Perennials for old fashioned gardens


Perennials for old fashioned gardens

Phlox, David

Davidii phlox

In Northfield, we do a lot of landscaping around older homes. I remember when I was younger, my Mom and Dad would take me to Grandma’s house. I’ll never forget how much I enjoyed looking at all the all the flowers in her garden. (A sign of things to come?). Grandma Smith would use a lot of them for flower arranging. Grandpa was a pastor, and she would make arrangements for the church alter every Sunday.

Fern, Ostrich

Ostrich fern

Other than a few shrubs around the front porch, I can’t recall seeing many houses “formally” landscaped back then. But almost everyone had a flower or vegetable garden of some sort.  Anyway, I like to incorporate some of the more old-fashioned varieties of perennials in my landscape plans. With the tremendous rise in popularity of perennials, a lot of new varieties are finding their way to the market, which makes the truly old fashioned perennials harder to find. I think too many of the older homes are over-landscaped,  like they tried too hard too make it look “contemporary”. To my way of thinking, it takes away from the uniqueness of the older home by covering up some of its best features.

Convallaria, Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley

Of course there are the old standbys of peonies, hollyhocks, and lily-of-the-valley, but take a look at the list below. Hopefully, you will find a few that would suite your Grandma’s fancy.

Monarda, Raspberry Wine

Monarda, Raspberry Wine

Beebalm (Monarda),     Aster Bellflower (Campanula), Bleeding-heart (Dicentra),      Blue Bells (Mertensia), Daylily (Hemerocallis),      Delphinium, Forget-me-nots (Myosotis,)      Hollyhock (Althaea), Foloves (Digitalis),      Gas Plant (Dictamnus),      Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema), Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria),     Lupines, (Lupinus), Monkshood (Aconitum),      Pansies (Viola),       Phlox (creeping and standard garden variety),        Ostrich fern,           Sedum (Both groundcover and var. ‘Autumn Joy’),  Peony (Paeonia),      Primrose (Primula),      Tiger Lily (Lilium).





Front entry upgrade




When renovating the front of a home, a very important part of the project is the front, or main, entry. This can be especially true when the home is located on a corner lot with more than one choice to get to the front door.

I designed this project it so that from no matter which side you entered the property, it would lead you to the front door. The first thing I did was eliminate  the sharp angles and long straight lines and switched the concrete sidewalks to pavers, which softened the look. The long  paver pathway  (which comes from the driveway on the other side of the house) was installed in a running bond pattern,  will be passing through a garden, making the 80 foot long  ”journey” to the front door more pleasant than, say, a concrete walk cutting through the lawn.

The front walk coming from the street also needed more character and some softening up, which we accomplished by installing the paver walkway in a soft “S” line.


A curved entry softens the approach to the front entry

We added a small entry patio and installed a seat stone in it , which helps draw attention to the front door, and also helps separate the two walkways with the change in brick pattern.



Edible flowers

With the picnic and outdoor cooking season here, it might be time to try something different in your culinary endeavors! I thought the following article might be of interest to the Northfield community. I ran across this Yard and Garden brief about edible flowers written by Ginny Coyle of the University of Minnesota Extension Service. She gives some good tips and provides a lists of flowers along with comments on each flower variety. I hope you find it helpful. Happy gardening (and cooking)!

Current interest in herb growing and adventurous cooking has led to increased use of edible flowers. Floral ingredients add flavor, texture, color and excitement to many recipes. The addition of vibrant nasturtiums or pansies can transform an ordinary salad.

There are several things to keep in mind however when cooking or garnishing with flowers:

  • Be sure the flowers are not toxic and are safe to eat.
  • Remember that “edible” does not always mean “palatable.”
  • Take care that the plants were not previously treated with pesticides.

To ensure that your plants are pesticide-free, grow them yourself from seed or buy organically grown plants. Edible flowers may also be found in the produce department at some grocery stores.

It will be easier to care for culinary flowers if they are grown in containers. If you are vigilant, you can eliminate the need for chemical applications. Common insect problems such as slugs or spittlebugs can be controlled by handpicking. Aphids and mites may be washed off with water from your hose.

Precautions: Many plants create toxins to discourage animal or insect damage. The same toxic chemicals can also injure humans. Never experiment by eating plant parts unless you are sure they are harmless. Often only a particular part of the plant is edible. For example, rhubarb stems may be eaten, but not its leaves, roots or flowers.

If you know one part of a plant is safe to eat, do not assume that all parts will be. Check a reliable reference such as those listed at the end of this Brief or the AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants, published by the American Medical Association.

The source of flowers to be eaten is also very important. Garden center plants may have been treated with systemic pesticides to prevent insect damage or diseases. Older gardening books may not address previous chemical applications or may just suggest washing the flowers. Current recommendations are that flowers never be eaten unless the plant was grown “organically.”

Serving suggestions: The word “edible” means you may safely consume the flower. Unfortunately it does not always mean the flavor is appealing. Some flowers (eg. lavender) have a bitter or astringent taste and are best used as a garnish.

When seasoning with edible flowers, taste test and try to match the flavor to the recipe. Sweet or floral scented blossoms can be used to decorate desserts or garnish cold drinks. Peppery nasturiums, cucumber- flavored burnet and chive blossoms add interest to salads.

Blossoms should be harvested the day they’ll be used; try to pick no more than one day early. Wash the fresh flowers gently and set them aside to dry. Refrigerate them in plastic sandwich bags until you use them.

Remove interior flower parts such as stamens and styles of larger flowers (i.e. squash or tulips). These are tart tasting in some flowers. The white part at the base of hollyhocks (the calyx) is bitter and should also be removed. When serving flowers fresh, add them to your dish just before serving.



The flowers are edible on all of these plants.

Scientific name Additional comments
Alpine Strawberry Fragaria alpina Leaves often used in tea
Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum
Apple or Plum Malus species
Beebalm Monarda didyma Taste may differ by cultivar; avoid ‘Panorama’ as the taste is too astringent
Begonia Begonia x tuberhybrida
Borage Borage officinalis Leaves also
Calendula Calendula officinalis
Chamomile Matricaria recutita Flowers have an apple scent and flavor
Chives Allium schoenoprasum Blossoms and stems
Daylilies Hemerocallis species Buds are good stir-fried
Dill Anethum graveolens Flowers, seeds and foliage
English Daisy Bellis perennis
Gladiolus Gladiolus species
Hollyhocks Alcea rosea
Honeysuckle Lonicera species
Lavender Lavandula angustifoliaor officinalis Bitter taste to flowers, but wonderfully scented. Neither is fully hardy in Minnesota, but either may be grown as an annual.
Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis Leaves and flowers are scented.
Lilac Syringa species
Marjoram Origanum majorana Leaves are often dried, but can also be served fresh.
Mint Mentha species Leaves can be used fresh or dried.
Mustard Brassica juncea Leaves and young seed pods can be eaten.
Nasturtium Tropaeloum majus Both flowers and leaves have a peppery taste, so use sparingly.
Pansy Viola species
Petunia Petunia x hybrida or species
Pinks Dianthus species
Rose Rosa species Use petals.
Scarlet Runner Beans Phaseolus coccineus Bean pods toughen as they age, so make use of young pods as well as flowers. Please note: Sweet Pea flowers are not edible.
Sage Salvia elegans Leaves fresh or dried.
Squash Curcurbita species Flowers can be stuffed or fried. If female blossoms are picked, however, the fruit will not develop.
Tulip Tulipa species Use petals.