Long-blooming, low-care perennials in narrow space

'No bed of roses' is just what she wants for easier care 

Along my driveway in the back yard there's an area about 35 feet long, three feet wide at one end and six feet on the other. At one time I had this area filled with roses from hybrids, floribundas, miniatures and pinnochio. Now I only have five roses left. I don't want to replace them, it's too much work (I'm 79) but I do need to fill that area with some kind of flowers withless maintenance.

This area is mostly sunny from morning until about 4 p.m. I would like some perennials.

What would you suggest? Since this area is along the driveway, during the winter snow is thrown in this flower bed. I still do my own planting and trimming shrubs. I like flowers! – G.C. -

At the risk of cementing Janet’s reputation as a rose hater (really, she is not!), we'll give you a perennial line-up that assumes the remaining roses are gone. That's because every bit of your bed's 150 square feet is needed to yield eight months of significant color.

Read the details below or download the planting diagram and key to plants.


The plants in this design are all full sun plants that like good drainage and fertile soil-- conditions that should already exist in a rose bed. They'll provide you with a variety of flower types and colors from mid-March into October, with minimal care.

The plants in this design are all full sun plants that like good drainage and fertile soil-- conditions that should already exist in a rose bed. They'll provide you with a variety of flower types and colors from mid-March into October, with minimal care.


To be "low care..."

...we figure a plant has to be relatively pest-free, disease resistant, and able to stay in place for five to ten years, remaining vigorous and continuing to bloom even without division. Low care perennials don't seed or spread around wantonly, and can look good through the season even if not deadheaded. We’re not saying these plants won't suffer some bug bites and spotted leaves, or that they wouldn't look and bloom even better if divided or deadheaded, just that they are pleasing at the lower care option, too.

One drawback of most low care perennials is that they are not fast. Quick-spreading perennials tend also to be weedy, seedy, and look disreputable at some point during a season. So expect these plants to take two to four years to fill the spaces shown on the diagram.

Bloom massed by season

In this plan the plants are arranged  in groups that bloom together and also look good by virtue of complementary or contrasting foliage colors, shapes and textures. Bulbs are paired with companion plants that can cover up fading bulb foliage.

These 54 perennials and 50 to 125 bulbs will cost between $300 and $600 (2020 $’s), depending on plant size at purchase. Expect to do a bit of shopping for the plants, locally and by mail, since no one supplier carries everything. Be sure to buy by the complete botanical names given here -- in horticulture "nearly the same" can be a big disappointment.

Key to plants, in order by season of peak bloom

Late March to Late April:

i -- dwarf bulb iris (Iris reticulata), 6", violet flowers; plant 1 to 3 bulbs at each symbol

d -- early daffodil (Narcissus 'February Gold'), 8-10"; yellow; plant 1-2 bulbs/ symbol

PF -- pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), 10-12", violet, red-violet or white

VS -- vernal sweet pea (Lathyrus vernalis), 10-12", bi-color pink-white

h -- double grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum 'Blue Spike'), 6", blue spikes, this sterile form doesn't spread; plant 1-3 bulbs/symbol

s -- summer snowflake (Leucojum 'Gravetye Giant') (see June diagram for placement), 12-15", white bells; 1-2 /symbol

t -- early tulips (Tulipa greigii 'Red Riding Hood'), 10", red; 1-2 bulbs /symbol


PG -- perennial geranium (Geranium sanguineum), 12-15", red-violet

y -- yellow allium (Allium moly), 12-15", yellow starbursts; 1-2 bulbs per symbol

WA -- willow amsonia (Amsonia tabernaemontana), 36", sky-blue clusters

q -- quamash (Camassia 'Blue Danube') (see July-August diagram for placement), 18", starry blue spikes; 1-2 bulbs/symbol

FI -- false indigo (Baptisia australis), 48", spikes of blue-violet pea-flowers


P -- gas plant (Dictamnus purpureus), 36", spikes of rose-purple flowers

MS -- meadowsweet (Filipendula vulgaris, also known as F. hexapetala), 15" ferny foliage, lacy white flowers on 30" stalks

HBT -- hybrid beard tongue (Penstemon 'Husker Red'), 36", white spikes, maroon-stems

DD -- dwarf, repeat-blooming daylily (Hemerocallis such as 'Stella D'Oro', 'Squeaky' or 'Happy Returns'), 14-18", yellow trumpets

L -- lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), 12-18", violet wands over gray foliage

TC -- threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'), 15", pastel yellow "daisies"

MH -- miniature hollyhock (Sidalcea malviflora), pink disks on 24-30" spikes

July - August:

BW -- butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), 18", orange comb-clusters

GF -- dwarf gayfeather (Liatris spicata 'Kobold'), 18", violet wands

a -- allium, purple globe (Allium sphaerocephalum), dark purple globes, 18-24" tall

PE -- pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea; or A. triplinervis), 18", white buttons, gray foliage

PC -- purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus') (see September for placement), 40", big rosy "daisies"



TS -- tall stonecrop (Sedum spectabile 'Autumn Joy'), 18-24", pink flat-topped clusters

PLS -- purpleleaf sedum (Sedum 'Vera Jameson') (See June bloom for placement), 8-10", rose clusters over maroon leaf

PFG -- perennial fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), 36", rose-silver plumes

OD -- October daphne (Sedum sieboldii), 6-8", rose flowers over blue foliage

PBC -- purple bush clover (Lespedeza thunbergii), 48-60", pink pea-like flowers

DA -- dwarf aster (Aster novae-anglaie dwarf 'Purple Dome'), 15-18", purple bloom