Can you recommend perennials to plant around our pool area that aren’t likely to attract bees?
Karen Piercy, Louisville, KY
Korean feather grass, 'Black Magic' elephant ears, and 'Chocolate Ruffles' heucheras have attractive, textured foliage that won't attract bees.
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Blume
Pam Baggett, garden designer and owner of Singing Springs Nursery in Cedar Grove, North Carolina, replies: To avoid attracting bees near your pool, plant a garden that’s based primarily on foliage texture and color, with flowers in early spring and late fall when it’s too cool to swim. Spring-flowering plants with excellent long-season foliage include steel-blue-leaved, pink-flowered Dianthus ‘Mountain Mist’; the variegated green and white leaves and pink flowers of Phlox subulata ‘Nettleton Variation’; early blooming peonies like rose-pink ‘Nice Gal’ (Paeonia ‘Nice Gal’); any Siberian iris selection (Iris sibirica cvs.); and Amsonia ciliata or A. hubrictii, with powder-blue blooms in spring and golden fall color.
For shadier sites, try Heuchera ‘Purple Petticoats’ or H. ‘Chocolate Ruffles’; hellebores (Helleborus spp.); and red Epimedium X rubrum. Add ferns for their contrasting, feathery foliage, especially autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) and Japanese tassel fern (Polystichum polyblepharum).
I’d also use lots of grasses for their airy texture. My favorites are Korean feather grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha), with narrow inflorescences of golden wheat, and the arching, dewdrop inflorescences of ‘Shenandoah’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’).
Contrast these with tropical elephant ears: 5-foot-tall Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ bears dark, black leaves on wine-red stems, while Colocasia esculenta ‘Illustris’ produces black leaves with green stems on 2- to 3-foot stems. For its bold stalks of cornlike leaves, include Hedychium coccineum ‘Disney’, a 7-foot-tall ginger lily with several flushes of orange-red flowers beginning in late summer. A heavy mulch and the reflected heat of the pool may enable you to overwinter the tender perennial elephant ears and ginger lily in your garden. If not, consider late-blooming swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) for its 5- to 8-foot-tall stems and golden blossoms. It’s hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 to 9, as are most of the other perennials mentioned here.
Autumn-flowering chrysanthemums would also be excellent choices. Those with good foliage include Chrysanthemum ‘Autumn Moon’ and C. ‘Gethsemane Moonlight’, both with soft yellow flowers; C. ‘Single Apricot’; and bright pink C. ‘Celo Pink’. Aster novae-angliae ‘Our Latest One’ bears masses of soft purple flowers in October.