I'm a slightly amateur gardener in MA, outside of Boston. I'm going to make a small garden around the sign of my daughter's preschool which hopefully can happily herald people and kiddies into the school in all seasons. It needs to be relatively low maintenance, mostly perennial, somewhat drought tolerant, in full sun, some winter interest, and if possible, not too attractive to stinging insects (we've had problems with wasp and hornet nests in the school yard and subsequent stings). Can anyone recommend something? For evergreen, I considered hinoki cypress which has a bright, cheerful feel no matter what the season. I also considered some native, tall coneflowers, plume poppy (to be kept in check), feather reed grass (zebra would have been fun but might cut little hands), coreopsis groundcover, yellow or red twigged dogwood, underplantings of daffodils and spring and fall crocuses.... any thoughts, anyone?
Many thanks in advance!
Help, pls: full sun preschool garden (around small sign)
Can you post a picture of the area?
Butterfly bush would be another one to consider--they are pretty and bloom a lot in the summer and attract butterflies which I'm sure the kids would enjoy. Not a lot of winter interest, but very pretty in the summer
Not sure the dogwood would be happy in that area--they are understory trees so would probably do better with a little more shade (not sure how drought tolerant they are either). Of course I don't know what your summers are like, if they're fairly cool then full sun may work just fine but they will likely need more water than many of the other plants you've mentioned.
Also, planting plants that attract bees isn't going to cause wasps, yellow jackets, etc to build nests by the school--those sort of insects don't eat nectar so they're there for other reasons (and apparently there are already things that make the school grounds attractive to them). Honeybees and bumblebees would be attracted to flowers and of course they can sting if provoked, but unless the garden is right by the kids' play area I wouldn't worry about it--the bees will be much more interested in the flowers than in stinging anyone.
What a great project. For winter interest in particular, I would suggest Corylus Avellana Contorta, Harry Lauder's walking stick. Very cool looking plant in any season, and it can take down to zone 4.
Here's a few goodies for you....
pix1: Salvia nemerosa, 18-24", all season, deadheading helps, but the flower brachs also have the color
pix2: same as above but white
pix3: same as above but purple
pix4: purple is geranium (perennial) Rozzane, blooms all season at 8-12", (White is Dianthus X loveliness, all season but requires some care, deadheading for continued bloom but oh so fragrant, just happens to be planted next to the plant I wanted you to see)
pix5:Coreopsis grandiflora, 12-18", bloom all season, deadheading helps to promote more bloom but not as pertinent as some plants, it will continue to bloom the whole season and if you allow it can reseed creating a nice patch. Very cheery.
Realize when you ask for drought tolerant, the first year all plants, even those that claim D. T. they need the first year to get established, hence a bit more water.
God Mop Cypress are also a pretty year-round colourful shrub. They love the sun and, after established, they tolerate neglect pretty well.
Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) might also be worth checking into, **IF** it isn't an invasive plant in your area.
When I think of children, I always think of Lamb's Ears (Stachys Byzantine). The gray foliage is such a nice contrast to everything else. It doesn't need much water. And the leaves are as soft as...well...lamb's ears. So don't be surprised if you find some of those "little lambs" petting the plant on their way to class.
If you want zebra grass, there are actually three different sizes now. So if you think the tall one would cut fingers, look for one of the more miniature varieties with thinner leaves. One only gets about a foot or two tall and the other gets about 3 or 4 ft tall.
Sedums are also a wonderful choice. There are many varieties with different foliage types and colors. Some are creepers while others make a nice little bush. And different varieties bloom at different times.
I don't know enough about varieties for your area, but I think I would go for a butterfly garden, with a little something evergreen or berries for the winter, and like you say some early bulbs. I'm thinking that you would have the curb appeal of the plants themselves, but also nice positive energy and movement from the pollinators.
http://pollinator.org/PDFs/Guides/EasternBroadleafOceanicrx20FINAL.pdf (plant list starts on p16)
Is there a possibility for the kids to be involved in the planting? Maybe leave a little space for annuals that they could pop in each spring?
Also, if it's possibly to get a water feature (just like a small birdbath, not necessarily a fountain), you probably would get some birds, too.