Tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) are spectacular tall bloomers that appear in late summer. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Most gardens can use a visual lift in the dog days of late summer. This is where late-blooming lilies come in. When their voluptuous, often deliciously scented blooms make their grand entrance in July and August, it’s like a royal fanfare in the landscape. Goodbye, garden doldrums.
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Heirloom garden flowers are perfect for informal cottage gardens.
Imagine a sweeping cottage garden of China pinks, petunias, and marigolds interspersed with a tangle of colorful sweet peas and lacy love-in-a-mist. Old fashioned flowers such as these remain in vogue for the same reason our grandmothers grew them. They are lovely, easily grown from seed, and their seeds can be collected from year to year—making them perfect for gardeners on a budget.
Choice heirloom flowers are brightly colored, long-blooming, and easy to manage. Quite a few have the added bonus of being highly fragrant, because fragrance was considered an important floral trait from Victorian times to the mid-nineteenth century.
The majority of these flowers are best started indoors from seed at the beginning of the growing season, but several can be started outdoors. Our favorites will be sure to add value to your flower garden and containers this season.
Top 10 Heirloom Flowers from Seed
China pinks (Dianthus chinensis)
These highly fragrant, short-lived perennials thrive where summers are cool and have frilly blooms in shades of red, white, and pink. Most reach a foot in height and are perfect for sunny border edges. Try the lovely Single Flowered Mix from Select seeds with single flowers in mixed colors. Start seeds indoors in February or March.
Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)
These bushy, sun-loving bedding plants reach 2 to 3 feet and develop broad clusters of small, sweetly fragrant purple, lavender, or white flowers that attract butterflies. Remove old flower heads for repeat bloom all season. The very old variety ‘Amaretto‘ has pale violet flowers that smell of almonds. Start these from seed indoors in February.
Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus)
Sweet peas are some of the most fragrant cool-season flowers. The delicate, tendriled vines require light trellising. Long-stemmed clusters of sweet-smelling flowers appear by late spring and are perfect for cutting. The antique ‘Perfume Delight’ is especially fragrant and more heat tolerant than most. Start sweet peas indoors from seed in February or March.
Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
The ever-blooming nature of this small, fragrant garden annual has made it one of the best for border and container edges. It blooms well in both hot and cool weather with clusters of tiny white, pink, or purple flowers. Try the honey-scented Gulf Winds mix from Renee’s Garden Seeds, which has flowers of light pink, rose, lilac, and white. The seeds are very fine, so be sure not to accidentally plant too many when starting them indoors. Start these no later than March.
Marigolds (Tagetes hybrids)
Loads of warm-hued heirloom marigolds are still available to brighten contemporary flower beds. These tough sun lovers shine through the most difficult summers, keeping gardens looking good through the swelter. For garden edges, choose the 1903 heirloom French Marigold ‘Legion of Honor’. Its fragrant flowers are dark orange with gold edges. Small-flowered signet marigolds are also uncommonly showy with their ferny foliage and bushy habits. Plant seeds in March for late-May planting.
Jasmine-Scented Tobacco (Nicotiana alata)
The white blooms of jasmine-scented tobacco are most fragrant at night and pollinated by moths. The tubular flowers appear on plants reaching 3 to 4 feet high. This heat tolerant annual will tolerate some shade and will bloom well into fall. High Mowing Organic Seeds sells seeds for this old-fashioned beauty. Cut back the old flower stalks to encourage flowering. Start the seeds indoors no later than March. (Image by Carl E. Lewis)
Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena)
Unusual lacy flowers make love-in-a-mist especially charming in the garden. The flowers may be violet-blue, purple, white, or pink. Once they have finished flowering, their dry seed pods are also visually interesting and useful in dried arrangements. They do tend to self-sow, so expect lots of seedlings to appear the following season. They flower best in cool weather and are short-lived, so they can be started both in early spring and late summer for two seasons of bloom.
Old-Fashioned Petunia (Petunia hybrid)
Heirloom petunias tend have looser habits that require regular pruning, but they are also charming and free-flowering. One of the most unique of the seed-grown heirlooms is ‘Old-Fashioned Climbing‘. This pretty rambler has highly fragrant flowers in shades of purple, lavender, and white that bloom above the foliage. Start the seeds no later than March for summer enjoyment.
Scarlet Sage (Salvia spendens)
Older varieties of scarlet sage are taller and bushier but no less free flowering. The tall and elegant ‘Van Houttei’ is one of the earliest cultivated forms. The bushy 3- to 4-foot variety thrives in heat and becomes covered with spikes of deep red blooms that attract the hummingbirds. Pinch back spent flowering stems to encourage more flowers! Start the seeds in February or March.
Growing Heirlooms from Seed
Some heirlooms, such as love-in-a-mist, can be directly sown in the ground outdoors, but most are best started indoors. Start your seeds in seed trays fitted with six-pack flats, which give growing flowers enough space for root and shoot growth. Fill the flats with premium OMRI Listed Black Gold Seedling Mix, which holds moisture and drains well. Moisten the mix before planting for easier watering after planting. If planting your new seedlings in containers, choose Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed, which feeds flowers for up to 6 months.
Follow seed packet instructions for planting guidelines and expected germination times. Smaller seeds usually need to be lightly covered with mix while larger seeds require deeper planting. Plant each cell with two to three seeds to make sure you get at least one seedling per cell. You only want one seedling per cell, so pinch out the weakest seedlings that germinate and leave the largest. Seeds often sprout best in temperatures between 68-73º F. Warm-season annuals germinate faster if flats are placed on heat mats.
