By adding some very special mid-season perennials, you can make an enormous difference to the whole look and feel of your summer garden. Because many other garden plants may be on their way out, these perennials will look good while tolerating the intense summer heat, drought and occasional heavy rainfalls.
At the very top of my list of favourites are the rudbeckias. The tender perennial varieties provide yeoman service at this time of year, especially the compact R. ‘Becky’ series, and the smaller flowered, low growing variety named after Dorothy’s dog in the Wizard of Oz, ‘Toto’. This is their time to shine. Perhaps one of the finest of all the rudbeckias is the truly hardy variety R. ‘Goldsturm’. Growing about two feet high with deep golden petals surrounding a dark brown button, ‘Goldsturm’ just keeps pouring out the colour well into October. Rudbeckia ‘Early Bird Gold’ is truly two weeks earlier for fast colour and the new dwarf Rudbeckia ‘Gold Star’ forms a low round ball of amazing colour.
Echinacea has been more recently sold as a herb because of its healing properties, but it also has exquisite flowers. ‘Echinacea purpurea’ is sold as the herbal variety, but pink E. ‘Magnum’ and the white flowering ‘White Swan’ are classy looking plants that add an unique quality to summer gardens. They last well, even tolerating some frost, and the spent blossoms make interesting dried flowers. There are all kinds of new colours, like ‘Tomato Soup’ and ‘Hot Coral Salsa’, and the new ‘PowWow Wildberry’ and ‘White Berry’ are so prolific and stunning – they are a continuous source of colour. The new E. ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ is a great plant, having lovely warm prairie colours.
In shady spots or in full sun, perhaps the most elegant of all the summer perennials are the Japanese anemones. In colours of white, pink or dusty rose, these plants are a definite hit at this time of year. The yellow-centered anemone blossoms always have a fresh look about them, and they combine well with so many other perennials or shrubs. The white varieties especially brighten up shady areas. I am particularly intrigued with the new dwarf varieties, both the ‘Lady’ series and ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Pocahontas’. They are about half the size but are a powerhouse of colour all summer.
For some early fall tones, add a bit of fire to your flower beds with crocosmias. For years they were called montbretia and sold as tiny bulbs, but today they are usually sold in ‘bud and bloom’ as perennials. Crocosmias need a somewhat sheltered spot and very well drained soil, but wow, do they ever add spice to our gardens with their fire-orange freesia-type blossoms! Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is an exceptional scarlet red variety from Blooms in England, and it’s a big hit with hummingbirds. The new ‘Lucifer Orange’ and ‘Lucifer Yellow’ are making their debut this year as well.
Lush looking sedums are especially important at this time of year. The succulent foliage of ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Brilliant’ certainly looks great all summer and never stresses out in drought situations. As the rosy pink blossoms open, they provide refreshing new colour for weeks. They combine well with low-growing conifers or small flowering shrubs like potentillas. As the pink flowers turn bronze, they should be left on the plant for a rather charming dried ‘fall look’. There are so many new varieties today, it’s hard to keep up, but I particularly like the ‘Xenox’ series and the variegated yellow and green ‘Elsie May’.
Heleniums have come a long way in the past few years with new colours and sizes. H. ‘Short ‘n Sassy’ is a 12” repeat bloomer that is simply magnificent. The small gold or gold-bronze petals bloom well into autumn, and they stand up well in summer heat.
These are some of my ‘tried and true’ favourites that add fresh new life to summer gardens. Combine them with colourful conifers, broadleaved plants and evergreen perennials, like heucheras and euphorbias for some spectacular displays.