The pale buds of colchicum flowers will soon be pushing their way through the detritus of fallen leaves. These hardy bulbs play hide and seek as their strappy leaves emerge in spring and then disappear and lie low until early fall when their large cupped pink, white or purple flowers burst forth.
The aim of many flower gardeners is to have something in bloom from the cool days of early spring to the shortening days of early fall. Now that we’re in the last days of August, two bold perennials are hitting their stride: Joe Pye weed and rose mallow.
I’ve placed a small order for spring bulbs — late if I had wanted new or rare varieties, but there is still plenty of choice. I concentrated on adding a few more daffodils as well as early crocus because they are so easy to pop in here and there.
Ornamental grasses are beginning to shine as we enter the end of summer. Grasses add much to a garden design — verticality, interesting seedheads, warm colours in autumn and architectural interest in winter — but it’s their gentle swaying in a breeze that draws my eye these days.
Hydrangea hybridizers must be a very busy bunch of plant people. Undoubtedly, it’s an exaggeration to say a new hydrangea cultivar is introduced every month, but sometimes it seems that way.
Flowers that are true blue are relatively uncommon in the plant world, which makes them especially desirable. Several blues are available in the large Veronica genus, many of which are useful groundcovers, such as V. whitleyi and ‘Georgia Blue’.
Giant coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima) certainly lives up to its name. The perennial’s tall, stiff stems easily reach six or seven feet (1.8 to 2 m) and are topped with prominent brown cones circled with drooping yellow petals in midsummer. However, my favourite part of the plant is its large, steely blue, paddle-shaped leaves clustered near the base.
Mid-July is high season for flower borders. There’s so much in bloom, so many colours to enjoy and so, so, so much to do. But let’s pause, instead, and focus on how much there is to enjoy at this moment.
The meadow-rue family (Thalictrum species and cultivars) has several sturdy players; some tall and statuesque, others good for the middle row of a border and a few that could serve as a pretty edging plant or groundcover. Their colour range is limited to rosy mauve, purple, creamy white or soft yellow.
A frequent design conundrum for gardeners with a small space is how to create privacy without resorting to a fortress of wooden fencing. A few well-placed columnar trees can create a lovely green screen to block an unattractive view or muffle the sounds of car and pedestrian traffic.
The three clumps of baptisia in our front garden are peaking right now and will soon need to be thinned out in order for us to have a safe view of the street when backing out the car. That’s the ultimate size of a happy, healthy baptisia at maturity: mammoth.
Columbines (Aqueligia species and hybrids) are an old-fashioned cottage garden perennial, happy to weave here and there among more substantial companions, such as peonies, roses and daylilies.
Most of the containers I planted three weeks ago are filling in now that the weather is consistently warm. I like to try a new colour scheme every year, depending on plant availability.
Sadly, there are fewer roses in my garden every year, casualties of encroaching shade from maturing trees and persistent Japanese beetle invasions. But the half dozen that remain are coddled along, because I can’t imagine a garden without a rose or two or more.
Pass-along plants, the term to describe plants we share with other gardeners, are examples of a gardener’s generosity. Spring vetchling (Lathyrus vernus), sometimes called everlasting pea, is one example of a pass-along plant that has been blooming for several weeks this spring.
The start of a new gardening season is different for everyone. For me, it’s when all the containers are placed around the porch and patio, filled with fresh potting soil, and waiting for the trays of bedding plants to be upended and arranged into — what is hoped — a pleasing picture.
Short bearded irises have all the advantages of tall bearded iris (beautiful blooms, often bicoloured and intricate), but none of their minuses (tall, gangly stalks and leaves). I grow about a half dozen cultivars that have gradually increased over the years.
If one of your Big Projects this year is planting a new perennial border, that’s terrific. There are perennials for any site, no matter the soil, the sun or the hardiness zone.
Spireas are generally bulletproof shrubs, easily found at most garden centres. Many of us are familiar with the ubiquitous bridal wreath variety (Spiraea x vanhouttei), blooming in early June. New cultivars of Japanese spirea (S. japonica) are popular, too.
Certainly, a string of warmer days would mean that serious garden cleanup could commence and that warm-weather flowers and edibles could be seeded or transplanted. However, for now, the cool days give me time to strategize.