Arts & Leisure

Judith’s Garden: High summer in the garden

PHLOX 'MISS LINGARD' and “Rosalind” make a nice picture among the daylilies and bee balm in Judith’s garden in Goshen. Photo by Dick Conrad

This Sunday, Aug. 4, from 1-4 p.m., Judith and Dick will open their garden at 423 Goshen Ripton Road in Goshen to interested readers (weather permitting). If you have questions email Judith at [email protected].
The “dog days” of summer are here. And often, by this point in the season, people tell me that their flowers are fading and their gardens have a bit of a tired look.
Yes, it is true that our lilacs, peonies and iris are but a distant memory, and the early salvia and catmint have gone to seed. 
But there are many lovely flowers to take their place in July and August, a time when butterflies like Monarchs and Swallowtails add that extra touch of magic to the garden.
So let me show you some of my favorite flowers for a sunny border in high summer.

THE CLASSICS
Picture the classic combination of tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) or the very similar meadow phlox (Phlox maculata) — which bloom slightly earlier — surrounded by robust clumps of daylilies.
Phlox come in colors ranging from pure white to magenta. However, since they also have a tendency to get the dreaded powdery mildew, be sure to seek out cultivars identified as mildew resistant and grow them where they will get plenty of sun and good air circulation.
Two pure white phlox, “Miss Lingard” and “David,” as well as the reddish-purple “Rosalinde” and “Robert Poore,” are among the best, and they also create a great color contrast when planted together. Miss Lingard and Rosalinde (Phlox maculata) bloom first, followed by David and Robert Poore (Phlox paniculata).
Then, for an easy design that will return year after year, surround the phlox with several clumps of clear yellow daylilies.
Everyone loves daylilies (Hemerocallis) with hundreds of cultivars available, offering colors from creamy white, yellows and oranges, pinks and apricots, all the way to tawny reds and dark purples. Some are even fragrant.
At the Olallie Daylily Farm in Newfane you can see firsthand an astounding number of daylily cultivars growing in their extensive fields.  And, although a few varieties (like Stella d’Oro) bloom in June, the peak bloom-time for most cultivars is July and August — making this the perfect time to pay them a visit.
Roam their fields, decide (if you can manage to narrow down your choices) on the ones that appeal to you most. Also, to extend your season, enquire about others that bloom either especially early or especially late. Then, right on the spot, a staff member will dig your new plants. Plant them as soon as you get home, and you will be rewarded with vigorous clumps that seemingly live forever. 
Indeed, almost all the daylilies that grace my garden today came as a result of a long happy afternoon we spent roaming Olallie’s fields about 15 years ago.

DAISY-LIKE COMPANIONS
With their flat flowers and radial petals many members of the daisy family (Compositae) make great garden plants. And, as a perfect foil for either phlox or daylilies, nothing beats clumps of daisy-like flowers.
Here are some suggestions for our August gardens:
Shasta Daisies (Leucanthemum superbum) have clear white petals with yellow centers, and they start blooming in earnest in July, perfectly timed to pair up with daylilies and phlox. Furthermore they usually keep flowering well into September. I am very partial to the robust 4-feet high cultivar called “Becky.”
As an aside, just as the true Shasta Daisies are starting to bloom, the wild “Ox-Eye” daisies (which often arrive uninvited in our borders) have run their course and are starting to set seed. So, to prevent these wildlings from self-seeding everywhere, it is a good idea to remove them now. More always seem to reappear the following year.
Purple Cone Flowers (Echinacea purpurea) are also excellent plants for the August garden. Numerous cultivars exist today offering a range of heights and even colors beyond purple.  Look for ones like Magnus (30-36 inches high) or Kim’s Knee High (12-18 inches) which, because of their open centers, are also effective nectar sources for bees.
Two other great daisy-like perennials for the summer garden — both native — are False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale). Their cheery yellow flowers (or sometimes orange depending on the cultivar) combine well with both daylilies and purple cone flowers. 
Everyone thinks of Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) as the quintessential flower of fall. But most actually start blooming in August and continue till frost. There  is even a new cultivar, “Early Bird Gold,” which is said to bloom from June to October.  

BRING ON THE BLUES
For a peaceful color contrast try intermingling some blue flowers among the daylilies and daisies.
So which are the best blue flowers of summer?  Geranium “Rozanne” would certainly be my first choice. Rozanne is a “cranes-bill” type of geranium with lavender-blue flowers that begins blooming in late June and just keeps on going until cut down by the first frost.
Rozanne it is certainly a cornerstone of my garden in both summer and fall. The plants gradually create wide spreading mounds about 18-inches high, so position them near the front of the border where they can spill out naturally.
There is also the lovely Siberian Catmint which is taller and longer blooming than the more familiar low-growing catmint that is winding down now.  And it looks stunning paired up with some yellow False Sunflower.
Also, for many years now, I have grown Monkshood, (Aconitum henryii) “Spark’s Variety” — with tall branching spires of rich blue flowers —  intermingled with the purple coneflowers. Also a great combination.
Monkshood is an excellent substitute for Delphiniums which, in my garden, succumbed to high winds. (Remember however that both Monkshood and Delphiniums are poisonous, so avoid them if you have young children around).
And finally, for a complete contrast of both shape and color, consider putting the steel-blue prickly globe thistles (Echinops ritro) next to some soft yellow daylilies.

DANCING GRASSES
Ornamental garden grasses also create delightful additions to our gardens.  By August they have formed dense leafy clumps, while their tall gauzy seedheads generate a wonderful sense of movement as they dance in the wind. These are my favorites:
Little Bluestem. (Schizachyrium scoparium) This prairie native has delicate bluish leaves and I especially recommend the larger cultivars “Blue Heaven” and “Standing Ovation.”
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is another lovely native grass.  Growing to about five feet high it belongs near the back of the border.
Purple Moor Grass (Molinia arundinacea) has the tallest seed heads of all — sometimes seven feet high — and makes a beautiful addition to the late summer garden.

PANICLE HYDRANGEAS
Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) are robust shrubs with huge creamy white flower clusters that later turn dusky pink, and are a stalwart in Vermont gardens. You can also see them growing in many a cemetery around the state — a sure testament to their longevity.
Recently plant breeders have developed many delightful new varieties for modern gardeners. Some, like Praecox and Quickfire, start booming in June.  And by mid-August “Pink Diamond” on my barn slope and the larger-sized “Tardiva” in my big perennial bed look lovely behind perennials like Echinacea and Monkshood. 

TAKE IT EASY
By this time of year my flower beds can mostly look after themselves. All that is really needed to keep everything looking tidy is an occasional walk-around to pull the annual weeds that have popped up unannounced and to do a little deadheading.
Now is the time to sit back and enjoy your colorful flowers.
Judith Irven and Dick Conrad live in Goshen where together they nurture a large garden.
Judith is a Vermont Certified Horticulturist and teaches Sustainable Home Landscaping for the Vermont Master Gardener program. You can subscribe to her blog about her Vermont gardening life at northcountryreflections.com.
Dick is a landscape and garden photographer; you can see more of his photographs at northcountryimpressions.

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