Yellow school buses rumbling through the neighborhoods are now a common sight. Somewhere in the back of my mind, the question popped up, “Did not the school year just end last week?”
When we had children at home, the comings and goings of those buses dictated our days. Now, as empty nesters and especially as gardeners, we mark the year by the life cycle of our plants.
We check the calendar for the first day of fall — Oct. 22, 2017 — although in our area, there is often not much difference between the last day of summer and the first day of fall. Fall is frequently just an extension of summer. Hot and dry. Dry and hot.
It seems as though summer weather has been in full swing for decades instead of months: hot, muggy, periods of drought or days of afternoon showers complete with thunder and lightning.
“Scattered showers” meant it rained three blocks away and not at our houses. Weather forecasters teased us with chances of rain during times when we did not see any. Nearby communities got flooding rains and we got none.
Our summer flowers are still limping by; some have even gathered their second wind from momentary cooler spells. It is still way too warm to dream of pansies and mums, both of which dislike our fake fall.
Soon after I see the buses, I allow myself to realize that true fall may actually become a reality. It is time to evaluate the performance of this year’s summer flower and foliage plants.
If we want garden success next year, we must learn from the winners and losers in this year’s summer garden.
Tough perennials like coneflowers return regularly every year. Other plants may be slipping away. A few, unfortunately, are now just a memory, their remains identified by a dirty plastic label hidden in the soil.
Thank goodness, even with weather as changeable as the color of my toenails, there were plants that outperformed expectations, persevering despite Mother Nature’s trickery.
Some shine because of their fine foliage. Some may be seen as quite ordinary — for example, purple heart. However, its regal purple leaves add a punch of color wherever it grows.
Not every plant high on my list is bulletproof (gardening term for “tough as nails”). The care they require, however, is paid back many times over as they accept the sun, the humidity and the days we forget to water — or just can’t bear standing out in the sun with the hose one more day.
Drift roses are dependable and a delight in full sun. These easy-care roses can brighten a corner or a cottage garden, and are spectacular in mass.
These dwarf beauties reach less than 3 feet high and about 3 feet wide.
The blooms on these small charmers come in seven colors, from pink to peach to red. Some colors have a sweeter fragrance.
They are repeat bloomers, and seem resistant to problems of hybrid roses.
I do water regularly and pinch off the spent flowers, which is not necessary but helps to keep them neat. In late winter they get a hard haircut.
Some gardeners may view this deciduous perennial as not much more than a weed. Purple heart forms a fast-spreading clump (but is not aggressive) and bears baby pink blooms that are bee magnets.
The purple leaves form a striking contrast with surrounding garden greenery.
Purple heart seems to thrive in part to full sun and has no particular problems. As an extra plus, it is easy to root in water or moist soil.
A third favorite is Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm,’ also known as yellow coneflower. Some may refer to this full-sun flower as a black-eyed Susan (although that is actually Rudbeckia hirta, which is not as long-lived).
‘Goldsturm’ coneflowers sport bright yellow petals and a brown cone, have a long bloom time, and spread by rhizomes, forming a larger patch each year as it returns.
If the gardener can refrain from being a neat freak and leave the spent seed heads, those heads form a delicacy for the birds.
The magnificent multicolored leaves of caladiums are a stunning addition to any landscape, whether planted in containers or the ground.
Some will tolerate only shade, others tolerate some sun, and still others full sun. They all, however, require regular water.
The one caladium absolute is that they must be planted after the soil has warmed up. Do not set out either the plant or the tubers before Mother’s Day. Caladiums and cold soil equal no plants.
They will perform well until nighttime temperatures begin to fall into the upper 50s. Then, remove them from the ground, dry them, put them in a place that does not get below 50 degrees at night, and replant the next spring. I saved some from last year year and they came back like champs.
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’ earns a spot in any summer garden. This petite grower reaches about 4 feet wide. It can handle full sun (or part) with adequate moisture.
Its large, creamy white panicles are simply stunning. Regardless of what our winter/spring throws its way, it is a dependable summer bloomer.
Possibly the queen of the summer garden has been a quiet but hardy annual: purslane.
In a container, we would refer to it as a “spiller.” In the ground, its neon-colored flowers make it a wonderful spreading clump.
This is one of those plants that require a gardener to come close to admire its perky flowers. The drooping stems hold hundreds and hundreds of flowers that open during the day and close at night; they can also close during the day, almost as if they were resting.
It is hard to kill a purslane; it thrives in full sun with low water. I do believe that if you overwater it, however, a purslane will probably rot.
It is a perfect flower for me. If I forgot to water one day during the summer’s heat, it did not curl up and die. This year, I planted them in containers all over the yard. Not one disappointed me.
Sherry Blanton is a member of the Calhoun County Master Gardeners Association. Contact her at email@example.com.