By Fran Wershler, Master Gardener
Ever wonder why a garden that seems great in spring in June either softens its tone to a monotony of soft colour, a big green place, or becomes a great splash of bright colours?
My garden seems to have gone through many of those stages and after reading, thinking, and viewing many gardens I find that I have to analyse my own passions, plants, interests, likes and dislikes, and then work with the garden to build on combinations of colour, texture and form to enjoy in each stage of summer. The most difficult stage may well be late July and August when heat and dry conditions exist.
Words from others who have guided me:
• Remember that we have the brightest summers in Canada. Choose hardy sun loving plants: Echinacea (purple cone flower) for one, to grow in the brightest places.
• Think about textures, height, shapes and tones of both leaves and blooms and mix them in your garden: Eutrochium maculatum (Joe Pye weed), and Asclepias (milk weed) or Allium (ornamental flowering onion).
• Always buy plants for specific sites by considering zone, soil, shade or sun, surrounding plants and background: Hydrangea is an example where morning sun and a moist bed are most suitable for it.
• Test new trends that might suit your garden. For example, a river of alliums ‘Purple Sensation’ and a dark heuchera running across a flowerbed might work for you.
• Various areas may contain different colour schemes, but repetition of your chosen tones enhances the whole. For example, a mostly green border may be complemented by spotting red or burgundy: even rust or the red shades of Coleus scutellaroides, coleus, especially when other red-stemmed or red-leafed shrubs are already there.
• If you are a fan of the genus Lilium, lily, try moving clumps around your flower beds keeping each group to one colour, or perhaps mixing different cultivars. Asiatic lilies bloom in July and August.
I have two stories about choices; First: On a garden tour in England, I asked the name of an attractive perennial with small yellow daisy-like blooms. The host gardener replied, “Oh I don’t recall exactly. It is one of those ‘composites‘. “DYCs” we call them, ‘Damned Yellow Composites.’”
Second: As a long-time judge of cut flowers and floral arrangements at agricultural and horticultural shows, I have seen how ingrained personal opinions sometimes affect the way others make choices. The first time I judged a certain show in a class that would have been perfect for the use of marigolds, I wondered aloud why that flower might not have been chosen. Someone whispered in my ear that a former judge hated marigolds and never gave prizes to arrangements containing a marigold. Reliable research, not personal prejudice, helps place a plant just perfectly.
As I was introduced to perennials, I became an ardent fan, buying one each of every perennial that caught my eye, I know now that being a ‘plant collector’ makes it difficult to plan an attractive garden. Plan and purchase with the whole garden in mind. I’m learning that each cultivar is emphasized by using three, five or seven together. Placing them to show a ‘drift’ of colour presents an even more eye-catching display and a planting system that is now widely promoted.
My drift project has daffodils (Narcissi) in a specific flowerbed. As I planted more bulbs each fall, the spring colour drift has improved. However, their dying leaves must be maintained through unsightly yellow until finally, brown. Earlier removal prevents the bulb from maturing to produce blooms next year. My task this year: to plant a series of small Allium ‘Millenium’ in front of the area taken up by daffodils. Those soft mauve globes and strappy leaves provide a second drift of colour and bright foliage to hide the dying daffodil leaves and blend with the shades of purple irises, phlox and delphiniums from June until late August.
Many gardens have shaded beds where hostas perform beautifully together through June into late August. Their contrasting size and shades of green make them a cool restful sight in a warmer time. Intersperse them with taller dark foliage plants or bright yellow-greens and finer ferns or martagon lilies. The near-black of Actea racemosa ‘James Compton’, ‘Brunette’, or ’Black Negligee’ and yellow-green notes from Lamprocapnos spectabilis, bleeding heart ‘Gold Heart’ set the whole shade bed off nicely.
This season produces many pollinators, from bees to butterflies, moths and other insects. Much work has been done to study these helpful creatures, and their benefits to the food chain. Many plants mentioned here as late summer bloomers are sources of honey and pollen for those insects. The process of pollination is a side effect of the insect visits. Some of my garden favourites are sedums from tall ‘Autumn Joy’ to ground covering Sedum spurium cultivars such as ‘Dragon’s Blood’. I have suggested plants to invite pollinators. I always have Verbena bonariensis, sometimes called ‘walking verbena’ and Allium ’Millennium’, both of which buzz with insects for weeks of summer bloom. It is a special time to be gardening.
Peony ‘Bowl of Beauty’
Published: June 2021