(Originally published September 4, 2014 in East Bay/South Coast Life.)
Since the first witch hazel flower unfurled and crocus poked out of the ground last winter I haven’t for one minute been bored with my garden. I’ve been frustrated by it, challenged, thwarted, and enthralled by turns. It has given me plenty to fuss over, weed out, wish for, and has taught me endless lessons about my own preferences. And as a bonus, it’s coming into its own now, fashionably late and bursting at the seams with my favorite colors and activity.
I wanted to see more blue and for awhile, when the balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflora) was blooming, I did. Unfortunately, its flowers looked more purple than blue against the cerulean of the chairs I spray-painted to fill the void. Now though, bluebeard, Caryopteris × clanodensis ‘Summer Sorbet’, is beginning to bloom an exact match in clusters up and down stems of variegated chartreuse and green foliage.
Caryopteris is a true-blue, late-blooming, bee-friendly shrub in the mint family that doesn’t run like a mint, though it sometimes self-sows, and prefers full sun and the holy grail of well-drained, moist soil. In my garden it seems to tolerate drought just fine, and in any garden, benefits from a hard whacking back in early spring to its lowest sets of leaf buds.
After last winter’s cold I despaired of seeing marginally-hardy hummingbird sage (Salvia guaranitica) rise from the dead, but it came back with vigor and is, at long last, putting heart and soul into flaunting skinny cobalt studded spires. In a recent New York Times article, Anne Raver sang its praises for attracting hummingbirds like a magnet and being a complementary dance partner. Everything looks great with blue.
Clematis heracleifolia, a spreading non-climber with palm-sized leaves and indigo-blue banana peel flowers in whorled intervals along its stems deserves applause right now too. It would be a little gangly looking on its own but in my garden it dances like Fred Astaire with Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’).
Except for about six months in the third grade, purple was never my favorite color. As I write this though, my bush clover, Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’, transplanted from a too-tight spot and about to erupt in hot-pinky-purple flounces of tiny pea-flowers, will make me change my mind entirely. Bush clover wants plenty of space to twirl its skirts: a good six or eight feet around will do. Being a legume-family nitrogen fixer, it’s not particular about soil fertility but wants a little moisture, please, and full sun too. Like the bluebeard, be sure to prune its stems to the ground, or very close to, in early spring or you’ll have a monster in your garden.
I probably should have whacked back my towering clumps of ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) in spring too, as they were beginning to shoot skyward. No matter. Their tall stems are sturdy and upright for the most part, and their height, particularly when their electric purple flower clusters are topped by a hungry swallowtail butterfly, looks great against the backdrop of my carpenter’s shop wall. Because this gorgeous native wants moist soil, and isn’t too picky about drainage, I planted it where it receives the soaker hose drippings from one of my rain barrels. Periodic downpours this summer seem to have been great for the ironweed. And everything else.
I wish I had time and space to rhapsodize about all of the other late bloomers in my garden such as bright yellow Helianthemum ‘Lemon Queen’, the exotic-dancer (native) spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata), and legions of tender perennials. Stay tuned. Summer may be coming to end for some but this garden is just getting its groove on.