Happy New Year to all! Sorry that I have been very slow to emerge from my post-Christmas torpor this year. The recent hot weather has been very unconducive to gardening and my only contact with the garden has been to try to keep it well watered enough to survive the heatwave. However, there are some wonderful flowers and leaves about at the moment, which seem to be oblivious of the heat - and are cheering me up a lot.
The purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) has been a joy over the past few weeks. Mine had languished in previous years because they had been overgrown by other plants - last spring, I divided them up and replanted them in a more open, sunny position in one of my borders, and they have flourished and bloomed better than ever. This is one of the tough 'prairie' plants from North America that seem to relish our hot conditions, as long as they have a reasonable amount of moisture. The usual form is a sort of pinkish-purple, and a white version has been sometimes available. Last week, when visiting a great little nursery at Mt Victoria, I came across brilliant orange, red and yellow specimens (labelled as 'Cheyenne Spirit' hybrids), and brought home an orange one (pictured at the start of the blog) to plant with other brightly coloured prairie plants that I grow, including various forms of Rudbeckia and Gaillardia hybrids, all blooming well now.
Daylilies generally flower in late spring, but one of my very favourites, 'August Flame', flowers in January and is one of the most prolific of all. Its name derives from its late-summer blooming season in Northern Hemisphere gardens. It is a rich orange-red hue, with a bold yellow centre, and it is an excellent partner for Dahlia, Canna and Salvia flowers of similar colours. It also doesn't seem prone to the nasty rust that can afflict other daylilies.
Another perennial that is always brilliant in summer is the good old Agapanthus. They seem to survive heat and drought, even being driven over by heavy vehicles, and provide good flowers at Christmastime. Some of my named hybrids flower in January, when plants of the basic species have just about run their course and are begging to be deadheaded. At the moment, 'Purple Cloud' and 'Guilfoyle' are showing their rich blue-purple rounded heads in my garden. I love the contrast of this colour against lime-yellow leaves, such as compact Duranta 'Sheena's Lime Glow'.
A bulb-like plant, my form of Hymenocallis (species name not known to me at this time) is sporting its crisp-white, spidery flowers at the moment. This very adaptable plant will bloom in sun or shade, and seems to cope very well with dryness. I like to grow it near dark-coloured leaves (such as those of Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum', or with white-variegated foliage, such as a lovely form of Duranta I was given a few years ago as a cutting, which is now growing into a sturdy shrub.
Hydrangea bushes have been wonderful from late spring and into summer but their blooms are starting to fade (or are burnt now from the intense heat), and I will soon be cutting back most of mine. The so-called 'evergreen hydrangea' (Dichroa species), however, is flowering fabulously. The heads of blooms last for a very long time and will be followed by more over the coming months if it is deadheaded regularly. It will grow in sun or part-shade and once established will tolerate dryness quite well. The blooms are tiny stars, massed into large heads. Like Hydrangea plants, the flowers are blue in acid soils and pinkish in alkaline ones.
A distinctive foliage shrub which I obtained last year at the open garden Tropical Breeze at Seven Hills - Sanchezia speciosa - has been providing much visual pleasure as it grows into a taller shrub. It has large, pointed, green leaves, with bold yellow veins, and will get to possibly 2 m in time. Mine is in part-shade alongside the yellow-flowering form of the ever-blooming shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana) and they look great together every single day of the year. Both plants belong to the Acanthaceae family.
There are many other flowers and interesting leaves around at the moment, but these are just a few of my current favourites. Let's hope for cooler weather - and some rain - very soon for our gardens. What are some of your favourite plants for summer colour?
Creative pest control
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Although my garden is semi-tropical in nature now, I still have some vestiges from my cottage garden days!
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Consider training a shrub into a small tree.
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One crowded hour
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Much can be achieved in regular short stints in the garden.