Tag Archive: Garden Flowers

  1. Gorgeous Garden Goldenrods

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    Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is one of the most common field species in North America. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    It is hard to think of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), as something precious and special when it is so extraordinarily ubiquitous.  Native to all of North America, it bursts into bloom in late summer and early fall, lining field edges, roadsides and just about every sunny space where it can gain a foothold.  In its native land it is often damned with faint or non-existent praise.  Even worse, it is unjustly damned as the source of pesky, end-of-summer hay fever attacks.

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    The compact ‘Little Lemon’ is a tidy, small goldenrod fit for border edges and containers. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Ragweed, goldenrod’s seasonal fellow traveler, is the true cause of most late-season allergies.  Ragweed is a stealth allergen. It’s so visually nondescript with its humdrum green flowers that people overlook it in their quest to point accusing fingers at goldenrod’s bright plumes.  Like many hay-fever-trigger plants, ragweed is wind pollinated. It relies on the breeze to complete its pollinating chores, sending tiny pollen granules flying through the air where they meet up with sensitive human beings.  Goldenrod, on the other hand, is pollinated by bees and other insects, meaning its pollen never becomes airborne and causes us no harm.

    Common and condemned, goldenrod had to go all the way to Europe to lose its bad reputation.  Europeans, untroubled by hay-fever concerns, common origins, and supposed coarse appearances, fell in love.  When plant people on the other side of the Atlantic got hold of the winsome field flower, that love translated into hybridizing.  The result of international travel and human-initiated plant hanky-panky is that gardeners have the option of getting their goldenrod two ways—wild or bred into garden-worthy forms.

    Solidago 'Crown of Rays' is a tidier cultivated form for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Solidago ‘Crown of Rays’ is a tidier cultivated form for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Goldenrod’s lineage makes it a natural for the home garden.  At first glance the resemblance is hard to see, but Solidago is in the daisy family, Asteraceae.  Each lush flower panicle is made of up of many miniature golden daisies that can be seen up close. Loaded with pollen, they attract bees, butterflies, and many other insects.  If you have ever eaten wildflower honey collected in fall, you have most likely tasted the autumnal richness of goldenrod.

    In the garden, these hardy perennials ask for little. Established plants can tolerate dry spells in fine fashion, and some species are tolerant of moist soils. Sunny space is ideal for the plants, although some will also prosper in light shade, sporting somewhat fewer flowers per stem.  Anyone familiar with field goldenrod, which is frequently, but not always, Solidago canadensis, knows that it can grow 3 to 6 feet high and forms large clumps due to its vigorous, spreading root systems.  Clearly this is not ideal for all gardens.  Fortunately, breeders have come up with more civilized, compact garden goldenrods that are perfect for small spaces or containers.

    2209Fafard N&O Potting_3D-1cu RESILIENCE front WEBOne of those compact varieties is Solidago ‘Little Lemon’, which reaches only 12 to 18 inches tall. It looks cute in seasonal containers, but this perennial should be replanted along a border edge before frost descends.  The popular ‘Crown of Rays’, which grows 18 to 24 inches tall, is another compact form to consider. For a medium-tall variety, try the popular Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, which grows 3 to 4 feet tall and spreads less aggressively than some wild forms. The winter seed heads of all goldenrod add garden beauty by attracting the lovely, yellow-feathered goldfinch.

    To make potted goldenrod thrive, fill your chosen container with Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Soil. This premium mix is full of the kind of rich organic materials that a goldenrod would chose for itself, if it were able. Amend garden soils with Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost before planting.

    The word “Solidago” comprises two Latin words that mean “to make whole”.  “Solidago” shares a common root with the English word “solidarity”.  This seems perfect for goldenrod, which finds solidarity with a variety of plants that bloom at the same time.  The most prominent of them is the blue-purple Symphiotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster).  Mums, especially those in burnt orange or dark red shades, also make good companions.  In the fields, the waving golden wands harmonize with the last of summer’s true blue chicory, not to mention purple ironweed (Vernonia spp.) and lots of airy native grasses.

    Goldenrod is a great garden plant, but it also makes an excellent cut flower.  Best of all, since no one has ever been inclined to pick ragweed and add it to a vase, you can enjoy goldenrod’s sunny fall flowers indoors without resorting to allergy medicine or the tissue box.

