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Brian Minter: Heat-tolerant perennials give gardens some summer sizzle

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Add color and fragrance to these perennials when the annuals feel the heat of summer

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Brian Minter

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August 14, 2020 • • August 14, 2020 • • Read for 4 minutes • • Join the conversation Russian sage, like this' Denim 'n Lace' variety from Proven Winners, has fragrant foliage and is attractive to butterflies. Russian sage, like this’ Denim ‘n Lace’ variety from Proven Winners, has fragrant foliage and is attractive to butterflies. Photo of proven winners /.PNG

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During the hottest part of summer, when many annuals need a lot more maintenance and often look tired, some lesser-known, drought and heat resistant perennials can freshen up our gardens and bring them to life. Many of them wear their color well into late summer and even into autumn.

Most skilled gardeners have discovered the beauty and hardiness of rudbeckia, especially the five-star R. ‘Goldsturm’, its closest competitor R. ‘American Gold Rush’ and the wonderfully compact form of R. ‘Little Goldstar’.

Few, however, know of their giant cousin R. laciniata ‘Herbstsonne’, which is just beginning to bloom. The strong stems grow up to eight feet tall, hold up well in the autumn wind, and the large golden flowers with their brown centers are effective well into autumn.
It’s as old as the hills, but R. laciniata ‘Goldquelle’ is another late summer giant. The completely double, golden yellow flowers love hot, dry weather.

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Joe-Pye-Weed or Eupatorium dubium (Zone 5) with its pollinator-attractive, lavender-pink flowers was a much-acclaimed late summer star. The open flowers are often six feet tall and are rarely seen without butterflies. The eupatorium ‘Little Joe’ is only one meter high and the new E. ‘Ruby’, the most compact of all eupatoriums at 24 inches, is well suited for smaller rooms.

Anything blue adds a cool touch in hot summer weather, and Russian sage is quickly becoming a new garden favorite. Perovskia atriplicifolia (zone 4) has lacy, lacy blue flowers and attractive silver-gray foliage, which makes it ideal to combine with the warm tones of echinaceas, rudbeckia, and coreopsis. Much more compact strains exist these days such as P. ‘Little Lace’ (24 inches), P. ‘Blue Jean Baby’ (34 inches), and P. ‘CrazyBlue’ (18 inches), which makes them far more versatile with smaller strains in Gardens. They are quite heat and drought tolerant and bloom well into September.

With a striking color and attractive shape, Veronicas give the perennial garden an interesting texture. With a striking color and attractive shape, Veronicas give the perennial garden an interesting texture. Photo by handout /.PNG

Veronicas, often known as Speedwell (Zone 5), have suddenly become another top choice for late summer colors. The new series ‘Moody Blues’ is available in different colors, including deep purple, blue, pink and white. With a small dead head, they will bloom from May until well into October. They are also very popular as cut flowers and can be wonderfully mixed with sunflowers, snapdragons and dahlias to create rich summer garden bouquets. An older variety, V. ‘Charlotte’, has variegated white and green foliage and beautiful white flowers. It is one of the longest and most continuous flowering strains.

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Stokes' aster is attractive to butterflies and a popular cut flower. Stokes’ aster is attractive to butterflies and a popular cut flower. Photo by handout /.PNG

The lesser known Stokesia or Stokes aster is another heat and drought tolerant, late blooming garden treasure. It grows about two feet tall and produces tons of fluffy, aster-like flowers from July through September, which are also great as a cut for bouquets.

It’s wonderful to have some perfume in our late summer gardens.

If you have a shadowy spot, the old-fashioned Cimicifuga or Bugbane (Zone 3) fills it well with a scent that lingers. They are just beginning to bloom. There are green deciduous species such as C. racemosa and C. racemosa var. Cordifolia, but the real showpieces are the rich, black-leaved varieties because they stand out so well against their spiky, pure white flowers. Cimicifuga ‘Brunette’ and ‘Black Negligee’ are the best known; ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ has the darkest foliage of all. ‘Pink Spike’ and ‘Chocoholic’ Cimicifuga have pink-tinged flowers and are also heavily perfumed. They all grow to four to five feet tall and bloom well into October.

The scent of the oriental lilies will stop people.  Take advantage of their scent by planting them near sidewalks. The scent of the oriental lilies will stop people. Take advantage of their scent by planting them near sidewalks. Photo by handout /.PNG

When it comes to perfume, few other plants match the stunning scent of oriental lilies (zone 4). In our gardens, we’ve strategically placed them in many ways so that people can fully appreciate their strong, lingering perfume. It is surprising that in just a few years, a lightbulb turns into a significant lump, reaching heights of over a meter with an ever-improving smell. Oriental lilies are available in a variety of colors and bicolors. ‘Casa Blanca’, a huge pure white, and ‘Stargazer’, a beautiful deep pink with white outlines, are two of the most famous. Double oriental lilies are really unique and also displace this beautiful scent. They are certainly the No. 1 cut flower for summer beauty.

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Japanese anemones look amazing in tons and make a great cut flower too! Japanese anemones look amazing in tons and make a great cut flower too! Photo by handout /.PNG

Few other perennials can match the vigor and flowering time of Japanese anemones (zone 4). They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade, and when this ideal situation is given, they will bloom profusely from early August until well into October. They are available in the colors pink and white and add a touch of elegance. I think the pure white, individual flowers of A. ‘Honorine Jobert’ are the finest. More compact varieties like the A. ‘Pretty Lady’ series are now available in both single and double flower forms. Again, I think the singles are the best. Japanese anemones are so vigorous that landscape architects use them as ground cover.

As summer turns into fall, these reliable strains will make your garden grow beautifully. Now is a good time to add them to your garden mix.

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Robert Dunfee