The heat’s on


I’ve just returned from a week touring nurseries in Oregon, and I’m ready to go back. Today’s forecast for Virginia is upper nineties and high humidity after a week with no humidity and temperatures in the seventies on the west coast. There was an weather alert on the Portland area TV news on Thursday to be aware of the muggy conditions as temperatures approached eighty, but of course the day felt dry as a desert.

I’m happy to return to my evening stroll through the garden, and a few weeds have popped up in my absence, though I’m dripping in sweat after a few minutes. With high temperatures, and without irrigation and only a few brief rain showers, the lawn grasses have gone dormant and are browning, but many perennials are well suited to these conditions and flourish.

Hostas in the garden are shaded from the worst of the summer sun, and though they are not grown for their flowers, many are quite beautiful in bloom (above). A few varieties are past, but others will flower through the next month.

Leadwort (Ceratostigma, above)  is most striking in the early fall, when the oval, green leaves turn to red, but flowering has begun in late June and will extend into September. It is low growing, easy to grow, and quite carefree, and though it’s rhizomes are reputed to be invasive it’s growth is easily controlled if it should stray too far.  

Agastache (above), or Hummingbird Mint, spreads itself moderately in the garden by seed, though the seedlings are not vigorous enough to force their way through neighbors. There are dozens of seedlings in early summer, but few that mature unless they are transplanted to a sunnier location. Agastache is another carefree perennial, though it will fade a bit in late summer if not provided with adequate rainfall or irrigation (don’t we all).  

The pineapple-like blooming stalks of Pineapple lilies (Eucomis) are beginning to emerge, and the dwarf ‘Octopus’ (above) is nearing full bloom. ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ (below) and others will take another few weeks before reaching their peak. Its deep burgundy strap-like foliage is splendid in contrast with the variegated caryopteris.

Summer moisture is essential to prevent the deeply dissected leaves of Ligularia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ (below) from wilting, though this slow to grow, summer blooming clumper requires no other care. I have planted Dragon’s Breath at the base of a stone wall where water overflows occasionally from one of the ponds, mostly in full sun, but shaded at midday. It appears quite happy in this spot.

And so I’m resigned to sweat it out, but there is adequate shade in the garden, and an occasional dip in the deep swimming pond to cool off on the most sweltering afternoons. The plants in this garden have not been raised with regular irrigation, only with the moisture that nature provides, and there are many more blooms to look forward to through the summer.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. suzanne mclaughlin says:

    Thanks so much for your blog which has lots of interesting and useful information.
    Specific question — We live in Alexandria, have a pretty big, flat yard partially shaded by several mature oaks, and then heading downhill into some woods. The hill is ours and is where we dump leaves.
    It is pretty shady, but with dappled sun. I would love to find a perennial to plant throughout the hill that would naturalize quickly. Any thoughts?
    While we have a few nandina growing there — that is pretty much it.
    Thanks for your help! Suzanne

    1. Dave says:

      There are a number of perennials that flourish in shade, but fewer that will naturalize and spread quickly in the dry shade of a woodland or slope. In my garden the most successful to spread under these more difficult conditions is Euphorbia robbaie, which spreads slowly and dependably through dense shallow maple roots. I do not grow lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria), but it will spread in these adverse conditions.

      Lysimachias, including the red leafed Firecracker and low growing Creeping Jenny will spread, but generally prefer more moisture, much the same as gingers (Asarum) and lamium. Epimedium and hostas will grow well in dry shade, but will not naturalize as readily. I would also consider some shade tolerant shrubs for the area as well, and plants such as aucuba, plum yew (Cephalotaxus), and mahonias can cover some ground and add color. Ostrich fern is an excellent spreader that prefers moist conditions, but will spread more slowly in a drier spot.

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