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You Don’t Know a Plant Until You’ve Killed It

The Perennial Diva Stephanie Cohen talks garden-planning

Bay Weekly    What can we do for living color to hurry winter away?

Stephanie Cohen    Think containers. Buy a small shrub that’s too dinky for the garden, put it in a frost-free container you can enjoy and tend near the house. When it outgrows the container, you can put it in the ground. I had a nice little dwarf fir tree that I was afraid deer would eat that sat in a container near my house for five years. Now it’s planted and growing.
    Add hellebores, which are blooming already. If it snows, once the snow melts, you’re still seeing flowers.

Bay Weekly    Your newest book is The Non-Stop Garden. What’s the short and sweet of it?

Stephanie Cohen    Break the habit of shopping for your garden in the spring or early summer, then forgetting about it until fall when you run out and buy kale, cabbage and a bunch of mums.
    In this zone, only four months are dead time, and not even that if you plan and plant for a non-stop ­garden.

Bay Weekly    After people hear you, they’ll be raring to go. What should they do first?

Stephanie Cohen    I hope they’ll look at their garden and draw a plan. All you need is a pencil and some change: a dime for a shrub, a quarter for a tree, a dot for perennials. Draw it so you can understand it.
    My first book, The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer, is being used in four schools as a textbook. It starts you from scratch and gives a lot of tips about organizing yourself without too much work, plus 25 garden plans.

Bay Weekly    After the plan?

Stephanie Cohen    Correct mistakes. If you have a sun plant in shade, you may have to move it — or a couple. Then go from there, space by space, not whole garden. That’s daunting, and I don’t want you to say, oh I could never do this.

Bay Weekly    I’ve got plenty of mistakes to correct.

Stephanie Cohen    We all do. We learn from them. You don’t know a plant until you’ve killed it.
    Keep a record for yourself. Get a notebook and for every plant, write down where it is. Then if the plant dies, you won’t be tempted to buy one again.

Bay Weekly    You make it sound almost easy.

Stephanie Cohen    I’m not much for extra work. I got into the field late and was a little older; Having three kids, I didn’t have much time. I feel like I’m my public: working, with kids and just not that much time.

Meet the Perennial Diva at Unity Garden’s fundraiser to support community projects Sat. March 5, 9am signing; 10am talk, at Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Annapolis, $60: [email protected]