Holding onto spring as summer heat arrives

We had our third consecutive day near 90°F in central Illinois, although a light breeze and decreased humidity made the heat a little more bearable today. The temperatures are 10-15 degrees above normal for May here in Zone 5b and, combined with a decent amount of moisture this month, the garden has taken on a lushness and feel usually reserved for early summer.

Among the happiest looking plant in the garden right now are the newly planted tropicals, who must feel right at home in the recent heat and humidity.

Hibiscus sp.

Colocasia antiquorum ‘Illustris’ (Elephant Ear)
Musa ‘Little Prince’ (Banana)

Some faint signs of spring still persist in a few iris stragglers (I. germanica and I. sibirica) and the last of the blue Baptisia australis flower racemes. Perhaps the strongest symbol of spring blooming in today’s garden are the peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) in the front border.

Originally planted on the southeast corner of the house by the previous owner, I haven’t been able to identify these three varieties. They’ve survived dividing and transplanting once or twice in my decade of gardening here, and some divisions have even made their way to a friend’s garden across town.

This year, I didn’t put out the supportive hoops, and as might be expected, the peonies flopped as the heavy, pom-pom flowers opened.

Once the peonies flop, it’s always a good excuse to cut some of them to brighten the inside of the house with fragrant bouquets. Here, the red and white peonies are combined with Salvia ‘May Night’ and I. germanica ‘Sapphire Falls’ to form what turned out to be a rather patriotic display. Although peonies are never the best flower to bring inside, because they tend to rain ants for a couple of days, they are simply gorgeous cut flowers.

While the peonies hang on as the stalwarts of spring, the daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are trumpeting the beginning of summer by shooting up their flower stalks all over the yard. Including the hybrids I added to the garden last fall, I imagine there are 12-15 different cultivars of Hemerocallis in the garden now, singles and doubles, trumpets and spider types, ranging in color from white and yellow to orange and red.

As I walked around the garden this evening — anticipating the bloom of the daylilies, pruning spent iris stems, and taking some weight off the peonies — I caught a glimpse of purple on the front lawn light pole. The first blooms of Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ had opened.

One of my garden favorites, this vigorous climbing vine consumes the light post and provides weeks of large 4-5 inch, velvety purple blooms.

Directly behind the C. ‘Jackmanii’ is a 15-foot Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’ (Colorado Spruce) that provides protection to a mourning dove nest deep within its thick needled branches. As I walked towards the tree, the mother dove flew away, trying to distract me from the nest. As the noise from her wings quieted, I could hear the faint sounds of new chicks. I wasn’t able to get a clear photograph of the nest because it was above my head and in very dim light, I was pleased to see two chicks in the blurry image I captured.

Earlier this evening, I was ready to cede to summer’s assault that threatened to quickly push a spectacular spring into our memory banks. But these two mourning dove chicks reminded me that Mother Nature isn’t done with spring just yet, and I shouldn’t be willing to let go quite so easily either.

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