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THAT BLOOMING WRITER: Midsummer marvels

No need for a midsummer garden meltdown with these beauties, writes Jodi DeLong.

Hurray for rain!

Yes, I know it was cool and grey and decidedly damp for many of us last weekend, but the gardens, crops, woods and meadows were happy about this arrival of moisture.

I hope you are watering your plantings — especially your new plantings — faithfully during our current spell of hot, dry weather.

I have to say, my garden is looking pretty fabulous right now, with roses in bloom, containers flush with flowers, and a large chorus of perennials all blooming their faces off. 

Some of them will continue to flower throughout the summer; others will put on a show for a few weeks then are finished until next year. Some haven’t begun blooming yet.

sarastro_campanulaSarastro campanula has huge deep purple bells. (JODI DeLONG)

There is always colour in my garden from spring to late autumn. That’s because I plant such an array of perennials, mixed in with some choice shrubs, with plenty of colourful foliage. And I plant many perennials that maybe you haven’t gotten to know yet.

Here’s a bouquet of maybe new-to-you plants to seek out from your local garden centres. 

Amsonia: Bluestar is a North American native that is one of my favourites, and isn’t used nearly enough in gardens. It’s an easy-care perennial, slow to get going but a good clump former, with starry pale blue flowers, ideal for sun or light shade. Several years ago, the Arkansas bluestar was perennial of the year, and it’s a fantastic plant with its needle-like foliage that turns bright gold in autumn. Blue Ice is a more dwarf form with larger, steel blue flowers. 

astrantia-4417Astrantia produces dozens of clusters of flowers, each one with a papery ruffle around its head, and comes in shades of red, pink or white. (JODI DeLONG)

Astrantia: I’ve been extolling the virtues of masterwort, aka starflower, for years now, and continue to be a cheerleader for this fantastic perennial. It produces dozens of clusters of flowers, each one with a papery ruffle around its head, and comes in shades of red, pink, or white. Pollinators adore this long-blooming perennial, and if you deadhead its spent flowers, it will usually continue to produce new blooms. Among my favourites are Sunningdale Variegated and Star of Beauty. 

Campanula: I’m sure you have a bellflower or two, but maybe you should have more! As the name suggests, these plants produce bell-shaped flowers, usually in great numbers, in shades of purple, pink, or pristine white. There are creeping types ideal for tumbling over a wall or at the front of a border; midsized varieties ideal for filling out spaces in a bed and taller forms that really make a statement. Among my favourites are the creeping fairy thimble (C. cochleariifolia) Bavaria White the gleeful Sarastro which has huge deep purple bells and the milky bellflower, which is one of the taller varieties available.

Centaurea: Although you may be well acquainted with the annual bachelor button or cornflower, there are a number of perennial centaureas, also called knapweeds. The common mountain bluet (C. montana) is one of the best, with a long bloom period and blue-to-lavender flowers. Recently there have been new forms of this stalwart released, including Amethyst in Snow (white with purple centre), Black Sprite (deep burgundy) and Gold Bullion (gold foliage). C. dealbata has hot magenta flowers, and if you can find the show-stopper C. macrocephala, buy it — known as basketflower or globe centaurea, it has large yellow blossoms and is extremely eye-catching. All centaureas are beloved by pollinators.

Corydalis: Sometimes referred to as bleeding-hearts, to which they are related, there are many choice selections of corydalis available, so that you can have blooms from spring to fall. The longest blooming is the petite C. lutea, which has yellow flowers above blue-green foliage, and will flower from spring to a hard frost. The most spectacular is C. elata, the blue corydalis, which is a mid-sized perennial topped with dozens of blue and purple, tubular flowers. It’s highly fragrant, and highly recommended. 

Digitalis lutea, the straw foxglove, has sprays of petite, pale yellow flowers. (JODI DeLONG)

Digitalis: Everyone knows common foxgloves, but what you might not know is some of its choice and delightful relatives. There are two different species of yellow foxgloves available; D. lutea, the straw foxglove, with sprays of petite, pale yellow flowers, and D. grandiflora, which has bigger flowers and will bloom for a long period. My favourite is the chocolate foxglove, which as the name suggests has milk chocolate coloured flowers — not as showy as others, but a delightful plant. All digitalis are deer resistant and make pollinators happy.

Eryngium: I routinely rave about sea hollies, and anyone who has been introduced to them develops an equal fondness for these elegant perennials. They have spiky foliage above which are produced unusual-looking cones of blue, green, or silver flowers. A ruffled, spiky bract rings each cone, and the flowers of most species can be easily dried for enjoying indoors. Pollinators love sea hollies, and you can find dwarf forms as well as taller, very showy types. My current favourite is Big Blue, although I also love the unusual rattlesnake master, (E. yuccifolium) which has spiky round balls of silvery green flowers.

penstemon_dark_tower-6527Give penstemon good drainage and they are very happy, reliable perennials, producing spikes of tubular flowers in shades of blue, purple, pink, red, or pure white. (JODI DeLONG)

Penstemon: I used to have trouble growing penstemons, in part because I invariably (and accidentally) dug them out in the spring thinking they were weeds, and in part because I had drainage problems in my former garden, and penstemons hate winter wet.

Give them good drainage, however, and they are very happy, reliable perennials, producing spikes of tubular flowers in shades of blue, purple, pink, red, or pure white. Do check for the hardiness zone on labels, however, because some are not hardy here and are sold as annuals.

Good choices to look for include the stalwart Husker Red, Purple Riding Hood, or Dark Towers, which has deep purple foliage.

Phlomis. The patient gardener is rewarded. Three summers after planting Jerusalem sage, my plant has rewarded me with a spectacular show of flowers. Think of bee balm on steroids, and you have Jerusalem sage, which produces spikes of yellow or pink flowers, arranged in whorls around the stem. These plants demand excellent winter drainage, and are drought tolerant once established. The pollinators are loving mine!

Scabiosa and Knautia: Both of these genera go by the common name of pincushion flower, which I prefer to the other common name of scabious. Flowers vary from lavender to burgundy, pink to white, or soft yellow, depending on species, and the plants can be petite or tall, again according to species. Thunder and Lightning is unique in having variegated foliage, against which the reddish-purple flowers show up very well. Pollinators love all pincushion flowers, which often self-seed.


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