We watched the weather radar all morning, wondering if the forecast of scattered thunderstorms would give any relief to our county which earlier this week was elevated to severe drought status by the National Weather Service. While driving back from the farm supply store with 25 bags of cypress mulch loaded in our minivan, I passed through some light showers but the sprinkles stopped a mile or so north of home.
I made a quick lunch for my family (hot dogs and mac ‘n cheese — it’s National Mac ‘n Cheese day, after all) and as we were finishing our meal, the skies suddenly opened. We all looked outside then at each other with the same exclamation, “It’s raining!”
After enjoying the steady downpour for 10-15 minutes, my son and wife went back into the house while I remained sitting in our gazebo listening to the rain. As the old song goes,
It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is ……….
Yes, I fell asleep to the sound of the drops falling on the gazebo roof and surrounding deck, the scent of summer rain filling my senses. You’ll have to ask the squirrels and birds (and maybe neighbors) if you want to know if I completed the lyric above.
Once the rain stopped, I walked through the garden.
With a name like ‘Radiation’, you’d expect a plant to stand out. This Lantana doesn’t disappoint. I’m growing it throughout the landscape – from full sun to all but the deepest shade. It’s certainly a less-prolific bloomer in lower light, but still acceptable. In full sun, it’s just one orange blast after another. As long as you keep it deadheaded by removing the purple and green seedpods that form, it continually shoots out new blooms. Its favorite spot seems to be in one of the front porch containers where I can conveniently brush its lemon-scented foliage on the way in and out of the house.
|Solenostemon ‘Black Dragon’ and Juncus ‘Blue Dart’|
I’m growing ‘Black Dragon’ coleus throughout the garden, in containers and as a bedding plant. After an infestation of mealy bugs took out most of my dark-colored coleus that I overwintered indoors, I added a flat of ‘Black Dragon’ to my purchase from Sunrise Greenhouses earlier this spring. It’s not the most vigorous grower compared to other coleus, but its color stands out in the right combinations.
|Strobilanthes dyerianus and Pelargonium Maverick® ‘Coral’|
I brought Strobilanthes (Persian Shield) back into my container designs this year, and now I’m wondering why I ever stopped. The jeweled purple foliage is unmatched and combines extremely well with most other colors in the garden. Its unpredictable growing habit results in many surprise combinations as the season progresses.
|Vinca ‘Pacific Burgundy Halo’|
I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Pacific Burgundy Halo’ Vinca that I planted last year along the edge of our driveway, and was especially disappointed when I couldn’t find this variety to plant this year. Surprise! Leaving the plants up until they were killed by frost allowed them to reseed, so I have several now growing in an among the purples, reds and fuschias of the HeatElite Vinca I planted this spring.
|Vinca ‘Pacific Burgundy Halo’ (reseeded)|
As you can see, not all of the ‘Pacific Burgundy Halo’ came back true-to-form, as is often the case with hybrid annuals. There are several clumps missing their halo. Perhaps there’s a story to be told about how this prodigal Vinca lost its halo.
|Cleome ‘Senorita Rosalita’|
I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by ‘Senorita Rosalita’ this year. This plant was a knockout last year when I grew a large clump from just three 4-inch pots. This year, I could only find it in gallon pots, and all three plants have struggled in virtually the same growing conditions. The foliage has looked chlorotic most of the summer and it’s the first plant to wilt in the heat. I’m planning to fertilize this bed tomorrow, and I’m hoping that helps Rosalita get her groove back.
A whole series of shrubs are in their second full growing season in my garden, including the lone Aronia in the driveway bed. Most have gotten their roots under them and increased greatly in size and status in the garden. I’m not sure the Aronia is keeping up with its brethren. To me, it appears too spindly, although that may be its natural habit. I am excited that its berries have started to grow larger. They’ll eventually turn bright red and persist through the winter.
|Gazania ‘New Day Pink Shades’|
This is my second year growing Gazania in the garden. Last year was a complete failure. Within two weeks of planting Big Kiss™ Yellow Flame in last year’s containers, all of the plants were dead. But I’m so infatuated with their big, bright blooms I gave them another chance this year. Learning that they like dry, sunny conditions I planted a mixed flat of ‘New Day Pink Shades’ and ‘New Day Bronze Shades’ at the sidewalk end of the driveway border. After a few weeks in the ground, I was ready to pull them out and give up on Gazania forever. Then it got hot, capital H-O-T, record-breaking hot. And the Gazania started to produce. When the sun is out (Gazania flowers close in low light), these New Day varieties shine.
