Lean on Me
It would be great if all plants were self-supporting, but some of the most beautiful species strain under the smallest hardship. A brief rain might pull heavy blooms down into the mud or tear leafy branches away from a tightly columnar central leader. Some plants overindulge, pushing all their nutrients into flowers, leaving nothing for strong stems. Some are top-heavy in shape, and gravity simply takes over as they grow.
There are very few perennials that don’t need staking, and this is why they aren’t used on larger commercial landscape designs, with a few exceptions. When you look at photos of beautiful English garden-style perennial beds in magazines, know that those gardens have staff who have individually staked each and every bloom so they are positioned perfectly for the shot. I imagine there may be one or two poor souls lying prostrate during the photo session with one hand tilting a plant just so. The attendant gardeners watch as each stem grows and guide the growth carefully through expensive eyelet stakes or grid netting to artificially produce the perfect floral configuration. If you’ve read Gertrude Jeckyll’s Color Schemes for the Flower Garden, you’ve seen what it takes.
Are you more of a realist with a limited horticultural staff and no money to purchase thousands of Charleston-green-painted metal rods to support your prized perennials? No problem!
If you have a known floppy plant, put in place low, garden border fence sections around the boundary of the expected growth to corral your plants. The outer stems can lean against the fencing and support the central growth with their added strength. It takes very little time for the new foliage to hide the cheap fencing, but there is a small amount of pain as you wait for that to happen—the price of frugality.
Fencing doesn’t work for plants that aren’t growing in a tight mass. For individual plant staking, purchase a bundle of inexpensive bamboo stakes, three feet tall or less. Then take an old pair of pantyhose and cut it into lots of ¼ to ½-inch circles. Each leg can provide you with fifty or more nylon bands. When you take a slice and pull it taught, it makes a nearly invisible and elastic tie to gently wrap around individual stems and hook over the narrow bamboo stakes. It’s almost fun to do—a little like a child making potholders out of stretchy bands. Martha Stewart taught me this trick. It really is a good thing.