Annie Calovich

September 15, 2012

Summer’s flower warriors

Since the weather has cooled down, I’ve been enjoying some renewal of plants, including a pot of red and green caladiums planted alongside red and green spikes of Fireworks fountain grass. When the sun sets behind the pot and shines through the leaves, I suspend life to gaze in wonderment.

Since the weather has cooled down, I’ve been enjoying some renewal of plants, including a pot of red and green caladiums planted alongside red and green spikes of Fireworks fountain grass. When the sun sets behind the pot and shines through the leaves, I suspend life to gaze in wonderment.

Many people have written in about the plants that have made them wonder through the hot, dry summer that will officially end Sept. 22. When I look at their examples of color, it makes me want to plant what they planted.

Most are annuals, but there also are shrubs, perennials, ground covers and vines, natives as well as non-natives. Choosing a sampling from among them for next year’s garden may be a good idea. There’s still time to plant those that are perennial this fall.

Master gardener Sharon Anderson, in particular, puts a plug in for a well-planted heat- and drought-tolerant perennial garden such as hers in east Wichita. Perennials are the workhorses that come back year after year, and Sharon adds a few annuals into the mix, such as zinnias and cockscomb.

“It’s a wonderful riot of color now,” Sharon e-mailed her gardener friends recently, “and barely touched by the recent weather. I’m watering some.”

On Sharon’s list (see accompanying box) is Powis Castle artemisia, an old favorite I needed to be reminded to plant again. And a new favorite of Sharon’s that I need to get: Blonde Ambition blue grama grass. It’s unusual and mesmerizing because its seedheads are held sideways and wave perkily in the wind.

Unfortunately, one of our beloved perennials, coneflower, took a hit in Sharon’s and other gardens this summer to the weird disease asters yellow. Those that didn’t get the disease, of course, did great.

Among annuals, lantana and vinca are the biggest stars of the summer, according to readers, and according to me. I have several colors on my front porch, including a white and yellow lantana that reminds me of scrambled eggs.

“The bonus for anyone growing lantana is that they attract butterflies,” Marsha Phillippi wrote in. Big bonus. The vincas, despite my admiration for their tenaciousness, seem domesticated in comparison.

Among shrubs, crape myrtles and hibiscus continue to draw raves.

Some of the season’s top performers do require a good amount of water to do well, such as zinnias. All require some water.

I didn’t focus on plants that didn’t do well, but readers named a few: impatiens, spirea, geraniums, burning bushes. And it’s my opinion that you either have the watering touch for petunias or you don’t. Seems many of us — present company included — don’t.

Thanks to all who shared their plant lists, and happy Last Week of Summer.

•  A hollyhock survived the mild winter and did well for a while before its leaves turned brown. I have zinnias planted this year around a tree stump — purple and yellow; I kind of like the two together. I love to pick bouquets and bring them to my neighbors. I keep the bad leaves trimmed off. They do need water. — Beryl Laswell, Newton
•  “What Plants Have Survived, Thrived?” … is something I have been thinking about for the last week or so since next summer is supposed to be even hotter. After a beautiful spring, there are only three bright spots of color left in my garden. A patch of snapdragons that survived quite a bit of neglect before I cared for them, two black-eyed Susans … and angelonia. They all take full sun and have done exceptionally well in this heat. — Marsha Phillippi

•  Nandina, rose of Sharon, variegated liriope, sweet potato vine, Knockout roses, Fire Meidiland roses. – Carol Bowen

•  My cardoon plant is a real show-off this year, and I attribute it to last year’s drought and heat. I’ve had it for five or six years or more, and it has never been more than three feet tall or had more than three or four blooms. This year it was easily five feet tall with many blooms. After dead-heading in July, it is now sending up several more blooms, though shorter now. I grow it as a single-specimen ornamental only. In a year when our lawn is actually green (we’re renovating to buffalograss) the cardoon’s silver-green foliage and bloom color is very striking. Bees love it! It is a herbaceous perennial (Cynara cardunculus) and rather hardy, as it is planted on top of a berm and I’ve never mulched it heavily. A friend gave me the plant she started from an heirloom seed.