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    Strands of Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ intermingle with a fall planting of red dahlias and Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  2. Elegant Spider Chrysanthemums

    Chrysanthemum x morifolium 'Kishinonishi'

    Spider chrysanthemums, such as ‘Kishinonishi’, produce long tubular ray florets which may coil or hook at the ends. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    There’s so much more to chrysanthemums than the ubiquitous “garden mum”.  Spider chrysanthemums are a wonderful and weirdly beautiful example.   Like common “garden mums”, they trace their origin to hybrids of Chrysanthemum indicum, first developed in China more than 2000 years ago.  Over the centuries, these so-called “florist’s chrysanthemums”, known botanically as Chrysanthemum morifolium, have diverged into a dizzying array of forms and colors, some of them bordering on the bizarre.

    Which, brings us back to spider mums.  As described by the National Chrysanthemum Society, this class of florist’s chrysanthemums produces blossoms with “long tubular ray florets which may coil or hook at the ends.”  The masses of spaghetti-thin, curling “petals” do indeed have a spidery, or medusa-like, or starburst effect – spectacular in some cases, and almost sinister in others.  Their distinctive form makes them favorites in wedding bouquets and other special-occasion floral arrangements.

    1760FF Pro Potting Mix 2cu RESILIENCE FrontAs with most of the 13 classes of Chrysanthemum morifolium, spider mums have been bred and selected mainly for cut-flowers rather than for garden use.  Consequently, few can tolerate frozen winters.  Their October bloom times also leave them vulnerable to fall frost, limiting their usefulness as annuals to regions where frost comes a bit later (USDA zones 6-7 and warmer).  Where suitable, they make choice additions to cut-flower borders and attention-grabbing (but relatively fussy) alternatives to common garden mums.

    In the garden, spider mums are best planted in spring after the danger of frost has passed. They thrive in full to partial sun and friable, fertile, humus-rich soil. Numerous cultivars are available by mail order from specialty growers, with a few sometimes finding their way to local nurseries and greenhouses.  Among the most notable are ‘Descanso’, which bears huge medusa blooms in shades of bronze and apricot, the white-flowered ‘Chesapeake’, and ‘Fleur de Lis’ with its fountains of lilac-pink “petals”. To find these and other spider mums, visit King’s Mums.

    Of course, in whatever climate, spider chrysanthemums can be grown the traditional way: in containers.  Young plants purchased in late winter or early spring will prosper indoors or out (after danger of frost) in a coarse, fertile, compost-based potting mix, such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix.  A deep 4-inch pot is good to start, but vigorously growing plants should be moved to larger containers every couple of months.  After plants flower, they can be cut back and kept relatively dry in a cool, frost-free location.

    For the full traditional effect, these mums should be disbudded.  This involves pruning out all but a few stems, and removing most or all of their side shoots.  Only one to several flower buds are left to develop at the tip of each stem, resulting in exceptionally large blooms – just the thing to wow greenhouse visitors or chrysanthemum show judges. If you don’t disbud, you will get more flowers, but they will be smaller.

    Chrysanthemum x morifolium 'Kokka Senkin'

    Chrysanthemums come in many other forms, such as this irregular incurve, ‘Kokka Senkin’. These and many others can be viewed at select Chrysanthemum shows across the country.

    Several U.S. public gardens – including Smith College Botanical Garden in Northampton, Massachusetts, and Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania – offer the ultimate in chrysanthemum “wow”, staging lavish displays of hundreds to thousands of florist’s chrysanthemums, grown (and disbudded) to perfection.  Spiders, Anemones, Quills, and all manner of other chrysanthemums take center stage at Lyman Conservatory at the Botanic Garden of Smith College from November 5 to 20, and at Longwood’s 4-acre conservatory from October 22 to November 20.  These chrysanthemum celebrations will convince even the most jaded observer that there’s far more to mums than the cushion mounds at the local garden center.

  3. Merry Summer Marigolds

    Marigold Mix

    Mixed marigolds will shine through the warmest days of summer and fall. (image by Jessie Keith)

    Imagine a flowering plant so beautiful and sturdy that it lends equal brightness to elegant flowerbeds, gas station plantings and public parks all over the United States. Leaping nimbly over national borders, it also serves as an important decorative element for festivities associated with the Mexican Day of the Dead and plays a prominent role in all kinds of celebrations on the Indian subcontinent. It repels deer and other varmints, but attracts humans, who use it as a summer garden stalwart, harvest it for indoor arrangements and sometimes even strew it over salads.

