I wound’t even remotely consider myself to be an expert gardener, and when I fail with plants I tend to blame myself for not understanding their requirements and providing the correct conditions. I’ve also found it hard to get really good information about just how well a plant performs – the RHS Award of Garden Merit is a wonderful indicator, and in the early days I tended to only ever buy plants with an AGM. It helped me know I was spending money on good performers and helped make what at the time felt like an overwhelming choice of plants for my blank canvas feel a little more manageable.
Nowadays I allow myself more latitude, but I still tend to assume that if I buy a perennial it is going to be exactly that, perennial. Which turns out to not always be the case. I do sometimes see reference to a perennial being “short lived” (which I keep mistyping as “short loved”!) in plant catalogues, and have learnt to assume that any Monarda I plant will die very quickly, but I still get caught out, so I was delighted to find what I think is going to be another great resource to help me pick plants. I stumbled upon Noel Kingsbury’s blog (which incidentally has some inspirational photographs of mixed perennial plantings in his own garden, enhanced but not overwhelmed by grasses). Noel put together an EU funded project to collect and formalise the prodigious anecdotal expertise embodied in the Hardy Plant Society. He had noticed that members had a wealth of knowledge – and experience – of how long lived and vigorous a wide variety of so-called perennials actually were. he sent out a carefully targeted list of questions to gardeners, and has shared the two versions of his report (long and short) in a blog posting. Well worth a look.