It’s been a great summer so far for Echinacea in our garden, resulting in many more picture-perfect blooms than in a normal summer. I’m not sure what in particular they like, whether it’s lack of insects or less disease due to the dry weather, but I’ve got no complaints. In past years, I’ve been close to swearing off Echinacea completely because of their poor performance and tendency to die after just a year or two.
When we moved to our home in 2000, the first summer could have been subtitled, “When Rudbeckia Attack!” In the past decade, I’ve thinned down this prolific reseeder to a much more acceptable density. One of my favorite spots for the Rudbeckia is next to Al (our Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’) in the front border. The bright yellow flowers against Al’s blue needles are a match made in horticulture heaven.
In the front border (a part of our garden that’s scheduled for a major overhaul this fall), blackberry lily has grown up through the foliage of ‘Wintergreen’ boxwood. I love the informal combinations it can provide, and look forward to its berry-like seed heads spawning forth future generations.
|An inch of rain!|
It’s hard to tell how much rain we actually received, because my wife was in the process of watering the side yard when the deluge began. Between the sprinkler and the storm, about an inch of water fell on the gardens. I imagine that most of that was from the skies, for which my wallet is thankful. Under drought conditions, keeping the garden alive is not an inexpensive or easy proposition.
|Rosa KnockOut® Double Red|
While Knockout® rose flowers aren’t typically what most people consider a rose shape, every once in a while a Double Red will take your breath away with its perfection. Today was one of those moments.
|Dorotheanths Mezoo® ‘Trailing Red’|
One of my favorite new (to me) plants in the garden is Dorotheanthus Mezoo® ‘Trailing Red’ — a succulent that makes an excelled trailing “spiller” in container designs. I’ve learned that it is easily propagated and grown as a houseplant in winter, so I expect it will be a fixture in my containers for years to come.
|Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’|
A post-precipitation photo shoot wouldn’t be complete without a water-filled Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’. I bought three of these in gallon containers at the University of Illinois Arboretum plant sale a few weeks ago. The upward-facing, cup-shaped dark green leaves on reddish-brown stems dance in the slightest breeze and provide a strong vertical element in the garden when still.
|Colocasia ‘Bikini Tini’|
Just last week, I looked down at a small Colocasia leaf that had sprouted out of the ground and thought to myself, “I didn’t plant a Colocasia there this year.” Then it hit me. It was the ‘Bikini-tini’ Colocasia that Angela Treadwell-Palmer from Plants Nouveau had given me as a sample during the Garden Writers Association meeting last fall. I’m Zone 5b. Colocasia don’t survive a winter in the ground around here. Granted, we had an extremely mild winter last year and ‘Bikini-tini’ is rated to survive Zone 6 winters, but I’m still impressed with the hardiness of this new elephant ear.
In past summers, I’ve grown dark-leaved bananas as tropical accents and treated them as annuals that get pulled out after a frost. This year, the only banana I found was Musa ‘Basjoo’ — one that is considered frost hardy down to -15F. This year, the bananas stay in the ground with a heavy blanket of mulch and we’ll see what happens. My son got excited when I mentioned a hardy banana, thinking we’d end up with a banana tree in our back yard. Unfortunately, ‘Basjoo’ dies back every year and our growing season isn’t long enough for it to fruit.
|Hydrangea Everlasting™ Revolution|
Another new plant in our garden is Hydrangea Everlasting™ Revolution — provided to garden writers by Plants Nouveau at this year’s Chicago Flower and Garden Show. The sample plant was just a plug. It was the smallest hydrangea that I’ve ever seen, but all plants have to start small at some point. After babying it in a small pot until late spring, I planted it in our patio garden with some room to grow. It’s now about eight inches tall and has the most perfect inflorescence. I know I’ll need patience, but I can’t wait for this rebloomer to become a full-sized shrub in our garden.
At the same plant sale where I bought ‘Coffee Cups’, I found this bi-color geranium. It was untagged, so I’m unsure of the variety. It’s planted in one of our patio containers in a part-shade area of the garden. I really like the way the red is splashed into the centers of the flowers, almost as if it were hand painted.
|Solenonstemon ‘Hurricane Jenni’|
When I first saw the name of this coleus in the nursery, I thought of my good friend Jenny Peterson, one of the strongest and most energetic women I’ve ever met. If she ever met a hurricane face-to-face, I’d worry for the hurricane’s well-being. But I hadn’t quite figured out why the breeder had placed the name ‘Hurricane Jenni’ on this variety — until today when I took this photograph looking right into the eye(s) of the storm.
‘Hurricane Jenni’ was a good plant with which to finish, on a day where a true gulleywasher was warmly welcomed. Now I can get back to that snoring.