Good light is important for strong growth. You can either start your seeds in a sunny, south-facing window of beneath strip shop lights fitted with broad-spectrum bulbs. One shop light will supply light to two trays. Keep trays 4 inches from the grow lights to keep seedlings from getting leggy. Raise the lights as your plants grow. Once seedlings develop new leaves, feed them with half-strength Proven Winners Premium Water Soluble Plant Food.
Before planting your tender heirloom flower starts outdoors, acclimate them to the natural sunlight and wind by placing them in a protected spot with partial sun for one week. This process of “hardening off” allows indoor-grown starts to toughen up before outdoor planting. After this step, they will be ready to plant in your garden or containers.
Comments Off on 3 Steps to Growing Great Roses (With No Fuss)
Strike it Rich® is a glorious grandiflora with exceptional disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Got rose problems? Over 20 common pests and diseases plague roses, threatening the beauty of many a rose-filled yard and garden. But, rose growers can take heart. You canhave the beauty of roses without the burden of doing constant battle with pests and diseases. It all comes down to choosing resistant varieties and giving them the right care. Here are the three key steps to growing great roses without the fuss.
1) Pick a winner.
This is the most important step! Old roses are often the most fragrant and beautiful, but they are more often maintenance nightmares. Classic Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora (and other) rose varieties were bred for their voluptuous, iconic flowers, with little consideration for the plants’ overall vigor and disease resistance. Consequently, they’re susceptible to a slew of diseases including blackspot, powdery mildew, and stem cankers. They’re also easy marks for rose chafers, Japanese beetles, rose slugs, and a host of other insects that prey on roses.
‘Carefree Beauty’ is a wonderful shrub rose that will resist many common rose diseases. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
In recent years, breeders have developed and introduced new hybrids that resist diseases and pests. Most familiar of these are a number of “landscape” roses (such as the Knockout series) noted for their tough shrubby growth and abundant, relatively small, typically scentless flowers. Rose fanciers who are looking for something with taller stems and larger, more fragrant blooms will also find plenty of low-maintenance roses to choose from, however – including several Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora cultivars that rival anything in their class. Notable sources – and cultivars – include:
The German firm Kordes: Their Grandiflora rose ‘Eliza’ produces a succession of lightly fragrant, double pink blooms on tall stems. The repeat-blooming climber ‘Moonlight’ carries nicely scented peachy-yellow flowers. ‘Yankee Doodle’ is a tall, vigorously growing Hybrid Tea with intensely fragrant, double, apricot-pink roses.
Rosa PINK KNOCK OUT® is a classic, disease-free Knock Out rose planted for its strong disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
The Explorers Hybrids from Canada: This collection of rock-hardy roses includes the Rosa rugosa hybrid ‘Jens Munk’, which bears 2.5-inch, double, medium-pink flowers on shrubby plants. It also includes several outstanding, repeat-blooming climbers. ‘William Baffin’ produces several flushes of dark pink flowers beginning in late June, and ‘John Cabot’ covers itself with double, fuchsia-red flowers from early summer to fall. Both can grow to 10 feet or more.
The Iowa breeder Griffith Buck: Among his many outstanding introductions are the pink-flowered Hybrid Tea ‘Earth Song’, and the shrub rose ‘Carefree Beauty’, with large pink flowers.
Weeks Roses: Many Weeks introductions are graced with fine fragrance, good looks, and remarkable disease resistance. The introduction Strike it Rich®, bred by Tom Carruth, is a testament to their rose-breeding prowess.
Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ is a tough rugosa rose that grows well in coastal gardens. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Anything of Rosa rugosa parentage: These rough and tough roses include the bright pink ‘Hansa’, dark red ‘Linda Campbell’, bright yellow ‘Topaz Jewel’, and the intensely fragrant, white-flowered ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’.
The French rose breeder Meilland: ‘Francis Meilland’ is a Hybrid Tea with double, silvery pink roses on tall stems. The similarly hued double flowers of the Grandiflora ‘Mother of Pearl’ have a light, sprightly scent. Dark red, heavy-scented, fully double flowers crown the 4- to 5-foot stems of the Hybrid Tea rose‘Traviata’.
2) Choose the right soil and the site.
Roses thrive in full sun and rich, healthy, humus-rich soil. Before you plant your rose, amend the soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. It adds rich organic matter for increased water-holding capacity and porosity. Follow up by adding fertilizer formulated for roses. This will encourage strong growth and flowering.
Ample air circulation helps too. Plant your prize rose in a hole that’s at least twice as wide as its root ball, and amend the backfill and surrounding soil with compost and organic fertilizer. Then apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch to keep the roots moist and cool (and keep the soil microorganisms happy!). Plants should be well spaced to allow air flow.
If you see rose rosette “witches brooms” remove your roses. There is no cure for this contagious disease. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Prune out all diseased growth in spring and throughout the growing season (dip pruners in a 10% bleach solution to reduce the chance of accidentally spreading disease from rose to rose). Be on particular lookout for the red “witches brooms” that signal the presence of rose rosette disease, a destructive disease for which there is no cure. Roses that have contracted rose rosette disease should be quickly removed from the garden.