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    The African marigold ‘Doubloon’ is a tall variety that produces loads of lemon-yellow flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    The plant in question is an annual with an interesting Latin name—Tagetes—and a familiar English one—marigold. Blooming in shades of cream, yellow, gold, orange/red, red or maroon, its cheerful disposition and easy-going nature match its sunshiny colors. Some of the most sophisticated gardeners in history, like early twentieth century designer/author Gertrude Jekyll, have taken marigolds to their hearts and into their landscapes. Yet, it has also edged humble vegetable plots, anchored cutting gardens and been used as a natural pest controller. Fragrant and sturdy, the annual marigold is a classic summer bloomer.

    The two most popular species are the African marigold and the French marigold (Tagetes erecta). In keeping with the Latin name, the African erecta varieties are tall, growing between one and four feet. French varieties are shorter, maxing out at 18 inches. I am especially fond of the flashy French variety, ‘Harlequin’, an antique that features petals with alternating gold and mahogany strips. Both erecta marigolds sport pinnate or feathery leaves. Many popular marigold varieties are actually crosses between these two variants, combining the somewhat more compact habit of the French types, with the large flowers of the African marigolds. Though not as widely known, little Tagetes tenuifolia, commonly known as signet marigold, features petite, elegant, single blossoms and works well in containers and edging situations. The single-flowered varieties ‘Tangerine Gem’, ‘Lemon Gem’, and ‘Paprika’ are perfect examples.

    The large-flowered, compact 'Disco Orange' is a French marigold grown for its masses of tangerine-orange flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    The large-flowered, compact ‘Disco Orange’ is a French marigold grown for its masses of tangerine-orange flowers. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    In addition to their many other virtues, marigolds are good travelers. Early Spanish colonists took the plants from their native Mexico, where they were sacred to the Aztec goddess Xochiquetzal, back to the Old World, where they flourished. Their popularity spread quickly to all kinds of places, including France and North Africa. This migration gave rise to the idea that the plants were native to those areas, hence the common names of some species.

    Daisies are the show-horse flowers of summer and marigolds are in the daisy family, Asteraceae. As with other daisies, each flowerhead is actually a mass of tiny flowers. The “eye” features a disk of tiny flowers surrounded by the showy, petal-like ray flowers. The red and gold ‘Scarlet Starlet’, with its golden eye and deep scarlet petals, is a perfect example. “Double-flowered” marigolds, like those of the tall, white-flowered ‘Snowdrift’, are not truly double but instead have only ray flowers. Given their origins in Mexico, it is not surprising that the plants still prefer sunny, open situations and grow best when it is very warm.

    2209Fafard N&O Potting_3D-1cu RESILIENCE front WEBMarigolds are among the easiest plants to grow—perfect for children and beginning gardeners. Most garden centers feature cell packs of starter plants in the spring and summer, but marigolds can easily be started from seed. Sow directly into pots or garden beds and cover with a thin layer of soil or Fafard® Seed Starter Potting Mix with RESiLIENCE®. Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix With Extended Feed and RESILIENCE® is a perfect medium for container-grown specimens.

    Water daily and seedlings should appear within a week or so. Thin the young plants to prevent crowding and once they have leafed out, pinch back the stems to promote bushy growth and abundant flowers. Established marigolds are somewhat drought tolerant, though container-grown specimens may need extra water during dry spells.

    Marigold Double

    (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

    Gardeners tend to either love or hate the strong smell of marigolds’ flowers and foliage, which have earned the plant the old-fashioned nickname, “Stinking Roger”. However, even those who hate the aroma can love the fact that marigolds have the ability to beat back the destructive power of root-knot nematodes, organisms that can damage or destroy the roots of tomatoes and other food crops. Marigolds’ roots secrete a substance called alpha-terthienyl that inhibits the growth of these parasitic nematodes. To use marigolds in this way, it is best to sow them as a cover crop between planting seasons. This inhibiting power, traditionally harnessed in countries like India, may account for the fact that farmers in many places have traditionally planted marigolds around vegetable beds. If nothing else, they brighten up kitchen garden planting schemes.

    Marigolds are a study in contrasts. Their simple flowers have enchanted sophisticated gardeners all over the world, while their down-home demeanor successfully masks a deadly arsenal of anti-nematode weapons. They are at once the stealthiest and most alluring denizens of the summer garden.

