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).