Thin stems in spring and summer to encourage air circulation and discourage diseases. Tolerate modest insect damage, but treat plants with the appropriate OMRI Listed® insecticide if insects reach high levels. Rake and remove fallen vegetation, which may harbor disease-causing fungal spores. Apply rose fertilizer and a layer of compost each spring. Plant “companion” perennials (such as members of the parsley and daisy families) that harbor beneficial insects. And remember to water during dry spells!
The right rose in the right place (with the right maintenance) will provide years of beauty with a minimum of grief. It will also astonish your acquaintances who think that beautiful roses require lots of care for great looks.
Rosa ‘Red Cascade’ is a rare old-fashioned miniature climbing rose that is disease resistant and prolific! (Photo by Jessie Keith)
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Variegated pineapple sage and golden marjoram will brighten up any landscape while also adding valuable flavor to dishes. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Gardening with edible and ornamental plants makes gardening a little tastier and more valuable. Not many of us have the time and space for immense ornamental landscapes anymore, but lots of us take great pride in our shrubs, perennials, and annuals. At the same time, we want to eat better, fresher food, and that urge has led us back to the garden. Limited space means that we have to grow ornamentals and edibles side-by-side. Fortunately, it is easy to do, and the results can be just as beautiful as an ornamental-only landscape.
For most of horticultural history, average people grew food from necessity, with little thought to purely ornamental plants. Inevitably, though, some gardeners noticed that certain edible plants and herbs sported lovely flowers or foliage that added a dimension to the vegetable garden. Others even transplanted flowering specimens from the wild into corners of their home vegetable plots. Eventually, as great civilizations (Egyptians, Ancient Persians, and Greeks) grew wealthy, ornamental gardening came into its own, with immense ornamental landscapes designed, constructed, and documented in detail by artists and writers. Gardeners today are able to take the best from both worlds, mixing the edible and ornamental for increased garden value.
Feathery fennel is beautiful and tasty. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Add Ornamental Vegetables
The vegetable gardener’s mantra—“Grow what you like to eat”—is a good place to start if you have decided to take the plunge and mix some edibles among your ornamental plants. The feathery fronds of bronze or green fennel make a lovely addition to any garden and also attract swallowtail butterflies, but if you don’t like fennel, growing it may waste space that is better used for other plants.
Just about everyone loves fresh tomatoes and peppers, which are easy to grow and come in many varieties. They also thrive under the same conditions as horticultural divas like roses—at least 8 hours of sunlight per day, rich soil and fairly consistent moisture. The problem is that most tomato plants—especially indeterminate types that keep growing and producing all season–need some kind of support. Typical wire tomato cages are not the loveliest addition to an ornamental garden. Solve the tomato problem by training the plants up a simple bamboo stake or decorative tuteur or trellis that can hold its own among the flowering plants.
This technique not only makes a virtue out of necessity, but it works for other vining plants like beans, cucumbers, and even squash. For a lovely garden backdrop, try scarlet runner beans trained up a trellis. The flowers are a brilliant red and the beans are delicious either raw or cooked.
Pots of tomatoes and peppers show off the beauty of these valuable garden vegetables.
For a successful edible/ornamental combination, don’t neglect adequate plant nutrition. Give both types of plants a good start by enriching your garden soil with a rich soil amendment like Fafard® Garden Manure Blend. Not only will it add needed organic matter for better water-holding capacity, but it will also enrich the soil for better overall performance.
Add Beautiful Fruits
If fruit is your idea of the perfect edible crop, and you want a beautiful ornamental plant, try growing blueberries (Vaccinium spp. and cultivars). These shrubs feature lovely pinkish-white, bell-shaped flowers in the spring, followed by neat, green oval-shaped leaves. The tasty blue fruits appear in early summer and scarlet leaves announce the arrival of fall. Blueberries like the same acid soil as rhododendrons and azaleas and would complement them well in a mixed shrub or shrub/perennial border. Smaller varieties can even be grown in containers and can hold their own among the pots of geraniums and snapdragons on a porch or terrace. The same holds true of strawberries, with their white flowers and brilliant red fruits, grown in the pockets of decorative ceramic or terra cotta strawberry pots.
Blueberries are attractive, fruitful garden shrubs. Their fall foliage turns scarlet for a late-season show!
Add Ornamental Herbs
Herbs have long been used as ornamentals. Purple basil makes a dramatic edging plant at the front of a border and would provide a perfect complement to red/orange marigolds or late summer dahlias. The strong aroma of the basil also helps deter garden varmints like rabbits and deer. Pineapple sage, with its variegated leaves, makes a lovely filler for a pot of flowering annuals. The leaves are also the perfect enhancement for a glass of lemonade.
Purple-flowered cinnamon basil is a dramatic beauty that looks pretty in edible and ornamental borders. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
If your ornamental landscape is mature and already filled with plants, look for “holes” where you can install a few ‘Bright Lights’ chard plants or fill in with low-growing herbs like thyme. Start small, with a few edibles and then, when the “grow your own” bug bites, increase the number of edibles. You will be amazed at how well it all fits together.
Bright Lights chard mingles with Profusion zinnias in this edible and floral border. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Cosmos ‘Cupcakes’ is a hot new introduction for 2016. (Image care of Fleuroselect)
People who believe there is nothing new under the sun have never looked at spring garden catalogs. Every year plant retailers bombard gardeners with pages of the new and different—or at least the slightly new and the somewhat improved. 2017 is no exception.
Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ (image care of Fleuroselect)
Familiar themes abound—color is king, with variegated or uniquely colored foliage augmenting floral displays. Rebloom leads the roster of “most desirable traits” for both perennials and annuals. Old standbys have shrunk into compact sizes that are perfect for containers and smaller garden spaces. Stalwarts, like cosmos and sunflowers, appear in new blossom shapes and colors, allowing plant lovers to set off a few garden fireworks without burning down the establishment.
New Flower Forms
Echinacea PUFF™ Vanilla (Image care of Terra Nova Nurseries)
Fleuroselect, the international organization for the ornamental plant industry, dubbed 2016-2017 “The Year of the Cosmos”. Several of these come in brazen new forms. Of these, the double white Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Mini Click White’ won the coveted Fleuroselect Novelty award for 2017. Even more striking is Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Cupcakes’, which has cupped petals that resemble cupcake papers of white and pale pink. The seed-grown ‘Cupcakes’ have variable flowers that sometimes have an extra row of smaller inner petals. Another unique Cosmos for the market is the Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner ‘Xanthos’, which not only has uniquely colored pale-yellow flowers but a compact habit and good performance.
The familiar perennial coneflower takes on a new floral appearance with the domed, fully double Echinacea PUFF™ Vanilla, an ivory-flowered hybrid new for 2017 that blooms throughout summer with double anemone-type blooms. The Terra Nova Nurseries introduction also boasts a compact habit.
New Compact Flowers
Agastache Acapulco Deluxe® Rose (Image care of GreenFuse Botanicals)
Agastache, or hummingbird mint, has proved to be a favorite perennial for attracting hummingbirds to its colorful, reblooming flowers. Many good varieties have appeared on the market, but diminutive cultivars in the Acapulco Deluxe® series stand out, with the brightest being Acapulco Deluxe® Rose. It offers vibrant flowers of deepest rose (orange in bud) on fragrant, compact, container-friendly plants reaching 12 inches tall and wide. The plants are also heat and drought tolerant!
Another tough perennial now available in a more manageable size is Blue Jean Baby Russian sage (Perovskia atricplicifolia ‘Blue Jean Baby’) features gray-green, aromatic, deer-resistant foliage and relatively short stature (2 feet), which can be further controlled by cutting plants back after they bloom.
Dianthus Supra Pink F1 (Image care of AAS Winners)
This year introduces a true reblooming fragrant Dianthus for 2017, Dianthus Interspecific Supra Pink F1! The compact bloomer reaches 10-12 inches and blooms nonstop from spring to fall, no deadheading required. Its outstanding performance awarded it a coveted AAS award for 2017!
Plant breeders continue to love bi-colored flowers and peach shades. A perfect example is Tagetes ‘Strawberry Blonde’, a marigold with the familiar pompom shape and petals blushed salmon pink, with golden overtones. Like all marigolds, it reblooms throughout the growing season and works equally well in containers and garden spaces of all sizes. Another peachy bloomer is Viola ‘Mariposa Peach Shades’, an annual pansy adorned with ruffled flowers in the yellow/orange range. It provides early and late season color that is welcome in climates with cool springs and falls.
Echinacea Butterfly™ Rainbow Marcella (Image thanks to Plants Nouveau)
The past ten years have seen a stampede of new perennial coneflower introductions. This year, with peach tones in the ascendant, one of the best is the Plants Nouveau introduction, Echinacea Butterfly™ Rainbow Marcella. Its colorful single flowers have brown cones surrounded by pinkish-peach petals.
Zinnias have exploded in both popularity and petal count. One of the most unusual of the new zinnias are those on the Queen Lime Series. The Johnny’s Selected Seeds exclusive Zinnia ‘Queen Lime with Blush’, sports pale pink and lime green petals and a central blotch of maroon. Like all tall zinnias, it is easy to grow and reaches 30 to 40 inches tall.
Lisianthus ‘Roseanne II’ (image care of Sakata Seed)
The Rose-like lisianthus usually comes in shades of violet-purple and white but the unusual Eustoma grandiflorum ‘Roseanne Deep Brown’ is a remarkable rich purple-brown. The complex color complements the sun-loving plants that reach 32 inches in height and have great stems for cutting.
Breeders have had a field day with perennial coreopsis or tickseed in recent years, creating versions of this low-growing perennial that boast larger flowers, more repeat blooms, and a wider color range. The traditional yellow has been augmented by eye-catching pinks, reds, and bi-colors. The new Uptick™ Series by Darwin Perennials features three varieties. ‘Cream’, ‘Yellow and Red’, and ‘Gold and Bronze’. The last two bear yellow or gold petals with darker red or bronze eye zones. Shearing after bloom speeds the rebloom cycle for all varieties.
Annual sunflowers play their own parts in the joyful bi-colored act. Among them, Helianthus annuus ‘Florenza’ stands out, with pale to medium yellow petal tips giving way to rings or eye zones of dark red that surround the black flower centers. The stems are short, topping out at about 32 inches tall and the flowers refuse to droop.
Celosia Asian Garden (image care of AAS Winners)
The unusually bushy feather Celosia ‘Asian Garden’ is another fabulous performer with impressive color that is listed as a 2017 AAS winner. Bred by the Japanese breeding company Murakami Seed, it produces endless plumes of purple-red above purple-leaved plants all summer long, even in the worst heat. Perfect for cutting gardens, it is also drought tolerant.
