Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer in the Garden

"Summertime" is one of my very favorite jazz songs, and the tune floats through my head on these balmy June days here in east central Illinois. As you can see, the springtime brilliant reds and purples of the Japanese maple leaves have mellowed into green, touched underneath with those yellows from the ol' summer sun.

Alternating with the sunny days, we've been having our share of T-storms as well, and the rain has knocked a lot of the petals off the glorious Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) hybrids that we have in the north yard. They had more blossoms this year than ever before.

Here's a close-up so you can see how large, how white, and how beautiful each flower really is:

Another lovely white thing is the dwarf mock orange (Philadelphus), a little shrub only a few feet high. It seems to have suffered some winter die-back this year, and there weren't very many flowers. But the blooms are quite double and extremely fragrant. It's one of my favorite shrubs.

While we're on the subject of white flowers, here's the penstemon called 'Husker's Red' -- but not because the flowers are red. The young stems have a reddish cast and the leaf edges as well, but the flowers are white.

But now we need some color, and the brilliant lemon-yellow of the Oenothera, often called the evening primrose, can provide it. The flowers open a bit late in the day, thus the "evening" part of the name.

There are nice blue flowers around now too, including these starry pale blue blossoms on the Campanula porsharskyana. I think that campanulas are sometimes known as "bell flowers" because many of them have bell-shaped flowers, but these are different.

In addition to color and shape, the markings or patterns on the petals of flowers add to their overall beauty. The blooms on this hardy Geranium are a good example. Most people think of the red or pink annual Pelargonium when they hear the name "geranium," but the hardy so-called crane's bills are the true genus. The pelargoniums, from South Africa originally, are very popular annuals. I always have a few in containers myself.

But we mustn't forget that blue flowers also bloom on graceful vines, such as this gorgeous Clematis with its very double center. Even the spent blossom behind it that has turned white is dramatic and interesting.

A fabulous vine that is slow to establish but long-lived is the Schizophragma, related to the hydrangeas. This one, on a treillis near the northwest door, has been waiting about fifteen years to bloom this much.

Everything isn't about color in the summer, although the potted annuals have a different story to tell of course. The cool greens of hostas, ferns, and perennial foliage are very welcome on a hot sunny day.

Some years ago, we took apart a large sieboldii type hosta and planted the sections in a circle at the base of the smaller of the two Chinese dogwoods. It has grown large and luxurious there in the shade and is starting to bloom now. Most hostas have lavender bell-shaped flowers, but this one has upright bells of pure white, and they are fragrant.

And now the stars of the summer stage come on -- the potted annuals. They aren't in full costume and makeup yet, but they are getting more colorful every day. Let's start with a pot of red supertunias (extra robust petunias with a short habit and non-drooping flowers) and a blue-black salvia, a sage relative from Brazil that I grow every year because it attracts hummingbirds like crazy and is beautiful to boot.

In a shady location in the south yard are two pots with purple and yellow torenias and orange and red impatiens to brighten the area.

Along the sunny front walk, however, brilliant pink and white dianthus provide plenty of cheerfulness and sweet scent.

I am very fond of the whole dianthus family (which includes the biennial sweet william and florist carnation as well as tiny alpine perennial gems). Some of the annual dianthus live over each year in the pots, so I plant more around them. In the pot below, I added the red ones this time.

For brilliant annual color, it's hard to beat the purple wave petunias, especially combined with bright annual phlox.

This year I am trying, for the first time, the yellow and white wave petunias. They seem very cheerful and combine nicely with the dark purple ageratum and a bit of white to set off the colors.

Of course, the choices for annuals are more limited for pots in shady areas like our breezeway. But I do love to have some delicate light pink impatiens and a trio of tuberous begonias around the base of the west bird bath there to greet me when I return home.

Usually, I aim for functionality in pots rather than decoration. I like the big ones that are made of some kind of fiberglass or styrofoam material that can stay outside all winter without damage and aren't so heavy to move. I also have some standard terra cottas that we take into the sheds for winter. But I do have a decorative pot on the table; a friend found it for me at a garage sale. This year, it hosts a red begonia that should get fairly showy before the summer's over.

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