Too hot to bother?

Once the dogwoods and cherries, azaleas, and camellias are past bloom, what else is there? Summer is too hot, so why bother with the garden. Nothing will bloom in this infernal heat. Right?

Well, the white Natchez crapemyrtle is just beginning to bloom, and in several weeks it will be joined by five or six other cultivars, then Franklin and Seven Son trees, and hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Penny Mac’, above) and a bunch of shrubs and perennials will flower into September . I am known to become obsessed by one plant or another (or even many at  once), and often the ones that catch my eye flower in the summer or autumn, or have notable foliage color through the “down” seasons. So, there’s plenty in bloom in the garden today, and lots more coming on in the weeks ahead.

The native redbud (Cercis canadensis) has leathery green leaves that hold up well in extreme heat, but the red leafed ‘Forest Pansy’ and variegated ‘Silver Cloud’ (above) stand out in the summer garden. ‘Forest Pansy’ will begin to fade and wimp out late in July, but ‘Silver Cloud’ comes into its glory in June. Its emerging spring foliage is mostly green, with perhaps an edge of pink or cream, and through the spring you would not think there is anything exceptional about this tree. Today, from across the garden you are convinced of its merit. The pink and cream coloration fades only slightly late into the summer, and there is no other tree in the summer garden that is so splendid for so long a period.

A slow growing evergreen magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora, above), ‘Little Gem’ blooms sporadically from late May into late summer. The three southern magnolias in this garden flower over a much shorter period, but on a twenty foot tree there will be a dozen or two blooms at any time over a month so that the show is far from spectacular. The lemony scent is similar to many household cleaning products (not that I have much experience with them), and magnolias are commonplace, but they are a sturdy evergreen with dark, glossy foliage and little else is needed to warrant their inclusion in the garden. Of course, even the smallest magnolias grow quite large, and if the ones in my garden suffer any further snow damage I will be forced to chop them out.

The Japanese Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia, above) blooms only for a few short weeks, but on a shrubby eight foot tree there will be hundreds, or perhaps thousands of white, camellia-like flowers. The tree is slow to become established, and expensive to purchase, but after six or eight years it picks up the pace to grow modestly in width and a wee bit taller each year. I am wedded to this garden for life, and don’t know that I would have the patience to start over with another Stewartia. Since my wait is over, I can say with certainty that this is a splendid tree for any garden, and over growing a site is rarely an issue.

I have planted small clumps of tall nandinas (Nandina domestica, above) throughout the garden. Many gardeners prefer the compact varieties that don’t grow as leggy, but without lower branches the nandinas give the feel of a six foot tall bamboo, and of course one that spreads very slowly. In sun or shade nandinas grow lush foliage, and the clusters of small white blooms are often overlooked. The berries that follow in late summer are often so heavy that sturdy branches lean under their weight, and here is a bothersome issue. Nandinas are considered invasive in many parts of the country, but birds eat the berries reluctantly (I see little sign that they are ever eaten), so the only seeds that germinate are those that drop and roll a few feet from the parent plant. I have yet to see evidence in my garden or elsewhere that this plant is a threat to native species.

To wrap up our day we’ll conclude with the latest of the hydrangeas to burst into bloom. The broad, cone-like flowers of Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, above) open slowly beginning in late May and persist  through June, sometimes into July. The flowers are effective even as they fade to a light tan, and the large, oak-shaped leaves are highly regarded, even if their brilliant red autumn color is not considered. There are low growing and medium sized cultivars available, but I have planted a handful of the tall growing native, and there is not another shrub in the garden treasured more. Alongside the oakleaf and mophead hydrangeas I have planted several lacecap varieties, and though I was slow to warm to ‘Lady in Red’ (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Lady in Red’, below) it now blooms heavily and dependably, and I am happy not to have tossed it out when I was tempted by its meager flowering the first few years after it was planted. I am not highly regarded for my patience, but occasionally laziness is shown to be a virtue when a disappointing plant is given a second and third opportunity.


2 thoughts on “Too hot to bother?

  1. Nice rundown of summer-blooming shrubs/trees! I planted a Magnolia ‘Little Gem’ tree last Fall, but it died over the winter. I’d love to try a Sweetbay Magnolia next, and definitely I should add an Oakleaf Hydrangea to my garden since I only hear such great things about them.

    • Little Gem magnolias are marginally hardy for the mid Atlantic region, and when planted in autumn they are not able to adjust to the transplant before the onset of cold. The cold hardiest of the southern magnolias is Brackens Brown Beauty which has survived temperatures more than twenty degrees below zero.

      Sweet Bay magnolias are only partially evergreen (some loose their leaves entirely) but they are beautiful native trees.

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