New Shade Flowers
Dicentra ‘Amore Pink’ (Image care of Terra Nova Nurseries)
Shade gardeners sometimes feel slighted because so many flowering plants love the sun. This year there is a reason to rejoice, as revitalized versions of reliable shade plants strut their stuff in new colors, shapes, and sizes. Ajuga or bugleweed, a perennial favorite groundcover, loves the shade, doesn’t mind being stepped on and spreads effectively to cover hard-to-cultivate areas. Breeders have taken ajuga and turned its traditional blue flowers into Ajuga ‘Pink Lightning’, a Sunny Border Nurseries introduction. Variegated leaves steal the show even after flowers have faded.
Bleeding heart, or Dicentra, is another spring shade lover, with pendulous heart-shaped flowers and deeply dissected leaves. Newcomer Dicentra ‘Amore Pink’ has blue-green foliage and large pink “hearts”. It is also compact–nine inches in height and only 12 inches tall.
And in the new flower celebration, gardeners should never forget hellebores, which have been all the rage for at least a decade. ‘Dark and Handsome’, a Helleborus orientalis hybrid from the Wedding Party™ Series, offers both unusual color—near black—and numerous large, semi-double flowers. With consistent moisture and a shady site, these dark-cloaked newcomers will establish themselves as stars of the spring garden party.
Comments Off on "Knitting" Perennials for Textural Flower Gardens
Geranium sanguineum ‘John Elsley’ “knitting” into a silvery lungwort. (Image by Jessie Keith)
Flopping is often frowned upon in the perennial garden (and quickly corrected with bamboo stakes, peasticks, or other mechanisms, if it occurs). Some perennials, however, make a virtue out of laxity, their trailing growth providing the perfect foil to the upright stems of delphiniums, New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), and garden phlox (Phlox paniculata). In flower gardens, as in containers, nothing complements a towering thriller better than a contrasting spiller.
Trailing perennials are especially valuable for their ability to knit together with other garden elements, upright or otherwise. Mass them at the fringe of a perennial border, and they unify what lies behind them. Position them near a path or patio, and their tumbling stems interrupt and soften the line between hardscape and softscape. And they’re literally made for walls, producing cascades of texture and color that bring the landscape alive.
Margins and walls are not the only places where trailing perennials do their knitting. They excel at covering the voids left by large perennials that go dormant in early summer, such as oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) and bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis). Many will thread their stems through upright neighboring perennials, intermingling their contrasting foliage and blooms. Some ground-hugging sprawlers (including creeping thyme, Thymus serpyllum) can even be planted into lawns to form textured, flowering patchworks.
Here’s a sampling of some of the best of these perennial “knitters”.
Winecups (Callirhoe involucrata)
A native of dry prairies throughout the Central U.S., winecups (Callirhoe involucrata) has just about everything a North American gardener could want, including cold-hardiness (USDA Zones 4-9), drought-tolerance, and a long season of showy blooms. Its lax stems typically form low mats, but will also clamber up neighboring plants or cascade down banks or walls. The bowl-shaped, bright purplish-pink, white-eyed blooms continue for many weeks in summer along new portions of the continually lengthening growth. Several other species of Callirhoe – of various habit – are also well worth growing. All of them prosper in dry habitats.
Moss phlox (Phlox subulata) is so common as to be dismissed by gardeners who should know better. But, just because a plant species is sold at hardware stores and supermarkets (as well as about every other establishment that deals in plants) doesn’t mean that it’s unfit for sophisticated gardens. Hailing from dry slopes and ledges in the East and Central U.S., this needle-leaved evergreen can’t be beat for draping down a wall, or covering a dry slope, or fronting a xeric perennial planting. Its filigreed foliage would be reason enough to grow it, even if it weren’t also a prolific early-spring bloomer. Gardeners who are put off by brassy-flowered forms of this species have any number of subtler cultivars from which to choose. It’s worth considering for any sunny garden within USDA Zones 3 to 9.
Phlox subulata ‘Fort Hill’ (Image by Jessie Keith)
Several trailing bellflowers (Campanula spp.) occur on ledges and embankments in European mountains and take well to similar habitats in gardens. Among the most vigorous of the lot is Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana), which in late spring bears starry blue flowers on low, 3- to 4-foot-wide hummocks. The typically sprawling stems will also clamber or drape, given the opportunity. Plants tolerate a wide range of conditions and may become overly rambunctious in moist, fertile soil. Other bellflowers for edging or walls include Campanula cochlearifolia, C. carpatica, C. garganica, and C. portenschlagiana.
Also from Europe is another trailing perennial that excels on sunny dry slopes: bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum). A variable plant, it typically matures into a sprawling, 6- to 10-inch-tall mound of deeply lobed foliage, decked in late spring and summer with magenta, pink, or white, dark-veined flowers. This hardy (USDA Zones 5 to 9), a durable perennial is perhaps at its best in naturalistic plantings, where it can be allowed to seed around into informal colonies.
Clematis × durandii (Image by Leonora Enking)
An excellent geranium for threading through perennials and shrubs is the Geranium ‘Rozanne’, prized for its early-summer-to-frost bounty of purplish-blue flowers. This lanky, 2- to 3-footer will also sprawl obligingly across gaps left by early-dormant perennials.
The legendary garden designer Gertrude Jekyll liked to cover such gaps with the lax, non-climbing growth of, a hybrid between the shrubby Clematis integrifolia and the vining Clematislanuginosa. Its toppling, 7-foot stems bear a summer-long succession of large starry violet-blue flowers that resemble those of its vining parent. Other clematis for this purpose include Clematis recta, a 5-foot, splaying perennial that envelops itself in summer with small fragrant white flowers; and ‘Mrs. Robert Brydon’, another shrub/vine hybrid whose flopping 8-foot stems carry billowing clusters of pale-blue blooms in August and September.