  4. “Spur” on Pollinators with Columbine Flowers

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    Eastern columbine flowers in late spring.

    The elegant spurs of columbine (Aquilegia spp.) trail behind the spring blooms like the tail of a comet. Each projected spur is in fact an elongated, tubular nectary filled with nectar for a variety of visiting pollinators, from hummingbirds to bees to hawkmoths.

    Columbine are unique in that many of the 60+ species are just as pretty as the many hybrids offered at garden centers. Aquilegia comes from the Latin name, Aquila, which translates to “eagle” and refers directly to the flower’s talon-like spurs. All species in the genus hail from the North Temperate regions of the world and most bloom in late spring or early summer. All attract pollinators of one variety or another, but many of the species are specially adapted to certain groups of pollinators—making them very desirable for pollinator gardens.

    Their delicate, spurred flowers come in several colors that tend to dictate the primary pollinators they attract, though spur length, nectar sweetness and levels, among other factors, also influence pollinator attraction.

    Hummingbirds: Red- and Orange-flowered Columbine

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    Eastern red columbine

    As a rule, red flowers attract hummingbirds; research as shown that this is also the case with columbine flowers. Beautiful wildflowers, such as the eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis, 2’), with its tall stems of nodding red flowers, or the western red columbine (A. elegantula, 1-3’), with its more linear nodding, shooting-star flowers of fire orange-red, are sure to draw hummingbirds in spring and early summer. Hummingbirds flying through western desert regions will likely visit the blooms of the Arizona columbine (A. desertorum, 1-2’) with its many small, red flowers with shorter spurs. All of these flowers have spurs that hold lots of extra sweet nectar to fulfill the needs of visiting hummingbirds.

    Hawkmoths & Bees-Violet-blue-flowered Columbine

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    Colorado blue columbine (image by Zenhaus)

    Many columbine species have flowers that come in combinations of violet-blue and white. These flowers tend to be most attractive to both hawkmoths and native bees. (Hawkmoths are a group of moths easily distinguished by their hummingbird-like hovering flight patterns and long tongues adapted for nectar gathering.) Columbine with long spurs, such as the Colorado blue columbine (A. coerulea, 1-3’), are most attractive to long-tongued hawkmoths. Smaller-flowered species, such as the alpine Utah columbine (A. scopulorum, 6-8”) and small-flowered columbine (A. brevistyla, 1-3’) with their blue and white blooms, are better adapted to bee pollinators.

    Hawkmoths- Yellow-flowered Columbine

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    Long-spurred columbine (image by Cstubben)

    Some of the most impressively long spurs are found on columbine with ethereal yellow flowers that glow in the evening light. Most are adapted to hawkmoth pollination. One of the prettiest for the garden is the southwestern golden columbine (A. chrysantha, 3’) with its big starry flowers and long, long spurs of gold. When in full bloom, from spring to summer, the plants literally glow with beautiful blossoms. Another big-spurred beauty from the southwest is the long-spurred columbine (A. longissima, 1-3’) with its 4-6” long spurs. The upward-facing blooms are paler yellow than A chrysantha and bloom from mid to late summer. Both species look delicate but are surprisingly well-adapted to arid weather conditions.

    As a rule, columbine grow best in full to partial sun and soil with good to moderate fertility and sharp drainage. Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost is a great soil addition for these garden flowers. They don’t require heavy fertilization and should be protected from sun during the hottest times of the day. After flowers, plants often die back or develop a ragged look, so be sure to surround them by other full perennials with attractive foliage and flowers that will fill the visual gaps left by these plants. Good compliments are tall phlox, coneflowers, bluestar, and milkweeds.

    Columbine are great choices for pollinator gardens, so it’s no wonder that sourcing species is surprisingly easy. High Country Garden sells a western species collection, in addition to the dwarf eastern columbine, and many others. Moreover, columbine self-sow and naturally hybridize-making them truly enjoyable garden flowers for gardeners we well as our favorite pollinators.

  5. Bulb Specialist Russell Stafford on the Best Fall Bulbs

    Iris reticulata 'Michael's Angel'

    The clear blue color of Iris reticulata ‘Michael’s Angel’ pairs beautifully with golden crocus.

