It’s August which means that the rains have stopped, the spring through early summer colour has all but faded and you’re already tired of watering the garden. As you look around at the grizzled remains of what was once a beautiful display of flowers, you start thinking to yourself; wouldn’t it be nice to have some blooms that not only put up with the heat, but thrive on it. So with that in mind, here are eight great midsummer perennials and shrubs that will not disappoint.
Red-Hot Poker (Kniphofia / USDA Zone 5) These evergreen perennials provide the best of both worlds with low maintenance grass-like foliage and dazzling bottle brush blooms, many of them two-tone. Not only do they attract the hummingbirds but they are also quite drought tolerant once established. ‘Flamenco’ and ‘Royal Castle’ hybrids are standards, while many colour variations can be found within the Popsicle or Echo Series, and ‘Percy’s Pride’ brings us unique lime flower spikes. The crowns are best mulched when planted in zone 6 or colder.
Kniphofia 'Flamenco', Kniphofia 'Orange Vanilla Popsicle', Kniphofia 'Percy's Pride'
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia / USDA Zone 3) A much underused deciduous shrub averaging 3-6’ tall with white to rose-pink blooms that emanate a spicy fragrance that attracts both bees and butterflies. It tolerates clay soils and some shade, but does not like to dry out. Although rather uncommon, there are quite a few cultivars available including ‘Ruby Spice’ (rosy-pink), ‘Hummingbird’ (larger white blooms), ‘Pink Spires’, ‘Sixteen Candles’ (white) and ‘Crystalina’ (dwarf white).
Clethra 'Ruby Spice', Clethra 'Crystalina'
Perennial Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides / USDA Zone 3) This prairie hardy and drought tolerant perennial is long-lived but if it has a fault, it’s that it can get a bit floppy in fertile soils, so try to avoid these. The species reaches heights of 3-4’ tall and makes an excellent cut flower, but it’s the newer hybrids that are bound to catch your eye. Among them are ‘Asahi’ with its double golden-yellow blooms, ‘Red Shades’ with dazzling red and orange-tipped flowers (with bronze foliage), the compact ‘Tuscan Sun’ as well as the variegated ‘Loraine Sunshine’ and ‘Sunstruck’ with their netted green and white foliage.
Heliopsis 'Red Shades', Heliopsis 'Sunstruck', Heliopsis 'Tuscan Sun'
Sea Holly (Eryngium / USDA Zone 3-4) A rather diverse group of hybrids and species, all of which prefer sunny well-drained sites as they will only rot in winter when planted in heavy soils. They all bear thistle-like blooms in either steel-blue or silvery-white with these being essential for any cut flower garden. ‘Sapphire Blue’ (24-30” tall) is probably the most common variety followed closely by the dwarf Eryngium planum ‘Blue Hobbit’. Miss Willmott’s Ghost or Eryngium giganteum (3’ tall) is the real showstopper here with its large silvery-grey bracts.
Eryngium 'Blue Hobbit', Eryngium giganteum, Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue'
Montbretia (Crocosmia / USDA Zone 6) A group of summer bulbs or corms with hot-coloured blooms that show well under the intense summer sun and bring in the hummingbirds by droves. You may want to avoid Montbretia proper (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora) as it is quite invasive but the hybrids are well behaved but do spread over time. The most popular of these is the bright red ‘Lucifer’, followed closely by ‘George Davison’ (gold), ‘Emily McKenzie’ (orange with a crimson throat), ‘Jenny Bloom’ (bright yellow) and ‘Emberglow’ (reddish-orange).
Crocosmia 'Emily McKenzie', Crocosmia 'George Davison', Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia or Buddleja / USDA Zone 5) The old-fashioned Buddleia davidii is now on the invasive plant list (due to rampant self-seeding) but luckily there is a new generation of more compact Butterfly Bushes which are also sterile that can be planted with a clear conscience. The Lo & Behold Series from Proven Winners features white (‘Ice Chip’), purple (‘Ruby Chip’), pink (‘Pink Micro Chip’) and blue flowers (‘Blue Chip Jr.’) all of which mature below 3’ tall. The Pugster Series and ‘Miss Molly’ bear larger blooms, with the latter averaging 4-5’ tall. Expect the same fragrance and drought tolerance.
Buddleia 'Lo & Behold Ice Chip', Buddleia 'Miss Molly', Buddleia 'Ruby Chip'
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale / USDA Zone 3) Despite a terrible common name that invokes visions of allergic reactions, this versatile perennial is actually called Sneezeweed because the powdered petals were once used as snuff. They make great cut flowers but the foliage should probably be pinched back in late spring if you want to avoid staking. That said, the deep mahogany blooms of ‘Bruno’, batik petals of ‘Mardi Gras’ and the bright canary-yellow blossoms of ‘Double Trouble’ are almost ‘jewel tone’ in quality and stand out well in the garden. Try to avoid extreme drought as this may result in powdery mildew.
Helenium 'Bruno', Helenium 'Double Trouble', Helenium 'Mardi Gras'
Crimson Flag (Schizostylis or Hesperantha coccinea / USDA Zone 7) This tender South African rhizome (related to Iris) is usually hardy throughout the Fraser Valley and is a little difficult to find. Those who plant it will be rewarded with brilliant single scarlet blooms starting in August which much resemble Gladiola at a distance. ‘Oregon Sunset’ (coral-red) is the most common cultivar, with ‘Pink Princess’ (pale pink), ‘Alba’ (pure white) and ‘Sunrise’ (clear pink) also available from time to time. Even moisture while in growth is key to a healthy-looking clump.
Schizostylis 'Oregon Sunset', Schizostylis coccinea
All Images Copyright 2020 MK Lascelle