In the Garden:
Add to summer garden appeal with trees, shrubs, and perennials that bloom now.
Perk Up with the Best of Summer's Flowers
It's easy for the world to be glorious in spring, but not so much in August. The glories of iris and daylilies seem long past. Even most of the hydrangeas have peaked already. The grass is looking parched, and some of the flower borders, a bit woebegone. But not all of them, for there are trees, shrubs, and perennials that flourish in the heat, then bloom just when I need the garden to perk up my flagging, over-100-heat-index spirit. If your garden needs a dog-days-of-summer facelift, consider adding some of my favorites, as well as others, either later this fall or next spring.
Trees and Shrubs That Shine In Summer
Bluebeard - Also known as Blue Mist, Caryopteris x clandonensis bears small, blue-violet flower clusters along the stems of 2- to 3-foot shrubs from late summer to fall. The small leaves are a grayish-green, but there are also forms with golden foliage. Although hardy to Zone 5, cold winters tend to kill the top growth. After pruning back to the ground in the spring, the plants quickly send out new growth. Bluebeard is low maintenance and drought tolerant. There are a number of cultivars available.
Butterfly Bush - Aptly named because of the flower-attracting qualities of the flowers, Buddleia davidii bears arching stems with long, pointed clusters of tiny flowers in shades of white, yellow, pink, purple, and lavender from mid- to late summer. Like Bluebeard, it is hardy to Zone 5 but may be top-killed by cold winters. Simply prune to the ground in the spring. There are dozens of butterfly bush varieties, ranging in size from 2 to 10 feet tall. Butterfly bushes have become a serious invasive pests in parts of the country, so it's best to only grow those varieties that produce few seeds, such as 'Summer Rose' and 'Orchid Beauty'. New sterile forms are being introduced, including the dwarf 'Blue Chip'.
Crape Myrtle - Ubiquitous in the warmer areas of the United States, more and more varieties of Lagerstroemia indica are being introduced that survive winters through Zone 6. Sizes vary from about 5 feet tall to 25 feet or more, with the smaller sizes better for colder climates. The 'Razzle Dazzle' series is the best of these. Forming small multi-trunk trees, crape myrtles bear 8-inch or larger clusters of white, pink, red, purple, or lavender flowers for months during summer.
Rose of Sharon - An old-fashioned shrub, Hibiscus syriacus has the same problem as butterfly bush, in that it readily re-seeds. Thankfully, there are hybrids that are sterile, including 'Aphrodite', 'Diana', 'Helene', 'Minerva', 'Li'l Kim', and the variegated-leaved, double-pink 'Sugar Tip'. This is my all-time favorite summer-blooming shrub, as it just blooms and blooms with 2- to 4-inch, hollyhock-like flowers in shades of white, pink, or red and sometimes bi-colors. Actually, any hibiscus makes a great addition to the garden, including the tender tropical forms and the giant-flowered, herbaceous H. moscheutos.
Seven-Son Tree - A tree with four seasons of interest, Heptacodium miconioides grows to 25 feet in height with pale tan and brown shredding bark. In August, it produces large clusters of fragrant white flowers, followed in the fall by showy red calyces. The downside to the seven-son tree is that it grows irregularly and benefits from light shaping.
Perennials for the Heat of Summer
Coneflower - The Rudbeckia clan, composed of some twenty to thirty species of annuals, biennials, and perennials, plus dozens more varieties, provide great golden color in our summer gardens. Go with the classic 'Goldsturm' black-eyed Susan, the dramatic Rudbeckia maxima, the old-fashioned double-flowered 'Golden Glow', or dozens of others. You just can't go wrong with bright, cheery yellow daisies.
Golden Lace - Patrinia scabiosifolia forms low-growing clumps of leaves, from which emerge 3- to 4-foot tall, slender stems topped with airy clusters of tiny, yellow flowers. It mixes well with other flowers because of its color and form. Just be sure to keep the soil well mulched to maintain even soil moisture.
Joe-Pye Weed - A grand, architectural plant native to much of the eastern half of the United State, the various Eupatorium species grow to 6 feet tall and sometimes as wide. The heads of pinkish-purple flowers may be 12 to 18 inches in diameter. Joe-Pye is widely adapted but slow to establish, so be patient. Eventually, it will reward you generously. Also be patient in the spring, as it emerges later than most other perennials. Smaller selected forms of Joe-Pye, including 'Gateway' and 'Little Joe', are becoming more widely available.
Russian Sage - Planted too close to other flowers, the creeping roots of Perovskia atriplicifolia will soon win out, but given enough elbow room, the flowers will charm you. Delicate gray-green foliage and airy sprays of smoky purple flowers are the trademark of the woody perennial. Plants must have good winter drainage. Cut plants back in the fall or spring to produce a bushy, free-flowering plant.
Ornamental Grasses - Then there are the ornamental grasses. Short ones, tall ones, fat ones, skinny ones. All coming into their own as summer progresses, to reach their apex in the fall. Although autumn is their grand season, the graceful form of the grasses themselves as well as the emerging plumes tell us to savor these summer days, as cool winds are just around the corner.
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