Hardy perennials for knitting can be planted in fall. Good soil preparation and light mulch will help them become established and protect them through the winter months. Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost should be worked into the soil at planting time and added as a light mulch around newly installed perennials.
Giant blooms bursting with color—these make Chinese or Hawaiian hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) a floral favorite in sizzling summer gardens. Huge variety is another perk of these tried-and-true tropical shrubs. There are literally hundreds of types that come in many floral color variations and sizes. And, their familiar good looks bring to mind Hawaiian shirts, leis, and landscapes. What’s not to love?
Native throughout tropical Asia, these hibiscus have been bred for centuries for their big, beautiful flowers. Through woody, they are fast growing and ever blooming, making them ideal for large patio containers and bed plantings. Their lush, deep green foliage creates a perfect foil for the big beautiful flowers. Some leaves are even glossy. These plants are only hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11, which means they will only survive winters in the most southerly regions of the United States. But, they will overwinter well in a sunny, warm indoor location where winters are cold. A bright south-facing window, sun room, or conservatory is perfect.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis TRADEWINDS™ BAJA BREEZE
The flowers are between 4 and 8″ wide and comprised of five large, open petals. The largest varieties are the size of dessert plates. They come in loads of bright, tropical colors to include all shades of pink, red, orange, yellow, and white. Unusual colors, such as near black, gray, and purplish hues are also common. Many blooms are bicolored and tricolored, with radiating rings of bright color. At the center of each bloom is a protruding pistil lined with colorful stamens, which is attractive and interesting in its own right.
There are literally hundreds of varieties of Hawaiian hibiscus. The International Hibiscus Society has a full register of every type under the sun. Anyone interested in learning more about these beautiful flowers should have a look. The wide ranging varieties give a complete picture of all this plant has to offer. To get a good look at exciting newer, interesting selections, check out the offerings of specialty growers, such as Charles Black’s Hidden Valley Hibiscus. His amazing hibiscus may be just enough to hook you!
Garden center varieties are often bred for compact habits and high flower production. The Tradewinds varieties are particularly nice, being developed to produce lots of flowers on tidy plants ideal for container growing. Though the plants are small, they always grow and flower best in large containers that allow their roots to spread and easily access water and nutrients. Large containers also need to be watered less often.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Erin Rachel’
Grow these beautiful flowers anywhere there is sun. They prefer fertile soil that drains well and perform best with some supplementary fertilizer for flowers. Starting with a fortified potting mix, such as Black Gold’s All-Purpose Potting Soil with RESiLIENCE, is a good idea. Potted plants appreciate large containers and will fill them in quickly, if plants are happy and well-tended. In warmer zones, these shrubs are best planted in garden and shrub borders mixed with other lush, tropical plants loaded with bright color.
Peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ is an old-fashioned pastel pink bloomer with a heady sweet fragrance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
By the end of winter, gardeners long for the sweet scents of flowers. Some of us take solace in cut flowers from the florist or supermarket while thumbing plant catalogs and indulging in flowery daydreams. Convert those daydreams to reality by planning a few fragrant garden flowers to your beds, borders and containers.
Scents of Early Spring
The ultra-fragrant ‘White Pearl’ is an exceptional hyacinth for the spring garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are the essence of spring and some varieties are delectably fragrant. ‘Campernelle’ is one of them, a multi-flowered yellow species narcissus that blooms early and gracefully. Towards the end of the daffodil season, luxurious ‘Rose of May’, a double-flowered white bloomer, lives up to its name, exuding a sweet scent.
The legendary courtesan, Madame Pompadour, loved hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) and nearly three centuries later, they still carry the fragrance banner into mid-spring, with stocky heads of highly scented florets in an array of Easter egg colors. At about the same time, intensely fragrant lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) scent shaded places with their unique “Muguet des bois” aroma, long a favorite of perfume makers. If you already grow lily-of-the-valley, dig up a budded clump, pot it up with some Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Soil and enjoy the fragrance indoors while the flowers last. Afterward, return the clump to the garden.
Late Spring Fragrance
The deep purple blooms of sweet pea ‘Cupani’ offer spicy fragrance from late spring through summer. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
In pots or trained against walls or trellises, old-fashioned annual sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) send out a ravishing scent. The maroon and purple Cupani types are among the most fragrant, but all varieties please the nose while tantalizing the eye with delicate orchid-like flowers. Get a jump on the season by starting sweet pea seeds indoors in trays or cell packs filled with Fafard Natural and Organic Seed Starter.
By late spring, fragrant garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) command center stage, with tall stems, handsome dissected leaves, and big, bountiful flowers. Older varieties, like the rose-pink double, ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, offer winning fragrance and make excellent cut flowers as well. Well-tended peony plants will live for decades in the garden.
Summer Scent Extravaganza
Sweet scents abound in summer. Biennial stocks (Matthiola incana) are sun lovers that grow one to three feet tall and bear colorful, dense clusters of spice-scented flowers. Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) echo that clove fragrance, with familiar ruffled flowers in single and bi-colored combinations of reds, whites, yellows, pinks, and purples. Both stocks and carnations can be grown from seed started indoors eight to 12 weeks before the last frost date, but are also available from nurseries in starter packs.
