Look for the hidden garden if you're the new owner of an old house

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

When a new growing season arrives, the new and happy owner of an old house finds he has acquired more than two big porches and a garage, three wide outside doors, and five aging maples.

For more than 50 years the previous owner planted and cultivated flowers, mostly perennials and flowering shrubs, japonica and lilac, mock orange and sweet shrub. There are daffodils and narcissus, hyacincths and tulips, violets and lilies-of-the-valley, fragrant yellow day lilies and roses, irises and cornflowers, and even two uncommon flowers that remain under the lawn for five years before surfacing.

These tenacious flowering plants spare the gardener years of work and expense. And to make room for his own favorites, such as a Crimson Glory, a fragrant white hosta, or a dark Siberian iris, it's easy to transplant several established plants or even give them to a friend.

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Chrysanthemums were the most plentiful perennial on the property we bought several years ago.

Bright yellow chrysanthemums were growing along the southeast foundation, around the cement bird bath, and down in the south garden. There were a few light yellows and a couple of dull reds, and apparently none had been divided for many years.

Two seasons later, after the chrysanthemums were limited to the L-shaped bed along the southeast and southwest foundations -- a suitable location since the perennial must have good drainage, particularly in winter, as well as protection from harsh winter winds -- the late-flowering white chrysanthemums close to the east corner called for special attention.

The plump flowers, hardly more than an inch across, consisted of tiny, pure white, tightly packed petals touched with rose-lilac along the rims. Both foliage and flowers have the delicate chrysanthemum fragrance, a rare virtue. What variety ar they? Could they be buttons?

"Tiny pompons, like three-quarter-inch buttons, are usually seen on these plants very late in the season," according to horticulturist R. W. Cumming, who says button chrysanthemums are so frost-tolerant that one is reminded of Coleridge's "living flowers that skirt the eternal frost."

Buttons are no longer in favor, which may be why they are not listed in the three catalogs consulted.

In late winter, we cut the dried flower stalks of all the chrysanthemums, which should have been done in late fall. We cleared a three-foot strip of bed; pulled out all the yellow chrysanthemums, spaded, and spread half a pail of good garden loam, which had been fortified with compost.

So far, that entire bed has always been weed-free, perhaps because the perennials, mostly chrysanthemums, are crowded. Or maybe it's because we do not consider the blue violet a weed.

After we leveled the bed, we carefully lifted and divided the two buttons chrysanthemums.One had grown through the stone mulch close to the stone foundation. We planted the 12 dense rooted plants, all under four inches high, closer than the recommended 12 inches, in staggered rows.

Although chrysanthemums do best where there is no more than four hours of shade a day, they should also be protected from a searing sun which may damage the plant tissues.

Established plants survive droughts, but new plants and newly divided plants should be soaked once or twice a week in hot, dry weather.

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