The Garden Path-Report on deserving plants
Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 8:01 pm
By: Jimmy Williams
Mid-year is staring us in the face. We’re half-way from last Christmas to the next. Can you believe it?
It is as good a time as any to assess plant performances for the year to this point. Some of them, of course, are yet to go. Such as mums, asters, late salvias and the like won’t show us anything until fall. Meantime, we can evaluate those things that have already bloomed or are in the process.
Of the latter, what can you say of the hydrangeas? It has been their best year in many a moon, both for the soft wooded ones and the rest. Most of the latter are yet to go, while the former are closing out.
The mostly blue ones, that is, those with big globular heads of neon blue, did not have their buds damaged by early fall or late spring freezes, either of which can prove their undoing. Consequently they have blared forth unfettered from every dooryard and garden.
Their kindred, the lace-caps, with flat heads of fuzzy fertile flowers surrounded by a “lace-cap” of sterile petals, have likewise proved their mettle. My favorite, Blue Billow, was its usual dependable self, displaying flowers for a long time. This hydrangea is among the most dependable of the soft wooded types. In 20 years or more mine have been frozen out of bloom only once.
A white one, the ever popular Annabelle, always blooms right on schedule, since it will flower on both new and old wood. Some recommend cutting it to the ground every spring. This will cause it to produce larger flowers, which, in fact, is no advantage, since they will droop to the ground in heavy rain.
The parent of Annabelle is Hills of Snow, an old variety that produces smaller flowers that never sag. I prefer it to Annabelle, though it is virtually unattainable any more, most people prefering the outsize blooms of Annabelle.
I have bragged on Indian pink already this season, but it deserves every mention possible. This native perennial is rare in that it is one of very few red ones that bloom in spring. In fact, it is one of very few red perennials, period, outside daylilies.
Indian pink, Spigelia marylandica, grows to maybe 18 inches and blooms from early May until mid-June, not a bad performance for a perennial. The little funnel flowers are perhaps an inch across, a brilliant scarlet, lined with chartreuse. Unusual, and, to top it off, the foliage stays in good condition until late summer. If smart deadheading is practiced just following the first flush, some re-bloom sometimes occurs.
A couple of years ago I planted a miniature weigela, My Monet, which was selling like hotcakes. No wonder. The foliage is a fine variegation of green outlined smartly in white. Said to grow to 18 inches, my specimen has crept to barely half that, with a few pink flowers. Nevertheless, it is an eye-catcher, with the white variegation, and well worth its minimal space.
Black and Blue salvia lived over winter for me for the second straight year. What with the lengthy cold spell we endured at the turn of the year, I wouldn’t hesitate to put it in the hardy category in our Zone 7. I hasten to add that I did help it along with a loose mulch of pine needles.
So far, it has tentatively produced a few deep royal blue flowers, but it will go from strength to strength during the summer, peaking in fall and going full blast until hard frost. This is a fine summer pot plant, but don’t expect it to live over winter in that environment. Freezing is more severe up off the ground.
Another great late spring performer was a mystery iris that was a gift from the late Frank Brown, a neighbor and fine gardener. It is not a bearded iris, but probably a Louisiana type. It grows to three feet or so, with upright, narrow foliage that stays in far better condition than the beardeds.
Alas, bloom time is no lengthier than that of the beardeds, but is spectacular while it lasts. A brilliant yellow that meets the eye from a great distance, the flower is composed of “falls,” that don’t fall but instead are held horizontally in appealing fashion, and upright curled petals of the same shade that set them off with aplomb.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 6.29.10