Standing tall at the back of the early summer border, nothing perfumes the air like Oriental lilies (Lilium spp.). Hybridized from several different Asian lily species, Orientals grow three to four feet high and may require staking. The effort is worth it to support the enormous scented trumpets that are borne in profusion on mature plants. Freckled pink ‘Stargazer’ and pristine white ‘Casa Blanca’ are among the best-known Oriental lilies.
The Nicotiana alata hybrid ‘Domino White’ scents the air on summer nights.
Fragrant night-blooming plants open their petals in the evening hours to attract pollinators. One of the best is flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata), which bears long tubular flowers that flare into white or yellow-green trumpets. Look for the fragrant species form, rather than unscented hybrids, and plant near seating areas or paths where evening visitors can enjoy them.
Fragrance is harder to find as the growing season winds down, but plants that provide it are worth seeking out. Perfume shady spots with cimicifuga, sometimes known as black cohosh or bugbane (Actaea racemosa). Rising four to six feet tall, Cimicifuga bears elegant, deeply dissected foliage. Sweet-smelling white flowerheads, each one bearing scores of tiny fragrant blooms, wave high above the leaves in the early fall.
Dahlias are great garden and cutting flowers, but are not known for fragrance. It pays to plant the few that combine beauty and scent. ‘Honka’ is one. Thriving in sunny spots, the single flowers sport eight narrow yellow petals apiece. The combination of beauty, scent, and hardiness won ‘Honka’ the Royal Horticultural Society’s coveted Award of Garden Merit.
Location is Everything
Position fragrant flowering plants strategically throughout the garden and combine them with a selection of shrubs, trees and foliage plants that also exude distinctive scents. Even weeding seems easier when the fragrance of flowers hangs in the air.
Many Dianthus are highly fragrant. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ has reddish foliage and grassy plumes that look great until frost. (photo by Jessie Keith)
Many gardens lack for fall color – prompting many gardeners to resort to the ubiquitous fall mum. Often overlooked, however, are the numerous other annuals for autumn display, many of which come into their glory months before chrysanthemum season. Their beauty, longevity, and relative novelty make them a refreshing and often preferable alternative to what has become a fall garden cliché.
Chinese Hound’s Tongue
The dazzling, October-sky-blue flowers of Chinese hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum amabile) give the impression of a tall, out-of-season forget-me-not (Myosotis). In all respects, however, this biennial outshines its spring-blooming cousin, possessing a much longer, summer-to-fall flowering season, as well as attractive, fuzzy, gray-green basal leaves that persist rather than turning to mush. Sown directly in the garden in spring, it will bear a late-summer to frost succession of clustered blooms on upright stems. Plants usually self-sow, but not with the prolific abandon of forget-me-not. Available as seed or occasionally as plants, Chinese hound’s tongue is typically sold in the form of dwarf varieties such as ‘Firmament’, which top out at about 15 inches. It reaches its zenith, however, in full-size forms (including ‘Blue Showers’), which can reach 30 inches tall. This East-Asian native takes well to sunny or partly shaded cottage gardens and mixed borders, partnering beautifully with Japanese anemones, colchicums, and other late-blooming perennials. Dwarf forms do nicely in containers as well as in the open garden.
Beautiful red flowers and golden leaves make Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ a great sage for season’s end.
There’s nothing dwarf about woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris), a lordly, bold-leaved, delightfully shaggy plant that holds slender silky-white trumpets on lofty stems that look you in the eye. Blooming alongside (and above) Chinese hound’s tongue from summer to fall, this heat- and sun-loving tender perennial is also a reliable self-sower, with spontaneous seedlings almost always appearing in spring. Debuting in mid to late summer and continuing in abundance until frost, the flowers cast an intense, intoxicating, musky-sweet perfume that peaks at night, drawing pollinating moths. Hummingbirds visit during the day. Plants can be started from seed sown under cover in early spring, or in the garden at tomato-planting time. Seedlings (which are sometimes available from nurseries) should be planted out after the last frost date. Fertile, moist soil is best.
For containers and other niches where something more chrysanthemum-like is desired, butter daisy (Melampodium paludosum) is just the ticket. Low, mounded, bushy, and brassy-flowered, it envelops itself with petite golden-yellow daisies for many weeks beginning in summer. Seed catalogs and nurseries sell numerous compact varieties, all of which form tight, 8- to 12-inch hummocks of oval, weakly toothed, mid-green leaves, with flowers appearing about 3 months after sowing. Given a fertile, not overly dry soil, plants will continue blooming profusely until the first heavy frost. Native to Mexico and Central America, this annual can take the heat and will seed itself around in warmer gardens.
Mexico is also home to several cold-tender, shrubby sages notable for their showy late-season bloom. Among the best are Salvia greggii and its hybrids, which throw numerous spires of richly hued, hummingbird-thronged flowers from late spring until frost. Cultivars include compact ‘Ultra Violet’ , with vibrant rose-purple flowers on 18-inch stems, and the fiery-flowered ‘Furman’s Red’, whose cherry-vermillion wands can reach 3 feet tall. At least a dozen other tender Salvia species are indispensable contributors to the fall (and summer) garden, thriving in any well-drained, reasonably fertile growing medium, preferably in full sun. Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ is a gold-leaved, red-flowered selection with a, particularly beautiful fall display. Most of the shrubby salvias perform splendidly in containers as well as in the open garden, and a few will survive USDA Zone 6 winters.
Colorful Swiss chard looks and tastes best in fall.