I understand the cardoon is related to the artichoke and is edible; I’ve never tried it. The web says it is invasive in warmer areas, but mine is not. And though at first glance it resembles some of the pasture thistles in the area, it is definitely not the same plant. The leaves really spread out at the base, so you need a good bit of area to grow one. I just love the purple-blue bloom color. — Kay Brand

•  Mammoth sunflowers, and they were easy to grow. No wonder we are the sunflower state! — Gayle Morphis
•  Surprised to see okra blooming in the heat, and zinnias are doing great as long as they get a drink regularly. — Walt Long
•  Out in front of Sedgwick Plaza, an assortment of annuals in six or eight big ceramic pots brightened the spring. Then came summer. The petunias and begonias and, of course, the lobelias have long since dried up, in spite of faithful daily watering by one of the residents. Only the potted hibiscus have hung on. One hibiscus, in full, intense sun, is actually thriving! Nearly every day, another two or three of those rich golden blossoms unfurl. They hold their shape and color till late in the afternoon. The plant’s opulent dark green foliage never wilts — not even that day we hit 111! — Phyllis Spade
•  My “gems” for this summer have definitely been vincas. The ones around the mailbox are planted in an area where I dug out some old daylilies last fall. They get full sun all day long and get watered every three or four days with an overhead sprinkler.

My tropical hibiscus is more than 30 years old. It’s about 7 1/2 feet high now, and in full bloom. Like the vincas in the bowls directly in front of it, it gets watered daily and fed every two weeks with Miracle-Gro, and is shaded in late afternoon.

I’ve also got portulacas that are doing very well in a hanging basket outside my south-facing den window and in a small pot on a table on the patio on the north side of the house. All of those get watered daily and fed with Miracle-Gro every two weeks. — Larry Smith

•  I live on over an acre, but am overwhelmed with the amount of grass and sun, so I stay with a wee little flower bed and a “crack” between my sidewalk and house in the front. These flowers are quite happy: c rape myrtle (I have eight in my yard!), Sh asta daisies, vinca, lavender, lamb’s ear, verb ena. — Michelle Wolfe
•  Here is a list of flowers that survived at my house in Winfield, a 1927 bungalow.

Vinca, crape myrtle (I have four colors), z innia, potato vine, wormwood (Artemisia), lavender , and of course the old-fashioned favorite — four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) and miniature hollyhocks — those two are like WEEDS! But I control them by yanking them out where I don’t want them. Also, Russian sage, purple coneflower, loosestrife, etc. — Bonnie Condit

•  I’m sure you already know, but lantanas are my gem. I planted petunias, marigolds and a few others. They all got the same care and the petunias are OK, still blooming, but the lantanas are still growing and blooming like crazy. They have spilled out of their allotted space and show no signs of stopping yet! They have added continual color, which we sure have enjoyed. — Kathy Garriott
•  My purple hyacinth bean vine is gorgeous! I have cut a number of the vining blossoms and taken them to friends, and they are amazed. So far, no one has known what it was either. It has surprised me because of the earlier heat and it is on the west side of my house! — Betty Partridge
•  This year we put out four mosquito plants, in pots, around our deck. They seem to do their job. We’ll be putting them in the workshop over the winter to see if we can keep them alive. The peony bushes always amaze me on how well they do. As long as we kept them watered well, they stayed green through the summer heat. — Carol Anderson
•  Annuals: Bubblegum supertunia — it’s falling out of one of our pots and spreading onto the ground — and Zahara zinnias, lantana, moss rose, Dragon Wing begonias and coleus (in the shadier parts of the yard).

The only perennial we have that has continued to bloom all summer is Walker’s Low catmint . I know some of the others will come back, but my husband and I are getting older and like plants that thrive without much extra care. — Judi Krob

•  Crape myrtle and Fireworks gomphrena. — Susan Peeler

•  Encore azaleas were true to their name and did rebloom during the summer at Hillside Nursery.

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