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Perennial Pointers

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About 2,000 people are expected at the Indianapolis Museum of Art Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse on April 20-21 for the annual plant sale known as Perennial Premiere.

Perennials of all kinds, from acanthus to zizla, will be sold and gardening experts such as Lynne Habig will be there to give advice.

Lynne Habig has been working in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse for 18 years.
  • Lynne Habig has been working in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse for 18 years.

Habig said some people show up to the sale with trucks and load up. Others just buy a plant or two.

"It depends on how much they know about us," she says.

Habig was born into a family of gardeners (though she's not connected to Habig's Garden Shops). She has plant material that has been passed down generation to generation from her great-grandmother.

Habig earned her undergraduate degree in fashion merchandising from Butler University and did graduate work at the University of Indianapolis in calligraphy. She describes herself as a lifelong gardener, lecturer and writer. She also spent many years as a garden feature writer for the Indianapolis Woman Magazine.

In an interview, she talked about Perennial Premiere and offered plenty of advice for how to get your garden to grow.

What should people expect at the Perennial Premiere?

Habig: Expect two things: It's different than going to places like Lowe's. We have pride in this place and nine staff members with degrees in horticulture. When you come to us, you're getting quality, factual information. If you go to Lowe's, you may get a charming young man from Purdue who doesn't know beeswax about plants. But overall, [here] you'll get incredibly good advice in a glorious setting.

What is the best way to plan your garden for success?

Habig: Know your site and location. Plants need several things for survival - light, water, and nourishment. You have to know the light exposure a plant needs, drought tolerance and water requirements. Right now, our seven-year drought cycle is stressing plants that are drought resistant because water is becoming scarce. Then you first want to amend your soil, lighten it and add compost, manure and humus.

What's your favorite perennial?

Habig: It depends on the time of the year. As a gardener in Indiana, you want to have a plant that will perform well for at least three of the four seasons. Indiana plants can bloom 11 out of 12 months. If I had to pick a plant, something that gives me intense joy, it would have to be some type of shrub rose. It's very interesting, especially the shape of the buds in the winter. I love it because it's so beautiful and it reminds me of my granddaughter. It's a pale pink with deep fragrance then it turns violet.

What advice would you give to a beginning gardener?

Habig: First of all, I would drive around your community and other places, figure out what attracts your eye and what you like. Take notes of gardens, design elements that appeal to you. Take photographs of different gardens. Find the book Perennial Combinations by Cole Burrell. Truly a wonderful book for beginners. But it comes down to what you want. Make a list of what you want to get out of it. Sketch out measurements. Talk to a horticulturist. Here at the Perennial Premiere it's free, but if you have someone come to your home it can get expensive.

Aside from selling bonsai trees at the Perennial Premiere, the IMA will have a special exhibition of bonsai trees on the Garden Terrace this weekend.
  • Aside from selling bonsai trees at the Perennial Premiere, the IMA will have a special exhibition of bonsai trees on the Garden Terrace this weekend.

What advice would you give the intermediate gardener?

Habig: Challenge yourself to expand your garden. Instead of perennials, add some edibles or herbs. Plant in containers or straw bales. Jazz it up from your normal garden plans.

What advice would you give to the advanced gardener?

Habig: Start a vertical garden, like on a wall. Create your own with bamboo stakes, wonderful charentais melon and judicious use of statues and mirrors to augment depth. Add water in the garden, like fountains and wind chimes, but be careful. You don't want to add too many.

What's the funniest thing you've seen in the years you've worked here?

Habig: I've worked here 18 years, so I've seen a lot. One time, a squirrel got loose in the greenhouse and my boss was trying to catch it. I've never laughed so hard in my whole life.

How is the weird weather we are having affecting the growth of plants?

Habig: The answer to that is challenging. We're all in a period where we just have to wait and see. We've all read in the papers about the farmers trying to grow food in the drought. People with ornamental gardens will have to choose those plants that have a history of making it.

What's the best way to keep pests out of the garden?

Habig: Don't plant anything. Concrete your lawn and paint it green. (laughs) Choose your plants wisely and you've already eliminated some. Spray soap and water on a cloudy day, but there has to be no sun. Shop-Vac when the plant starts to lose leaves and vacuum leaf litter under plants. That reduces fungus spores from growing. To keep deer out, use one egg and a quart of water, then spray it on the plants. It also works for rabbits. If you're starting a new garden, use Round-Up. Healthy plants are always resistant to pests.

Do you have any secret tricks?

Habig: Straw in between rows in my vegetable garden helps cut down the weeds. My Viburnum Carlesii was infected with viburnum borers, which eventually killed the plant. The "bones" of the shrub were an important element in the garden, so I spray-painted them with high-gloss purple paint and under-planted the shrub with a white flowering Clematis Henryi. It was beautiful for about three years before the shrub branches began to degrade. I transplanted the clematis, dug out the remains of the viburnum and re-designed the area. Look for opportunities like that. If it's woody, use it as a trellis.

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