Red Fountain Grass
The arching, brown-purple leaves of red fountain grass (Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’) make the perfect foil to salvias and other bright summer- and fall bloomers. Tawny, purple-tinged, plumed flower spikes arch above the foliage in summer and fall. Thought to be a hybrid of Pennisetum setaceum (although usually listed as a cultivar of same), ‘Rubrum’ rarely self-sows, unlike its prodigiously fertile parent. At 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, it works wonderfully in large containers or mixed plantings in full sun or light shade. Typically grown as an annual, it’s a hardy perennial in USDA Zones 9 and warmer.
The roster of showy-leaved fall annuals also includes several varieties of chard. Sow the seeds in summer for a fall display of large, crinkled, often bronze-suffused leaves, with vividly contrasting ribs and veins. Most named varieties (such as yellow-ribbed ‘Oriole’ and burgundy-ribbed ‘Rhubarb’) feature one contrasting color, but the mix ‘Bright Lights’ contains numerous hues including red, yellow, orange, purple, and creamy white. Chard’s close cousin, the beet, has also given rise to some showy-leaved varieties. Among the most notable is ‘Bull’s Blood’, whose deep maroon leaves make for good eating as well as for good ornament. As with chard, plants mature in fall from a summer sowing. and provide a welcome change of pace from ornamental kale.
Tomatoes are in full swing by late summer. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
As summer starts to wind down, the harvest revs up. August finds many gardeners harvesting daily, as the hard work of spring and early summer is transformed into bountiful crops. Vegetables, fruits, and herbs hover at the peak of ripeness, almost crying out to be picked. Flowers can be dried for winter arrangements and next year’s garden waits in the wings in the form of seeds ready for collection. In the midst of all that abundance, the biggest challenge maybe finding time to capture and process the plentiful harvest while keeping the garden productive well into fall.
Tomatoes, squashes, eggplant, peppers, beans, cucumbers, broccoli and a host of other summer vegetables require regular harvesting to keep plants productive. Earlier generations of gardeners spent late summer afternoons, evenings and weekends canning or drying the surplus produce. These techniques, plus freezing, are still an option, but so is donating extras to local food pantries or soup kitchens. Non-gardening neighbors may appreciate gifts of fresh produce as well.
A basket of fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden.
In between harvesting sessions, keep production high by enriching the soil around plants such as cucumber, squash, and broccoli with fertilizers like Fafard Garden Manure Blend or Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost Blend. After mid-August, gardeners in northern areas with short fall growing seasons should remove excessive bushy growth and flowers from tomato plants, so the plants’ energies go into enlarging and ripening existing fruits before frost.
Harvest herbs, especially vigorous types, like basil, regularly, to ensure a continuing supply of young leaves. Cut off any flower stalks as soon as they appear, because the flowering process gives herbs a bitter taste. If plants have become leggy or unwieldy, cut them back by about one third, to stimulate bushy new growth.
Harvest herbs in the early morning, after the dew has dried. The easiest way to dry parsley, sage, rosemary, lavender and other herbs that are shrubby or have a relatively low moisture content, is to hang cut stems upside down in a warm dry place. Basil and other mint family members with higher moisture levels dry best when the leaves are separated from the stems and arranged on trays to dry. All herbs are ready to store when the leaves can be crumbled easily.
The aging blooms of oakleaf hydrangea turn pink as they dry and are great for cutting.
August is the time to harvest figs, some melon varieties, late-bearing blueberries, everbearing strawberries, plums and even the last of the cane fruits, like raspberries and blackberries. During the harvest period, use netting to protect ripening fruits from hungry birds. After the fruit has been gathered, prune back fruiting canes and check near the soil line for signs of cane borers. Remove and discard any infested wood.
Many varieties of flowers, grasses and seed heads are ready to be harvested and preserved for crafts and indoor arrangements. As with herbs, the most popular preservation method is air drying, which works best for flowers like strawflower, yarrow and globe amaranth that contain relatively little moisture. Flowers with higher moisture content can be submerged in a granular desiccant compound, pressed between layers of absorbent paper, or preserved using a glycerin solution.
Harvest flowers just as they open, choosing unblemished specimens that feature graceful forms and growth habits. Strip off all leaves before tying and hanging flowers for air drying. Hydrangeas, especially “peegee” (Hydrangea paniculata), oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia), and mophead (Hydrangea macrophylla) types, may also be ready for August harvest. Choose flower panicles that have already begun to dry on the plant, with petal edges that are somewhat crisp to the touch. In the case of white-flowered peegee and oakleaf types, the flower panicles will have turned pink. Many mophead hydrangeas will display greenish petals.
Beginning in August, save seeds of heirloom or unusual varieties of edible and ornamental plants. Some seeds can be harvested “dry” by simply removing dried seed pods or receptacles from stems and shaking or blowing out seeds. Others, like tomato seeds, must be gathered “wet” and soaked in water, along with some attached plant material. During the soaking process, seeds tend to collect in the bottom of the soaking vessel, while other plant debris floats to the top. Wet-gathered seeds are then air dried. All seeds should be stored in cool, dry, dark conditions and labeled according to seed type and date of collection.
August marks the beginning of the harvest cycle that brings the growing season full circle. The month’s “to do” list may be long, but for most gardeners, the end result makes the labor worthwhile.
While we have made every effort to ensure the information on this website is reliable, Sun Gro Horticulture is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. All information in this site is provided “as is”, with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information.