    Flower bulbs can’t be beat for bringing bursts of color to the garden. And they do it in such delightful fashion – their shoots thrusting up almost magically from seemingly unoccupied ground in sudden crescendos of bloom. Then, just as suddenly, they pass from the scene, returning to the ground to wait out the months until their next brief fling.

    The Siberian trout lily 'Altai Snow' is rare but worth seeking out.

    The Siberian trout lily ‘Altai Snow’ is rare but worth seeking out.

    Most garden bulbs (which botanically speaking comprise plants that grow from tubers, rhizomes, corms, true bulbs, or other underground storage organs) owe their fast and furious above-ground lifestyle to the short growing seasons that prevail in their native haunts. Many hardy “bulb” species, for example, hail from regions that receive most of their annual precipitation from late fall to early spring. The steppes and uplands of Central Asia – ancestral home of many garden bulbs – are a place of long dry summers, cold bitter winters, and brief springs. Long, arid summers also characterize the climates of the bulb-rich Mediterranean and South African Cape regions.

    Other bulb species are native to localized plant habitats that experience seasonal shortages of moisture or sunshine. Deciduous woodlands are the spawning ground of many of the most familiar shade-loving bulbs, which complete their above-ground growth in early spring before the canopy chokes out rain and sunlight.

    Whatever their land of origin, most hardy bulbs need relatively moist, cool to cold winters and relatively dry summers, developing their roots in late autumn and winter and putting in an above-ground appearance for only a few weeks in spring or fall. Frost-tender bulbs, on the other hand, often come from regions in which rainfall and growth are concentrated in summer.

    Corydalis, such as this Corydalis malkensis, come in many forms, all beautiful for spring.

    Corydalis, such as this Corydalis malkensis, come in many forms, all beautiful for spring.

    This is something to keep in mind when placing bulbs in the garden. Or course, a massed annual bedding display of hybrid tulips or hyacinths can be great fun and will work in just about any reasonably good soil. But a perennialized planting of less highly bred bulbs, artfully deployed in the appropriate garden habitat, can be equally compelling. Any garden niche that roughly mimics the conditions of a Central Asia steppe or a

    Mediterranean chaparral or a temperate forest understory is fair game for a scattering of naturalized bulbs, which mingle beautifully with herbaceous and woody perennials that derive from the same natural habitat. Reticulated irises (Iris reticulata and its hybrids) and “species tulips” (such as Tulipa humilis) make natural companions for penstemons, dwarf campanulas, plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides), low sedums, and other perennials that occur naturally in rocky steppe habitats. Likewise, crocuses, colchicums, cyclamens, and tuberous anemones look right at home with lavender, perennial candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), shrubby sages, and other small shrubs from the Mediterranean. And just about any partly shaded garden niche could benefit from a colony of woodland bulbs such as corydalis (including Corydalis solida) and trout lilies (Erythronium spp.).

    A sunny garden site that dries out somewhat in summer is likely to be favorable for most sun-loving bulbs. In areas that are subject to summer rain and humidity, a well-drained soil works best. Rock gardens and troughs; embankments; wall plantings; sandy berms – all are ideal locations for grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.), ornamental onions (Allium spp.), and other steppe and Mediterranean natives. Quite a few sun-lovers (including many fritillaries and irises) absolutely require a dry summer rest, rotting away in warm moist conditions. Conversely, most woodland bulbs are relatively unfussy, thriving in just about any partly shaded site.

    Species tulips (Tulipa bifloriformis shown) are often reliable perennials that spread over time.

    Species tulips (Tulipa bifloriformis shown) are often reliable perennials that spread over time.

    Whatever their favored exposure, bulbs tend to do best in relatively rich soil, and will usually benefit from a sprinkling of high-potassium fertilizer in early fall or spring. For excessively dry or heavy soil, incorporate a good amendment for fertility such as Fafard® Sphagnum Peat Moss and/or Compost. A general rule of thumb is to plant bulbs at a depth of 2 to 3 times their diameter (from the soil surface to their tips). Bulbs (such as crocuses and tulips) that are favorite morsels for chipmunks and squirrels may need protection such as a hardware cloth barrier (or interplant them with bulbs that rodents tend to avoid, such as narcissus and alliums).

    The right bulbs in the right place will add a seasonal spark to any garden. Plant some this fall to reap your reward next spring, and beyond!

