Daisies, real and ersatz, brighten summer

Daisies, real and ersatz, brighten summer

Posted: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Special to The Messenger
When discussing this subject or that, it behooves us to define with some clarity said subject. At hand is that of daisies, and the first installment of this serial discourse appeared last week with two examples, oxeye daisies and coreopsis, which has daisy-like yellow flowers.
There is no simple, concrete definition of what exactly a daisy is. Dictionaries describe a daisy as the aforesaid oxeye, but that is just one among many. And, in addition, there are those “daisy-like” flowers, such as that coreopsis.
The Williams definition of daisy would be something like this: “One of many species and varieties of mostly flat-faced flowers, with ray petals surrounding a central disc which eventually forms seeds.”
Most daisies are of the composite class of plants and answer that definition.
At any rate, our daisy series is taking them and their “daisy-like” kin more or less in order of bloom time through the season, spring until late fall.
Following on the heels of the May blooming oxeyes and coreopsis is another vast class of mostly wildflowers of the genus Erigeron, commonly called fleabane. I presume some derivative of the plant was once used as a flea repellent.
Fleabane grows in much the same waste places as oxeyes and coreopsis. The flowers are smaller, but vastly numerous. One two-foot plant can carry hundreds of little inch-wide white or pale purple flowers. They are borne on somewhat flabby stems, making them less suitable for cutting than oxeyes. They are, however, excellent as filler in flower arrangements.
The only domesticated fleabane I have succeeded with is the Mexican daisy, Erigeron karvinskianus. It sports little pink or white flowers only a half-inch across on creeping plants to 10 inches tall or so. Though marginally winter hardy, it will self-seed prolifically. Good drainage is a must. My once thriving plantation of it in a rock garden has mostly run out after more than 10 years.
Some daisies (like oxeye daisies) include the word daisy in the common name. Another example is Gerber daisy. I drool over the luxurious plants laden with big daisy flowers in almost every color of the rainbow when they appear in garden centers in spring. After years of abject failure with them, I have finally gone cold turkey and quit buying Gerberas.
The late Margaret Sutherland had lovely beds of them near her patio at her home on Sherwood Street for years. I would make a trip there just to see them in full glory. She was one of a small minority of gardeners who had that kind of luck with Gerberas. I don’t know her secret. They certainly demand good drainage, and hers were in a raised bed. They are listed as annuals in our zone, but hers returned year after year. Maybe they seeded, or maybe they didn’t. Mauri Ann Mitchell has a clump of Gerberas near her porch that has survived for some years from a single plant thrown out of a pot that took root on the soil surface. It is somewhat humiliating when I can’t make one live and others can’t kill one.
Most marigolds are double or semi-double. There are a few single varieties, however, that must be included in the “daisy-like” category. I prefer these singles but have no better luck with them than I do any marigold. If I get more than a couple of months from them before they go down to spider mites that is the limit. But, bless your healthy marigolds. I have seen them in your garden.
Gazanias are eye-catching daisy-like annuals. They thrive in poor soil and blazing sun, two requisites I can easily provide. The flowers, in striking and varied colors from both the hot and cool ends of the spectrum, however, do not open except in brilliant sun. A cloudy day, even failing light toward sunset, and they close up.
A perennial that many people succeed with is gaillardia, or blanket flower. The flowers are generally two to four inches in diameter, in simple daisy fashion, though a few are semi-double. Colors range on the hot side of yellow, through orange and red and combinations of these.
I yearn for them in my hot border of oranges, reds and yellows, but, alas, they have refused to take to me. They almost always act like annuals, performing the first summer with aplomb but never returning. I have, on occasion, gotten two or three years from the variety Burgandy, which is solid red and grows to two feet or so. I like it a lot.

Published in The Messenger 9.7.10


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