Cultivate color in summer
November 24, 2008 · Updated 6:42 PM
By Linda Stephens-Urbaniak' email='Linda.Stephens-Urbaniak@mi-reporter.com
Late summer is one of the hardest times of year to get constant color and flowers in the garden. The many other pleasures of summer take first place in our interest and activities, so the plants we choose have to be strong enough to endure our neglect. Here are a few that withstand the onslaught of August.
Coneflowers are North American natives that will, for the most part, grow well in any good soil as long as they have part shade to full sun and steady moisture. Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm' will produce a huge bouquet of large golden daisies centered with brown cones over two to three months. The plant has large, coarse leaves and is about 30- to 36-inches high. R. laciniata, sometimes called cutleaf coneflower, has more attractive leaves that are deeply-toothed. It is spectacular at the back of the border, growing from 4- to 9-feet high, and has bright yellow flowers with a matching or sometimes green cone. The cultivar Goldquelle' grows to about 5 feet. It features bright yellow double flowers but little evidence of a cone. R. hirta boasts tall brown cones above its yellow, gold, orange or burnt orange blossoms, living up to its common name of black-eyed Susan. Once established, all rudbeckia are fairly drought tolerant. To counteract all that yellow, consider the monkshoods, so named because their flowers look somewhat like the hoods that, guess what, monks wear. (Another common name is wolfsbane.) The genus should be handled with care and children should be warned of its danger. Aconitum japonicum forms large clumps of deeply-toothed leaves on a zigzag stem and in late summer develops short spikes of dark blue hooded flowers. A. x arendsii, also known as A. carmichaelii, has substantially stronger stems supporting its azure-colored flowers and grows to 3 to 4 feet. A. henryi Sparks Variety' has larger spikes of dark purple-blue flowers nearly overwhelming their stems. Although usually described as tall, to above 6 feet, its natural habit is more lax and will twine through loose shrubs or creep along the ground if not given support. While the aconitums can withstand full sun (with ample water), they do best in partial shade and moderately loamy moist soil. Another genera that contributes the much-loved blues are the salvias. Salvia x sylvestris May Night' or Mainacht' does well in full sun and blooms with large indigo-purple flowers with purple bracts. If kept cut, it will provide one to two months of floral display. Another bright blue sage is S. farinacea Victoria.' It grows best in dryish soil in full sun and has stems to approximately 2 feet tall. If you have damp soil in full sun S. uliginosa will reward you with many stems to 3 feet tall covered with bright true blue flowers centered with a white "landing strip" for pollinators. This species will quickly form clumps up to 4 feet across, so be careful where you put it.
For scent as well as dependable color from orange to purple, white to pink, nothing beats phlox. Phlox paniculata, a plant native to North America, will reward you with a lovely scent and tall green leaves topped with exuberant displays of many flowers. Popular cultivars are Nicky,' a dark purple, Starfire,' a good red, David' or Mt. Fuji,' both white, Orange Perfection,' with salmon orange flowers, Eva Callum,' a clear pink with a darker center called the eye, and the unusual Norah Leigh,' with creamy variegated leaves and somewhat nondescript pink flowers. The one drawback to this species is its tendency to develop powdery mildew. That can be curtailed with good air movement and a judicious spritzing with a tablespoon of baking powder mixed into a quart of water (add a drop of dishwashing detergent).
Now is the time to enjoy summer and our gardens. By carefully choosing plants that perform well with little attention we can enjoy both and have great flowers for cut arrangements and in the garden. Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org. She welcomes questions and will respond to as many as possible.