Ask the Expert

Louisville Magazine

Louisville Magazine cover - September 2008

Ask the Expert

Whiz professional nurserywoman Terri Harrison plants some good ideas for our fall and spring gardens.

By Robyn Davis Sekula

Louisville Magazine | September 2008

Spring is the time when commercial nurseries overflow with plants and flowers. It’s the time when gardeners, old hands and novices alike, are yearning to dig a hole, plunk something promising in it, and watch it mature into a full-fledged beauty. But contrary to custom, fall, too, is a great time to plant perennials, says Terri A. Harrison, owner of Limestone Mill LLC, a Clark County, Ind.-based gardening business. Harrison grows annual and perennials and sells them to independent gardening centers and tends to gardens for a list of select private clients. She has owned her own business for six years, naming it after the remnants of the mill on her property.

“Fall is an excellent time to plant,” Harrison says. “The temperatures become more moderate. The rainfall evens out and becomes steady, so you don’t have to do a lot of the watering yourself. Certainly things aren’t blooming, so you aren’t out chasing the blooms and deadheading. You don’t have to do anything except say goodnight and it will come up next spring.”

Harrison, a single mom of 2 ½ year old Sam, rises sometimes at 4:30 a.m. to tend to plants in the greenhouses on her own property, and stays busy year round. In winter months, she talks to customers about what to order and grow, and as early as January, she start plants in her two sturdy greenhouses, which she named Francie and Scout, in honor the strong female characters from “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” respectively.

Louisville Magazine met with Harrison in a private, River Road-area garden belonging to one of Harrison’s clients. Surrounded by exuberantly blooming flowers and pesky wasps, Harrison talked about tricks of the trade and how to best grow annuals and perennials.

If you tend it well, can an annual last through to next year.

“The annual lasts for this season only. That’s it. It will not survive the winter, not even if you bring it in the house for the winter, or into a hothouse or greenhouse. A perennial is something you can put in the ground, and it will come back for years and years and years. Typically, those are ones that can be pretty well propagated by yourself by dividing up the clumps…. I like both equally. Annuals give so much instant color at the beginning of the year. It can be a lot at the end of the season as well. They both have their advantages. It just depends on the setting you’re in.”

Do you have any rules for where you plant annuals and where you plant perennials? Would you, for example, put annuals in pots so they can be easily tossed at the end of a season?

“Oh yes. A lot of people are starting to put perennials in pots. But annuals are great for planters, window boxes, anywhere you need an instant show, table arrangements. In the garden we’re in, you can see that we do a lot of annuals up front because they are easier to switch in and out between the seasons. If something finishes too early in the season for me, I can quickly jump in with something else in the fall. I can make substitutions. Perennials are fine in pots, but it’s like an economic thing. Why waste that? You’re going to want to pop it in the ground in the fall to bring it back the next year, but you aren’t really allowing it the time it needs by confining it to a pot.” Do you use annuals and perennials about equally in gardens that you tend?

“It is probably half and half. I do loads more perennials in fall plantings, because here, we focus so much on Derby as the beginning of the growing season, and the showing part of the season. People want things in bloom at Derby. That’s really early for our zone. The only thing I can do is force annuals, and there is just no time…. I wait until the end of August or September and make a plan with a client, and say, this is where we are, this is what needs to be replaced, and they might have something interesting in mind.”

What are some nice choices for immediate-show early-fall planting?

“Mums. I treat mums as an annual. Some come back every year, but it just depends. If you’re looking for good show in the fall, heuchera, which are commonly called coral bells, are good. They get this tiny little flower in the spring, but it’s the foliage in the late summer or fall that is unbelievable. It’s something you can find in the greenhouses, the retailers in the fall. That’s more of a shade plant. If you’re looking for something for the sun, my campanulas come back for a big show in the fall. But I don’t know how readily available they are at that time of year. No way can you beat the anemone, which is a fall-blooming plant by nature. Anemone are fabulous. They have amazing whites and pinks out now that have been hybridized, and different heights, which is another benefit of the anemone. That flower stalk comes up huge. We now have some that stay relatively short, like two to three feet…. Grasses are way cool for fall show.”

In the spring, what do you do to prepare the soil?

“I use Woodace. It’s a brand name. It’s magic. It’s just granules, and the one I use is 14-14-14. It’s a blanket application. It can be tossed right on top of established plants and new plants, right on top of the soil. I do that twice in the spring.”

What plants will be hot next spring?

“Brunnera (a type of hosta that is a perennial). They are just fabulous. The public is into echinacea a lot and we will be seeing a lot of that, the coconut (lime) and razzmatazz. Those are pretty common. I think what else that will be hot is tiarellas, and heucheras. They are in that part-sun, part-shade family, and people need them. They are just so darn hardy, and beautiful.”