Some Like It Hot!

We had a hard time selecting the title for our blog and e-mail this time.  At first it was to be entitled “Late Bloomers”, but it didn’t really seem late.  I mean, summer just started after all!  The other title idea we had was “Some Like It Hot”.  Perhaps it is my love of films that led me to prefer the latter title.  Wouldn’t you know that we would be experiencing one of the six coolest summers on record.  I’m thinking I should really make the title “I’d prefer it to be hot and even if the weather isn’t cooperating , the flowers are”.  Too long, huh?  So I’ll just leave it at “Some Like It Hot” and explain what I mean.
My favorite time of year is the end of July through the end of October.  The quality of the light changes and everything feels warmer because of it.  The days are warm (often hot) and the nights run from refreshingly cool to “comfortable to be outside at night without a sweater”  warm.  The bees lazily drink in nectar and the hummingbirds play.  Best of all are the flowers that burst forth in a late-summer, fresh show of color.  We’ve waited patiently for them and now, finally, they bloom.  The color of the flowers seem vibrant and hot.  Sure, there may be a cool, moonlight yellow or a pale blue thrown in the mix, but for the most part the colors are red, orange, gold and purple.  And those fresh flowers make the tired garden bed come to life.  It is as if the flowers decided to throw a party and decided to include us on the invitation list.
  The favorite late summer flowers in my garden are the ‘Goldsturm’ Rudbeckia and Big Sky ‘Sundown’ Echinacea.  They are in full bloom now and look gorgeous.  Rudbeckia is a hardy perennial.  Although it is a prairie plant, it has fared well in my garden.  ‘Goldsturm’ is a shorter variety.  It is drought tolerant and loves the sun.  Now, there has become available an even shorter growing variety.  One thing I didn’t expect was the way it spreads.  It’s not English ivy by any means, but it does like to send out shoots in either direction and it reseeds.  I regularly end up with starts in the vegetable garden.  Most of my favorite flowers are prolific and reseed, so I have no problem with my ‘Goldsturm’ Rudbeckia.  I had tried to grow Coneflowers (Echinacea) a couple times before and met with failure.  Now, I have found success with the Sundown variety.  The flowers are a range of pink to orange.  This year I tried Tomato Soup and so far am very pleased.  It seems strong and has put out a lot of flowers.  We will see how it fairs next summer.  At the nursery we have many more varieties of these two flowers.  In Rudbeckias there are the hirta strains, a particularly good-looking one is ‘Chocolate Orange’.  The flowers are larger than ‘Goldsturm’.  They list ‘Chocolate Orange’ as a half-hardy annual hardy to zone 5.  That should make it through  our winters if given well-drained soils. ‘Cherry Brandy’ is another hirta variety with beautiful wine-colored flowers.  There are also tall varieties such as ‘Herbstonne’, a 6 foot tall plant with pure yellow flowers.
     In the world of Echinacea, the sky is the limit.  Terra Nova Nurseries has done an extensive amount of breeding.  There are so many new varieties on the market it is mind-boggling.  A few seasons ago, it was ‘Mac n’ Cheese’, now there is ‘Now Cheesier’.  Each is supposed to be an improvement on the previous variety or have a new distinguishing characteristic, like the double, powderpuff flower of the Secret series.  At the nursery we have a huge selection.  Just passing through the perennials, the Echinaceas that caught my eye were: ‘Now Cheesier’-the yellow flowers were striking, ‘Hot Papaya’-a pompom centered hot orange, ‘Secret Romance’-a double pink, Conefections ‘Milkshake’-a double white, “Hot Summer’-flowers emerge yellow and turn red, and ‘Pica Bella’-a heavy bloomer with pink, quilled petals and a giant coppery-orange cone.  We also have the two I am growing in my own garden-‘Tomato Soup’ and Big Sky ‘Sundown’ plus a whole bunch more.
    The prima donna in my garden is my perennial Hibiscus, also known as Rose Mallow and Swamp Mallow.  I planted one called ‘Crown Jewels’.  Now in researching it, I’ve learned it is a more compact form of ‘Kopper King’.  I do know that it reaches the 4 feet by 30 inches that it says it will.  And the flowers really are 6 inches across.  They are a striking white with a red eye.  But the real reason it is a prima donna is because it is the very last plant to emerge from the ground, as if it isn’t worth going to the party unless it can make a splashy, fashionably late entry.  Even knowing that it doesn’t emerge from the soil until June every year, I still think it could be dead.  It’s perfectly hardy, though, and does well in my heavier soil.  Of course, I tend to keep things moist, which it also likes.  I enjoy the flowers so  much that I planted another Hibiscus, this time one called ‘Peppermint Schnapps’.  It is in fierce competition with my extremely large Maiden grass.  We’ll see which one wins!  Neither of them have had an open flower yet.  But I’m waiting with eager anticipation.
 Other great late summer bloomers are shrubs like Chaste Tree (Vitex), Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia), and Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus-shrub).  There are other perennials as well.  Taller growing Sedums are great in the landscape.  I have ‘Autumn Joy’ in my garden, but there are other choices as well.  ‘Autumn Charm’ has a cream and green variegated foliage, which is a nice accent in the border when it  isn’t blooming.  ‘Birthday Party’, a compact grower with deep pink flowers over purple tinged foliage, and ‘Class Act’, another compact grower with stunning rose-pink flowers.  ‘Class Act’ won the Royal Horticulture Society Award of Garden Merit.  That’s a great endorsement.  Other late perennials include Liatris, Coreopsis, and Asclepias.
While I was out roaming through the perennials doing “research” for this blog, I saw a grass that really caught my eye.  It looked like a cloud of grasshoppers flying.  It was very striking.  Turns out it was one I didn’t know about.  It is called ‘Blonde Ambition’ Blue Grama grass (Boutelona gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’).  It’s official description states “flag-like” flowers, but I prefer the grasshopper image.  Anyway, it’s parent is native to the US and this cultivar grows 2 1/2-3′ tall with sturdy stems holding the seedheads that give the plant winter interest.  It is hardy and low maintenance.  Just my type of plant.
Well, if I haven’t piqued your interest in seeing what lovely plants we have for late summer interest, perhaps I could entice you by letting you know the shrub Hibiscus are 30 % off through  this weekend.  There are lots of fresh, blooming plants to put a spark in your garden bed.  And these plants really do like it hot.

About Brenda Powell

I'm one of the owners of a family-owned retail nursery. I have a degree in horticulture from Oregon State University. I love to garden and read. My technically savvy but horticulturally challenged husband, Mitch, spends most of his time as slave labor in the garden. Thank goodness he adores me! My goal in this blog is to share my enjoyment of gardening, my love of nature, and my addiction to books. Did I mention I like to cook, too?
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