Column: Colors of perennials in the June garden
Colors rule at the garden center! In the past, annual flowers have stolen the show every year with their flashy colors of neon orange, screaming reds, and rich purples, but the times they are a-changing. Because perennials are endowed with colors that come back bigger and better every year, they've hooked many gardeners away from routine annuals. Increasingly, perennials are appearing in more landscapes and gardens with the yearly investment in annuals becoming smaller and smaller.
Although I like the color touches that my pockets of annuals give my gardens, I blend them in with lots of perennials. Perennials provide a permanent but ever-changing character to landscapes and gardens. Because a towering lilac bush is as much a source of perennial color as a robust coneflower or a hardy gaillardia, to my mind, shrubs are super-sized perennials on steroids!
If you incorporate any of these perennials into your landscape, you're in for an ever- better blooming summer garden year after year. They are the hardiest of the blooming perennials and, fortunately, seem to be of little interest to nibbling animals. When planted in clay soils I've found that watering them about twice a week is plenty. Pinching back the spent blossoms generates continuous blooms beginning in June and continuing through fall. I've been gardening for years with perennials and have compiled a list of my favorite tried-and-true performers:
Favorite #1 - Commotion Frenzy Gaillardia. The many different gaillardias all love heat and are really drought hardy. Commotion Frenzy is so hardy that it's used in hydro-mulch at the end of road construction projects, like that on Iron Springs Road. I fell in love with this particular variety because instead of petals it has tubular flowers coming off the center to form its striking orange and red 4-inch blooms, and because "my" birds love the seed this plant produces. It's a must-see the next time you're at the garden center.
Favorite #2 - Stella De Oro Daylily. Winner of many garden awards this dwarf cousin will repeat bloom in waves of 2 1/2" deep yellow flowers through fall. It's definitely the best re-bloomer for the region. The two-year-old specimens on sale now are celebrating the start of the summer bloom season. Mass them into a sea of color that functions much like ground cover, or arrange in rows as a mini hedge. This stunner really delivers a lot of perennial flowers for the garden dollar.
Favorite #3 - Pincushion Flower. Purple, purple and more shades of purple. This is one of my favorites of the low-growing flowers that love sun and heat. I like to plant it towards the front of the garden and watch as each plant produces dozens of flowers all summer. Expect butterflies; they love these pincushions!
Favorite #4 - Big Sky Echinacea. The entire family of coneflowers does great at this altitude, but this one is a newcomer to our neck of the woods. Its spectacular bright pink, orange and gold flowers stand a foot above the clump of dark green foliage. Watch out, 'cause this one is going to reseed like crazy!
Favorite #5 - 'Flying Saucers' Coreopsis. This orange perennial is a good substitute for annual marigolds; it's the same color and of similar shape. It's the choice for 'wanna be' gardeners with black thumbs because it is tough as nails and reseeds for a natural wildflower look. Oh, and yes, the flowers do look like flying saucers.
Favorite #6 - Petite Indigo Butterfly Bush. Known as the summer blooming lilac because its spectacular, fragrant, cone-shaped flowers resemble lilac blossoms. Scores of butterflies frequent the nectar-filled flowers. Easy to grow in tight spaces, this 5-footer is perfect as an accent or border planting and can be grown in containers.
Favorite #7 - Mexican Primrose - Actually, this is a weed with profuse pink flowers the size of silver dollars. Just don't plant it in the middle of your garden or this low ground cover will take over and choke out any other plants. I put this one out in the dry edges of my gardens, and abuse it. The worse treatment it gets, the better a primrose blooms. Tromp on it, mow it, and forget to water this perennial for summer-long color. Tough, tough, tough!
As the monsoon season approaches more and more perennials begin to bloom at local garden centers. It's a pleasure to watch the selection changes as the different varieties come in and out of bloom. Stop in often at your favorite center and enjoy the changing parade put on by these beautiful, dependable plants. Put them in your garden this season and you'll enjoy them for years to come.
Today's gardening class will go into great detail about container gardens. We'll discuss the best containers, the best soil to use, and the local perennial plants that are the best choices for container success. The class is free and starts at 9:30 a.m. Next week's class, June 29, was our most popular session this spring so we're running it again: "Gardening for Newcomers." Customer feedback tells us that our classes are very informative and lots of fun. But don't just take our word on this; stop in and judge for yourself.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Throughout the week, Ken can be located at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or contacted through www.wattersgardencenter.com.