Gardening Blog

While you’re waiting… plant some of these! (Part 2)

In my final look at perennials that bridge the gap between spring and summer, I recommend some superb flowers that are tailor made for carrying your garden through the seasonal transition until the main glut of coreopsis, daylilies, echinacea, hydrangeas, garden phlox and Shasta daisies open their blooms as the mercury soars during the dog days of summer.

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Lupins certainly need no introduction to Canadian gardeners, but some folks still seem to think that they’re difficult to grow: Nothing could be further from the truth. All they require is average garden soil (they will even grow in poor soil if it’s well-drained) and as much sunshine as you can provide.

I never buy lupins in a pot because these short-lived perennials (about three years is par for the course) don’t transplant well. They are much easier to grow from seed, which should be pushed about two centimetres into the earth in early spring or autumn. Most strains will bloom from seed in their first year, and they’re as easy to grow as green beans.

These blue lupins (above) sit at the base of a ‘Starlite’ baptisia; the rose that’s in bud to the left of the lupins is ‘Ballerina’. A repeat-blooming hybrid musk cultivar, in summer—and again in early autumn—‘Ballerina’ bears hundreds of single pink flowers in dense clusters. It was introduced by rosarian Ann Bentall (Essex, England) in 1937. Between the baptisia, the lupins and the rose, this small corner of my garden sports blooms for most of the summer and into early autumn.

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Native to northern Italy and the Dalmatian coast (Croatia), Iris pallida (Zone 3), is one of the first bearded irises to bloom, although like hostas and tiarellas, most gardeners grow it for its foliage and consider the blooms a bonus.

Also known as orris root or sweet iris, the dried rhizomes of I. pallida are used as a base note in perfumery (e.g., Prada’s Infusion d’Iris and Christian Lacroix’s Tumulte). Apparently pigeons (or “rock doves” as their rural relations are called) have some pretty highfalutin tastes in designer fragrances too, and soon after planting my clump, I had to add large river stones around the base of the plant to prevent the local pigeons from pecking (and destroying) the rhizomes.

While I like the cooling silver and green foliage of I. p. ‘Argentea Variegata’ (pictured above) best, gardeners with hot coloured borders may prefer the gold and green leaves of I. p. ‘Variegata’; both cultivars require good garden soil with excellent drainage.

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Silver foliage adds a classic touch to any garden, but it’s particularly useful for brightening up dark corners. Dancing in the breeze above the shimmering leaves of Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, Zone 3), the green-edged silver foliage of ‘Majesté’ pulmonaria and a patch of white-flowered forget-me-nots, are the silver-pink flowers of a self-seeded Aquilegia seedling (Zone 3). The result of a natural cross (thank you, bees!) between an A. McKana Group hybrid and an unknown Granny’s bonnet columbine (A. vulgaris), it sprang up across my garden this year in gratifying numbers.

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This sort of happy, unexpected surprise is the gardener’s payoff for planting a variety of different species and cultivars in the same garden: before long, you end up with your own strain of plants. I’ll save seed this year, and keep my fingers crossed that this new hybrid is stable and will reproduce true to type. Certainly the bumblebees appear to approve!

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I always think that summer—real summer—is signalled by the appearance of the first garden peonies (Paeonia lactiflora cvs.). I only have one rule when it comes to these magnificent flowers: they have to stand up under their own steam. I can’t be bothered with staking, and peony rings look ugly for much of the year.

After a heavy rain, these peony blooms (above) may bend a bit, but they don’t crash over and bite the dust, becoming mud-spattered in the process. Most gardeners don’t realise that the double-double flowers of “heritage” peonies—so beloved by our grandmothers—were actually bred between 1890 and 1910 for the Paris cut flower market. They were never intended to be used as garden perennials, so it didn’t matter if they flopped: they were destined for expensive crystal vases in chic La Belle Époque salons!

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