a few days ago offering to share seedlings of her tall verbena, a plant she loves, but has more than she needs sprouting in her garden.
Verbena bonariensis, also called tall verbena or purpletop vervain, is one of those fool-me-once plants that makes you think it's a perennial when it is really an annual. It reseeds itself so prolifically, many backyard gardeners don't realize what is coming up is not the same plant that grew last season.
She also sent me photos of the plant growing in her yard. It has tall, slender stems up to six feet tall that don't need staking with purple flower cluster that float at the tops of the stems. It is attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Even better, because it's an annual, there will be flowers the entire season.
I can imagine several perennials that would look great planted alongside tall verbena, such as white daisies that bloom in early summer and later in the year, Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans). I'm excited to add this plant to my yard and can't wait until the seedlings are ready for transplanting.
If you're looking to add more plants to your garden this year, you may want to check out the seventh annual Springtime at the Garden event from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Trumbull County Agricultural Center, 520 W. Main St., Cortland. Trumbull County Master Gardener volunteers will be selling perennials, herbs, vegetables, shrubs and annuals, including the Perennial Plant of the Year, Brunnera 'Jack Frost.'
I don't know if there will be any tall verbena, but it might be worth a trip to Cortland to check it out. There also will be other local vendors with jewelry, craft items and another of my favorite plants, succulents.