I saw something crazy-strange in the garden; a gi-normous caterpillar, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. (Photo on this week’s “Garden Crimes Investigator,” link at the bottom of this newsletter.) In addition to this visitor, I also saw, for the first time in my current garden, a Praying Mantis. Given his chameleon quality for blending in, I almost didn’t see him on the steel garden ornament. I bent forward to say hello and to welcome him and his predator skills to my garden. He responded by tilting and turning his triangular-shaped, alien-like head my direction. As of this morning Mantis has not discovered Caterpillar who is where I saw him yesterday, tucked under a Virginia Creeper leaf.
Time for the Half-time Report as we are halfway through summer. Might also call this the “State of the Garden” address but you might have had your fill of things political over the past few weeks so I’ll spare you similar language here.
August can be challenging for gardeners. By this time, many favorite plants have finished blooming or look flat-out ratty. Especially container plants. If your containers are give-out, no longer giving you joy and pleasure, replenish them with fresh plants or start over. It is not reasonable to expect annuals in containers to look as good in August as they did at the end of May. The soil has been flushed near daily to keep plants hydrated, while simultaneously flushing out the nutrition. Imagine having “Montezuma’s Revenge” for a few months — see how you feel and look. Feeding container plants with a good organic fertilizer in early June does help some, but it’s still worth adjusting your expectations. The nurseries still stock lots of foliage plants, some amount of fresh annuals, so creative options are available.
Last week I refurbished two containers and bought two new containers because I decided the garden needed some color punch. One container is filled with a dark red Perennial Hibiscus, a copper-colored Euphorbia, a cascading sedum, and a peach-colored Agastache. All are perennials and will be transplanted into the main garden beds at the end of the season. Another container was re-planted with a Fern-leaf Buckthorn shrub and two peach-colored Gerber Daisies; another container was replanted with a red Tickseed; one new container was planted with a Sedum called “Voodoo,” a Jasmine vine, a Jade plant and a Succulent with a coppery-colored leaf. I don’t care if the Jasmine blooms or not as I bought it for the foliage. The tender-not-hardy-to-this-zone plants will come indoors at the end of the season and the Sedum will be planted into the garden. The rosy clay color of the container also adds a pop to the plant bed; this container sits right in the bed alongside a Dwarf Hinoki Cypress.
Listed below are plants that look great right now. You can add them to your garden at this point (except for the Dahlia–those tubers need to be planted in May) or include on your planting list for next spring. Just remember that these plants may not look exciting when you buy them in the spring; you will have to wait until the end of the season for them to turn on their charms:
1. Perennial Hibiscus. I have two–the new red one (I love the foliage on this as well; it’s sort of yellow with a red margin;) and a deep mauve one;
2. Branched Coneflower. A bit of a garden thug but is a bright pop of gold. Needs staking and is about six feet tall in my garden;
3. Joe Pye Weed. Very tall plant for the back of the border. Native. Purple-rose colored flowers and butterflies love it;
4. “Limelight” Hydrangea and “IncrediBall ” Hydrangea. The “Limelight” has just started blooming and the “IncrediBall” has turned from white to deep green and looks fabulous in the border;
5. Plumbago. Bright blue flowers on this ground cover –one that can take some serious heat and not miss a beat;
6. Fall-blooming Anemone. Just about ready to open now. This perennial has fabulous foliage which hugs closer to the ground with the wand-like flower floating above. I like the white “Honorine Jobert;”
7. Crape Myrtle “Dynamite.” This tree usually blooms earlier but given our slow warm-up this year we have full bloom right now;
8. Hyssop. Butterflies and hummingbirds like this plant a lot. Be aware that it is part of the mint family and may be aggressive. Different varieties also tend to cross-pollinate so you may end up with new colors to the parent plants: just remove what you don’t like. This plant will also take some ugly hot temperatures and dry conditions. In my garden I hope they will help out-compete the wild violets in the Hell Zone near the end of my driveway;
9. Dahlias. The only annual on this list but it’s really the flower that will carry the garden from now until frost. My first “Cafe Au Lait” variety has just opened and I can’t wait for the rest.
Why does a garden designer care abut this? Because it is possible for your garden to look great all year. Folks tend to visit the plant nursery early in the season, buy what is flowering at that point, and miss out on the plants that can light up the late summer garden. It’s also fun to have plants that are in flower now to invite pollinators. It’s about spreading out the work load throughout the season to keep from always being overburdened in Spring and Autumn. Go ahead and cut back spent-out perennials in the garden as it will save on the work load in late Autumn and help keep the plant beds looking tidy. Try best you can to stay ahead of the weeds; remember that crabgrass is an annual weed and this year’s seeds make next year’s weed. Pull before the seed heads appear and you will be helping yourself out for next year.
Now back to the game….for the second half of summer…