Summer Perennials - A Splash of Color!"

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener

We are now in the full swing of summer, and before you know it, the kids will be back in school, we’ll be running the kids to different sports and school events, and our gardens will be left in the dust. But while we can still enjoy the "flowers and fruits of our labor", I’d like to give you a few plant suggestions and combinations for your summer gardens – to enjoy and watch for summers to come.

When I put perennials together and consider perennial design, one of the major contributing factors is bloom time and texture. When designing a perennial garden, you always want something that is in bloom, and what is in bloom needs to blend in color with one another. Often times, when designing a perennial garden, you must consider the time that you will be spending in the garden, thus an evening garden for working people, a spring garden, for those that spend their summers at the beach, and so on. But many of us who were gardeners spend all of our time in the garden; hence year-round interest is most important.

Heliopsis helianthoides, or false sunflower, is one of my favorite summer bloomers. It gets a yellow, daisy-like flower and will reach 2’-3’. This is a great perennial to use in the background, however, the foliage is dark green in color, and is not something in need of hiding. Heliopsis requires full sun, makes great cut flowers, and looks great with veronica.

Veronica spicata, a blue spike flower, also likes full sun. It wants well-drained soils, not a fan of wet sites, and is resistant to deer! It will grow to about 18 inches, and will bloom in June – July, a great companion for the heliopsis. There are many varieties of the veronica, and one of my favorite varieties is ‘White Icicles’. This variety gets white spikes, and will continue blooming through August. As with most white flowers, it shines in the evening, which is when many of us enjoy our gardens. Veronica ‘Goodness Grows’ is a dark blue variety that has a courser texture than most veronicas, but also has larger, heavier flower spikes and may reach up to two feet.

Using heliopsis in the background and veronica in the foreground leaves an opening for something in the middle. Shasta daisy, Leucanthum x superbum, may just be the plant to fill that spot. A typical daisy flower, with white petals and a yellow center, the shasta daisy is a complement to any flower. Again, they like well drained soils and full sun, making it a good combination to these perennials already mentioned. There are many varieties of the shasta daisy, ranging is heights of 12 inches, like Miss Muffet, to 2 1/2 feet, like ‘Becky’. ‘Aglaia’ is a fringed flowered daisy, reaching 2-2 ½ feet. When choosing shasta daisy at the garden center, be sure you know what variety you are buying so you place it correctly in your garden.

Leadwort, Cerotostigma plumbagnoides, would be a great ground cover in front of this wonderful summer perennial border. Leadwort’s flower is a pretty blue, covering the entire plant. After the first frost, the foliage turns red, making the plant interest stretch into the fall season. Leadwort likes full sun, but can handle part shade. Well drained soil is necessary to grow this plant. You do need to be careful with this one, because when it’s happy, it will grow in to places that you may not want it.

Another plant to add to this mix is Liatris spicata, or gayfeather. The flower spike opens from the top down, whereas most flowers open from the bottom up, making this an interesting perennial. Liatris has purple-pink fuzzy flowers borne of a tall spike. The grassy-like foliage makes this texture interesting when mixing it with summer blooming perennials. Well drained soil and full sun is important for this fun plant.

Perennial gardening is a great joy of mine. Enjoying the flowers, textures, and colors of the plants is very relaxing and a great stress reliever! Often I’ll take 15 minutes out of my evening to re-evaluate the perennial garden, determine what works and what doesn’t and make mental notes as to what I want to change the next planting season. (A good gardener would write their notes in a notebook!) I do, however, discuss my future gardening plans with my girls during those semi-quiet 15 minutes, as they often have other opinions to throw in the pot and they are great at remembering things!

Enjoy your garden, and don’t be afraid to try different things. You can always move it later if you don’t like the combinations! Happy Gardening!

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