When I moved to our farm, I longed to put in more flowers. There were a few things that bloomed- irises, lily of the valley, daffodils- but not a lot. A farm is a busy place, so planting pretty things often falls way down the to-do list. But here are five great reasons why I’ve incorporated perennials into what we do here!
1. Easy-Care Curb Appeal
Perennials come back every year, which means you don’t need to worry about replanting during the hectic spring months. When we think “curb appeal,” it’s usually referring to making a place look nice so it will sell. But it’s worth considering when you’re trying to run a business from home as well! If you want people to stop by and shop, it’s a good idea to make your place look attractive. Giving your place curb appeal by using low-maintenance perennial plants can encourage first-time customers to come and check out what else you have going on at your homestead. Thinking about when the perennials will bloom, and planting different species with different bloom times, will help to stretch the curb appeal out over a longer part of your season.
Once established, most perennials are pretty low-maintenance. I generally weed and mulch around them in the spring before the garden gets hectic, and they need very little the rest of the season. I use old newspaper to keep the weeds down and cover it with hardwood sawdust. It looks nice, and it also serves as a sign to my husband that these are plants that should not be weed-eated!
Bees and other pollinators are so very important to food production, and with widespread issues like colony collapse disorder affecting many hives, they need all the help we can give them. If you keep bees, perennials can provide extra food for your hive. If you garden, having more blooming flowers will encourage more pollinators to visit. By tucking in a few new flowers each year and being careful to observe when they flower, I’ve extended the season where my garden and fields offer pollen. Crocuses and narcissus are welcome early-spring food sources, and I now have a progression of blooms that last up until the first frost.
Planting pollinator-friendly flowers helps more than just honeybees. You’ll also be feeding wild populations of bees, as well as butterflies, hummingbirds and other critters. You are very likely to attract new beneficial insects as well. Until I started planting nectar-rich plants like coneflower and bee balm, neither Dan nor I had even seen the daytime-flying hummingbird moth. I love seeing wildlife, whether small or large, and it’s exciting to be a part of increasing the biodiversity of our farm by planting things that are pretty!
3. Preserving Heirlooms
Many herbs, bulbs, annual and perennial flowers are considered heirlooms and have been lovingly grown in gardens and flowerbeds for generations. Like vegetable heirlooms, heirloom flower varieties can be lost when people choose modern hybrids over old-time varieties. Since perennials come back every year, I try to be mindful about what I’m planting. Seed and bulb catalogs often are able to give you cool backstories. I’ve planted hollyhocks for years now (technically a biennial taking two years to bloom, but they easily self-seed and produce new plants unaided) and was attracted to them because of the story in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog. Called Outhouse Hollyhocks, these flowers used to be planted near outhouses in the days before indoor plumbing was common. These tall, showy flowers were like secret code to visiting ladies, which avoided the embarrassment of asking where the outhouse was located. I love bringing these little bits of history to my own farm.
4. Useful Plants
Many perennial herbs have beautiful blooms. It’s a toss-up whether I plant chives for lovely purple blooms or tasty flavor! Mints, oregano, lemon balm and others will bloom as well. I also have many plants that have food or medicinal uses, as I try to make sure everything I plant can have a purpose. Bee balm can be used for teas, purple coneflower is the immune-boosting herb echinecea, and daylilies have edible tubers. Even if I haven’t yet used them for medicine or food, I like the idea of surrounding myself with things that have a duel purpose if the need arises.
5. Flowers for Sale
When you plant perennials, pay attention to light and moisture requirements. If you tuck them into a suitable spot, not only will they come back year after year, but they will also spread. Every few years it’s best to thin them out, which means you’ll have extra plants. If you could use more color, you can plant them in another spot. And if you’ve had enough of that variety or species, you can offer them for sale.
Since it’s a long-term goal of mine to be able to offer plants and bulbs for sale, I find it very important to keep records. I have maps drawn on graph paper so I know where things are planted. I mark the type, color, and variety name. For heirlooms, I also write down the year the variety was introduced, if known. It saves me work so I don’t have to look it up later, and keeping track of things like this gives me information I can use to market them in the future. I also try to mark similar-looking plants, like my 4 varieties of hops, with metal tags. It helps me keep things straight at harvest time and makes knowing what I’m transplanting super simple.
Many perennials are best transplanted in the spring, so it’s an exciting way to add income at the time of year when the farm seems to have the most expenses. I start my own seeds for the market garden, so I always have an abundance of pots and potting soil. The pots of cheerful perennial plants look great just when folks are looking to buy bedding plants. As I add more perennials and they multiply, it’s a revenue stream I hope to see increase. And best of all, a majority of the work will be done by the plants themselves, while all I need to do is enjoy their beauty!