Too cool summer blues

The only blue that gardeners in my HOT, HOT, HOT valley really want to see right now is the blue water of a cool swimming pool!  With our temps for the week forecasted to peak at 111 degrees on Friday it is hard to even think about getting out in the garden to see what’s happening. Late July to early August is the perfect time to cut back by half many perennials which have been blooming since early spring. This will force them to rest a bit, not expending too much energy in supporting blooms. This brief rest during our hottest time usually results in some new growth pushed in September and possibly additional blooming periods taking them up to the winter cold.  The complicating factor for me is that I have to get out to do that cut back starting around 6 am and only have a few hours until only crazy people are working in the yard!

Many plants have stopped blooming due to the excessive heat but I do have a couple of cool blues in bloom to share with you.

Platycondon grandiflorus ‘Sentimental Blue’ is a dwarf selection of the old fashioned favorite balloon flower found in our grandmothers’ gardens.

This cultivar has a very compact upright growth habit reaching from 6″-12″ tall and 12″ wide.  In the left photo at upper right you can see one of the platycondon’s characteristic hot air balloon shaped white buds. These whimsical flower buds open to a star shaped blue violet flower highlighted by darker blue veins.  Anybody notice a resemblance to another plant I have featured in previous posts?  Platycondon grandiflorus is in the same plant family, Campanulaceae, as the campanula or bellflower.  This is a great front of the border or bed perennial and reliably comes back for me every year. Plants grown from seed will take a couple of years to get well established. Although they perform better with weekly water, they have a deep fleshy root that, once established, seems to keep them going during lean watering periods. My plants came from six packs planted 4 or 5 years ago and they flower freely for 6 months of the year.

Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ is an easy to grow perennial whose deep blue flowers are an eye catching contrast to its yellow green grasslike foliage.

The common name for this plant is spiderwort.  According to the Kemper Center for Home Gardening when the stems of spiderworts are cut, a viscous stem secretion is released which becomes threadlike and silky upon hardening (like a spider’s web.) You can also see the resemblance to one of its cousins, the wandering jew, that we all grew in hanging baskets in the 70’s! There are many garden varieties of spiderwort with flower color varying from white to blue to pink and near red but this one is unique in its foliage color. Individual flowers last only a day but the buds come in large clusters and once they get started they are rarely out of bloom through the summer months.  A single plant will form a tidy clump about 18″ X 18″. Although many tradescantia varieties are invasive self sowers and rampant spreaders ‘Sweet Kate’ is quite well behaved.  Give it moist soil and a partial sun only location for best success.

Stay cool and take time to smell the flowers this summer!

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A summer survivor…

As our hot summer wears on many plants in my garden are looking quite peaked and forlorn.  Although it has been a cooler week here; in the nineties rather than the days of 105-108 degrees we’ve had for a few weeks, it is still a challenge to keep things going with our 2 days per week and limited hours of the day watering restrictions.  We continue to bucket bath and shower water to many of the more thirsty plants and are in the process of removing several areas of lawn in favor of more drought tolerant shrub plantings.  The later will not happen over night–we have had the lawn chemically killed but now must double dig those areas to make them ready for fall planting.  My long term goal is to have fewer garden areas which need intensive maintenance and significant water to keep them going.

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This interesting plant has proven to be a summer survivor–Talinum paniculatum ‘Limon’, commonly called Jewels of Opar ‘Limon’.

I added this succulent subshrub in the purslane family to my garden from a 4″ pot about 3 years ago.  It was another impulse buy but I am a sucker for plants with lime green foliage. A plant would have to have well documented zombie apocalypse characteristics for me to pass on those bright and happy leaves! Even after a bit of research I was still unsure of its sun tolerance so I stuck it in a pot of mixed annuals and perennials near the edge of my back patio.  The original plant was not cold hardy and was lost during the first crisp snap of that fall but every year since I have had many seedlings appear in the beds closest to the original pot’s location.  Based upon that I suppose ‘Limon’ could be a blessing or a curse (especially in those areas without cold to knock it back naturally) but I have found the unwanted seedlings easy to pull and really enjoy seeing where it will show up next!

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The bright chartreuse foliage really pops in beds of mixed perennials and annuals whose leaves are more mid green.  The wee pink flowers appear as a gauzy cloud hovering above the foliage and are followed by tiny magenta seedpods.  It is very free flowering with new stems appearing frequently.  At any point most stems will have buds, flowers and seed pods in an airy jumble. Literature suggests this plant could get quite large but my foliage rarely exceeds 12″ and the slender flower wands extend its height to about 24″-30″. The first seedlings emerge very late in June but as the plants continually produce seed pods I then have new seedlings until the first frost.

In my garden the foliage is a magnet for a small white butterfly.  The dancing moms will pass by many other species to lay their eggs on the Talinum.  The quickly emerging and ravenous lime green caterpillars are almost invisible on the foliage and can decimate the plant in a day. Below you can see the tiny black eggs laid by the butterfly.  Unfortunately or thankfully, depending on your perspective, I had no caterpillars to photograph for you at this moment! When an individual plant gets too chewed down I harvest the flower wands to add to bouquets and just pull up the plant as I know there will be more to come. After all–we all have to eat!

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All in all, the Talinum seedlings are a welcome sight each year.  They provide exuberantly colored foliage and sweet little flowers, both filling in bare spots in the bed.  Though they are not totally without maintenance, the little they require is worth the reward!

Hip, hip, hooray!

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Happy 4th of July to all my gardening friends far and wide!  This very clear but not too orangey red pelargonium is part of a 10+ year breeding program crossing ivy pelargoniums with zonal pelargoniums in search of hybrids with the best of both plants.  The Caliente series is heat and drought tolerant and flowers profusely.  Check out http://www.provenwinners.com for more details and to see photos of the other colors in this series.