  6. Designing with Tall Sedums

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    Tall sedums (Sedum spectabile hybrids) look pretty through most of the year—save late winter and spring, before they have broken bud. Through summer they provide mounds of lush, blue-green foliage and in early winter their dried flower heads hold up moderately well before being flattened by snow, but late summer and fall are when they shine the most. Their sturdy stems support mounds of pink rose and white blooms that glow in the late-season sun. New varieties make growing and designing with these tried-and-true perennials even more gratifying and fun.
    Sedum 'Thunderhead' has some of the deepest, darkest flowers of any sedum. (photo care of Terra Nova, Nurseries)Tall sedums have broken the mold of the old-fashioned dusky pink ‘Autumn Joy’ of your grandmother’s garden. Extra bright flowers and unique foliage colors, like bronze, purple and near-black, mark some of the new tall sedums.  Some are extra tall and others are very compact and densely flowered.

    Take the new ‘Thunderhead’ (pictured above, photo by Terra Nova, Nurseries) introduction by Terra Nova. Its giant, bright, rose-red flower heads stand on strong, 18” stems above bronzy green foliage. Plant with the soft, mounding, blue-green ‘Blue Zinger’ sedge and bright-yellow flowered Helianthus ‘Low Down’, which only grows to 2-feet high.

    One for outstanding foliage as well as flowers is the 2015 introduction ‘Dark Magic’, which has deepest burgundy foliage all season and large heads of burgundy pink flowers in late-summer and fall. The compact plants only reach 12” high, making this a great plant for border edges. Its upright habit makes it the perfect complement to lower, more mounded grasses and perennials. Try evergreen germander or tidy thyme plants.

    Frosty MornIn contrast, the pale, super dwarf ‘Crystal Pink’ becomes literally covered with palest green and pink flowers. Plants reach no more than a foot and complement taller, darker garden plants that allow this sedum to shine.

    Another bright sedum is the variegated ‘Autumn Charm’ (pictured right), the surprisingly vigorous variegated counterpart to ‘Autumn Joy’. Its bright mounds of foliage complement darker-leaved plants and are best planted in multiples to enhance the silvery effect of the ivory-edged leaves. Late in the season, plants become topped with subtle, dusty pink flowers. The darker flowered ‘Autumn Delight’ (pictured below) is a bolder variegated form with deeper variegated leaves and bright rose flowers.
    Autumn DelightGardeners looking for classic tall sedum looks but more exciting flowers might consider ‘Autumn Fire’. Tall plants produce large, flattened clusters of rose-pink flowers that are to a darker, richer hue. The plants themselves have significant presence in the landscape with their dense stems that reach 2 to 3 feet in height.

    Like all sedums, these plants prefer drier feet, but they aren’t as drought tolerant as some of the smaller creeping species able to withstand really high heat and low water. Plant them in porous, moderately organic-poor, mineral-rich soil. Raised bed spaces can be amended with Fafard Cactus and Succulent Potting Mix for perfect rooting.

    All sedums attract butterflies to the garden making them perfect for pollinator gardens. After fall flowering, the seedheads should be left until they are no longer ornamental. Cut them back on a dry midwinter’s day, and wait until the soils warm in spring and their rosettes of fleshy leaves begin to grow again.

  7. Spectacular Summer Flowering Bulbs

    The Orienpet Lily 'Pontiac' is a subdued stunner.

    The Orienpet Lily ‘Pontiac’ is a subdued stunner. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    As perennial favorites, hardy bulbs are unexcelled at providing sudden swaths and splashes of vibrant color, whether in the open garden or in containers. And that goes for summer as well as spring (and fall and winter!).

    Consider the lilies, for example. The voluptuous, richly hued blossoms of these fleshy-bulbed perennials are just the thing for alleviating the dullness that sometimes descends on the post-spring garden. Early summer welcomes the typically flat-faced, upright, freckled blooms of the Asiatic Hybrids, which flower in warm hues of yellow, orange, red, and pink, as well as white. Numerous narrow leaves clothe their sturdy, 1- to 4-foot stems. Hundreds of Asiatics have been introduced over the years, including the famed ‘Enchantment’, whose orange, dark-speckled blooms still frequently appear in bouquets.

    Arisaema ciliatum

    Arisaema ciliatum has both fantastic flowers and foliage.

