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'The Perennial Diva' plans to dive right in during Lexington events

At Springhouse Gardens in Nicholasville, owner Richard Weber will redesign some of his perennial beds at an Oct. 27 event with Stephanie Cohen, aka The Perennial Diva.
At Springhouse Gardens in Nicholasville, owner Richard Weber will redesign some of his perennial beds at an Oct. 27 event with Stephanie Cohen, aka The Perennial Diva.

"The Perennial Diva" Stephanie Cohen, an all-star of the gardening world, will be in Lexington next week to share her expertise in designing perennial beds that thrive and thrill year-round.

As a landscape instructor and founding director of Temple University's Landscape Arboretum in Ambler, Pa.; co-author of some great how-to books, including The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer and The Nonstop Garden: A Step-by-Step Guide to Smart Plant Choices and Four- Season Designs; a contributor to Fine Gardening magazine; and the winner of the Perennial Plant Association's Garden Communicator of the Year award in 2000, Cohen has earned her diva status.

There are three chances to dig in with the Diva directly.

On Thursday, Cohen will speak about extending a garden's allure into autumn. On Friday, there's a workshop at which your garden plans may be drawn under Cohen's tutelage. Then, on Saturday, Oct. 27, at Springhouse Gardens, owner Richard Weber will hold a lively exchange of ideas with Cohen, and plant and renovate a triad of island garden beds, explaining and discussing choices, including old favorites and new treasures, as they go along.

The Fayette County Master Gardener Association, The Arboretum and Springhouse Gardens have worked together to arrange Cohen's visit at the right time to reinvigorate your landscape. Her quick wit and down-to-earth wisdom are a bonus. Some examples:

■ After this summer's dry, hot spell, Cohen said, she has developed "hose hand," an affliction in which the fingers are regularly frozen in a C-shape from hauling around long, pieced-together hoses to water plantings. Her solution? Plant a bed of xeric plants with low water requirements; they survive well in hot, dry conditions. She has installed a colorful tapestry of hardy, low-maintenance sedum, interspersed with shrubs. She also suggests salvia and Russian sage as options. "Native plants are a good choice here," she says, "particularly prairie plants, which are already adapted to hot, dry conditions."

■ Green golf tees are Cohen's tried-and-true garden markers: inconspicuous yet effective to avoid digging into a patch of forgotten bulbs or remember where a line of plantings has ended. She has a funny way of stating the obvious outcome of gardening missteps. "Cut a bulb in half accidentally with a trowel, and you have two dead bulbs," she cautions.

■ Keep a written list of what you're growing each season. For future reference, "If it does not work, write 'no' next to its name," she advises. Often, we are tempted by beautiful garden-shop blooms in early spring and summer, many of which don't survive the year. This is a good way to avoid repeating mistakes, particularly with perennials that by definition should live year after year. "If your garden looks like you ran through it with a machete," Cohen said, "you've done something wrong." Some reliable choices for beginners are hostas, with their amazing variety of foliage shapes and colors that can last up to the first hard frost, for a shade garden, and daylilies for a sunny spot.

Weber is looking forward to Cohen's visit. He has hosted many visiting horticulturalists at Springhouse Gardens, which features a series of landscaped gardens that seem to expand with each visit, providing surprises around every corner.

He has accumulated a wealth of perennial plants, from brilliantly hued Heuchera foliage specimens, many of which were developed by last year's visitor, Dan Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries, to a collection of hardy chrysanthemum. One exciting find is Matchsticks, Cohen's "plant pick" in the current issue (December 2012) of Fine Gardening magazine; perfectly named, its rays of quilled, hot- yellow petals are tipped by flaming orange ends, and its chances of long-term survival far exceed those of ordinary, hormone-controlled and clipped garden mums.

Other choices on hand for perennial enthusiasts include late-blooming toad lilies, Lemon Queen helianthus, and Purple Dome asters.

Weber, who has claimed the title "Garden Maestro" to counter Cohen's "Diva" status during this event, hopes to share a lively give-and-take discussion about perennial selection for various attributes, from combinations of petal and foliage colors that "pop" to plants suited for sun or shade.

Weber says the focus will be on perennials that together "have year-round appeal, with an emphasis on fall." They'll be renovating beds he planted about 15 years ago; once sunny locations, the spaces have evolved into more shady locations as trees at their centers have grown.

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