    Arriving somewhat later, the Oriental Hybrids carry the delicious fragrance and rosy-or-white, purple-flecked, often gold-emblazoned coloration of their two primary parents, Lilium speciosum and Lilium auratum. The large, waxy, bowl-shaped flowers with slightly backswept petals open on 2- to 4-foot stems, which are rather sparsely set with relatively broad, green to blue-green leaves. Nodding to outfacing flowers are the rule, but some cultivars have semi-erect blooms (including rose-red, white-edged ‘Stargazer’).

    Blooming alongside the Oriental lilies (but usually above them, on 4- to 6-foot stems), Trumpet Hybrids are noted and named for their huge, spicy-scented, funnel-shaped blooms. Notable selections include the African Queen Strain, which flowers in various shades of cantaloupe-orange. Prone to toppling because of their colossal proportions, Trumpets often need staking (or a sheltered position) to keep them upright. In recent years, the Trumpets have been interbred with the Oriental Hybrids to create a popular new class of showy-flowered hybrids, the Orienpets, which add to their usefulness by having flop-resistant stems.

    Among the many Lilium species well worth growing are Turk’s cap lily (Lilium martagon) – which has parented some beautiful hybrids of its own – and Eastern North American natives such as Canada lily (Lilium canadense) and wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum).

    Lilium 'Ladylike' JaKMPM

    The colorful Asiatic lily ‘Ladylike’ is in warm hues of red, gold and pink. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Whether species or hybrid, most lilies do best in full to partial sun and a fertile, humus-rich soil. Or grow them in deep containers fortified with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend. Unfortunately, all lilies have two potentially mortal enemies: viruses and the dreaded red lily beetle. Many hybrids and species shrug off viruses, but all are red-lily-beetle-susceptible, and any lily planting in a beetle-infested area will need protection, either by hand-picking or by spraying. Releases of parasitic wasps in Rhode Island have resulted in dramatic local reductions of red lily beetle numbers, so there’s hope that this bête rouge will soon make its exit.

    Lovely and varied as they are, lilies are far from the only valuable hardy summer bulbs. Other worthies include:

    Crocosmia hybrids, with long, curving midsummer spikes of dazzling, often fiery-hued blooms that attract hummingbirds. Although hailing from southern Africa, these sun-loving perennials include a few hybrids hardy to USDA Zone 5 (such as the smoldering orange-red ‘Lucifer’). Plant their crocus-like corms in rich soil that doesn’t dry out in summer.

    Allium obliquum

    The pale chartreuse-yellow drumsticks of Allium obliquum appear in early summer.

    Several species of Lycoris, East Asian bulbs which bear clusters of fragrant amaryllis-like blooms on tall, naked stems that magically arise in mid- to late summer. Far too rarely seen in gardens or catalogs, hardy Lycoris are most often represented by the lilac-pink-flowered Lycoris squamigera. Other showy hardy species include gold-flowered Lycoris chinensis; creamy-yellow Lycoris caldwellii; white Lycoris longituba; and white, rose-striped Lycoris incarnata. All produce strap-shaped leaves in spring, which die back months before the flowers appear. Hardy Lycoris remain almost unknown in American gardens, despite numbering among the most beautiful summer-blooming perennials. Their narcissus-like, fleshy-rooted bulbs store poorly, contributing to their obscurity. Purchase freshly dug or container-grown bulbs, and plant them in good soil in full sun or light shade.

    Numerous East-Asian species of Arisaema, the genus that also includes Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). Their hooded inflorescences range from bizarre to beautiful, and their spoked or lobed, compound leaves are often equally remarkable, and sometimes gargantuan. Perhaps the queen of the tribe is Arisaema candidissimum, which in early summer sends up a large, ivory-white, green-streaked hood surmounted by an enormous, broadly three-lobed leaf. The flowers cast a faint, sweet scent. These Asian Jacks tend to want more sun than the native, and less winter moisture. Mark the places where you plant their tubers; they may not break ground until late June.

    A host of ornamental onions. In most cases, summer-blooming alliums grow from slender, scallion-like bulbs and have persistent, grassy leaves (unlike the early-dormant spring-blooming species). Lovely but little-known summer alliums abound, including Allium ramosum, a white-flowered beauty which blooms earlier and self-sows much less rampantly than the otherwise similar garlic chives (Allium tuberosum); Allium togashii, an August-blooming pixie with bright lilac-pink heads; and the elfin, blue-flowered Allium sikkimense.