Despite the recent bouts of high humidity, this has been an enjoyable summer. A far cry from last year when I was spending about an hour most days lugging water to my 30+ containers plus the thirsty vegetables. Even some shrubs and trees were wilting because of the drought. We’ve been getting fairly regular rainfall and while I still do have to water my containers a few times a week and keep late seedings of chard, beets, carrots and beans moist, all in all I have had more time to garden and enjoy my plants than water them.

Summer flowering bulbs are such fun. Blossoms are unusual, often colorful and add an exotic touch of the tropics to beds and containers. I started with 3 pineapple lily bulbs (Eucomis comosa) about a decade ago and they have been slowly but happily multiplying. They seem to do best where they get a half-day sun in my gardens.

pineapple lilies

Pineapples lilies by dmp,2017

Gloriosa lilies (Gloriosa rothschildiana) are pretty glorious to look at with their recurved red and yellow flowers. I have them growing in a half whisky barrel with an obelisk to grow up. Native to tropical Africa, gloriosa lilies are vines that climb using their leaves. The ends of the leaves are modified tendrils and grasp on to their support or other plants. There is a moonflower vine and a scarlet morning glory also growing up the obelisk.

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Gloriosa lily surrounded by moon flower foliage by dmp, 2017

Most people just think about growing 4 o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) from seed and do not realize that they can dig up the tuberous roots. As the roots increase in size, so doesn’t the top growth so they plants get about 4 feet high and wide and are covered with bright yellow tubular blossoms that open late in the day as the name suggests. Four o’clocks come in a number of delightful colors, some even speckled or variegated. This year I planted an orange one from seed but it has not bloomed yet. Two things to consider when growing these plants are that they need to be staked or the top-heavy stems will keel over and Japanese beetles do find them tasty.

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Yellow 4 O’clock by dmp, 2017

Dahlias rank close to the top for favorite summer bulbs. They get planted along the picket fence in the front of the house each year. Since the house is a pale peach, I tend to plant dahlias in shades of yellow, orange, peach and bronze. I am especially fond of the varieties with bronze foliage and single blossoms like ‘Elise’ and ‘Bishop of Oxford’ although ‘Peaches and Cream’ is an outstanding double with cream to peach to yellow colorations.

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Dahlias along front picket fence and marigolds lining front walkway by dmp, 2017

dahlias Elise & Bishop of Orange

Dahlias, ‘Elise’ left and ‘Bishop of Oxford’ right by dmp, 2017

One of my favorite garden centers, Tri-County Greenhouse (http://www.tri-countyarc.org/tricountygreenhouse.html) in Mansfield, CT, which sells a superb selection of both common and unusual plants, had some chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) for sale this spring. I stuck one in a container with some chocolate daisies (Berlandiera lyrata) that I had started from seed (they still have not started blooming yet) and set it on the picnic table. At the end of a hot summer day, a light chocolate fragrance is emitted from the burgundy blossoms.

chocolate cosmos

Chocolate cosmos by dmp, 2017

Orange tiger lilies (Lilium tigrinum) are in full bloom right now. Because of the lily leaf beetle, I have my true lilies clustered in 2 locations so I can hand-pick the little buggers off on a daily basis. Second generation beetles are out but after squishing about a dozen, I have not noticed any more these past few days. Tiger lilies spread fairly fast because of the numerous black bulbils that are produced in the axils of the leaves. They are native to China and reputedly, the bulbs can be cooked and eaten although I have never tried doing so.

tiger lilies

Orange tiger lilies by dmp,2017

Plants for hummingbirds dot the yard including flowering quince, azaleas, bee balm, salvias, red morning glories trumpet vines and nasturtiums. On the deck are window boxes filled with nasturtiums including more compact ‘Peach Melba’ along with some longer vining ones that I save the seeds from. Nasturtiums are also edible so the flowers and leaves can be used to add a peppery flavor to salads. The seeds have been pickled and used as a substitute for capers.

nasturtium peach melba 3

Nasturtium ‘Peach Melba’ by dmp, 2017

Enjoy this beautiful summer and take some time to see how well your plants are doing. If your yard is lacking an infusion of color, think about what you can add to make next summer’s scene more vibrant.

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Treebeard admiring the front flowers by dmp,2017

Happy Gardening!

Dawn

I decided I might as well stop complaining about all the rain and cloudy weather that we in the Northeast have been receiving and focus on the parts of my garden that are making me happy right now. After all, why garden if it does not make you smile? About now my summer flowering bulbs are taking center stage in both beds and containers. I generally grow about a dozen or so species of tender bulbs each year. Most I overwinter and replant but a few, like caladiums, I just purchase each spring as I just have not found the right overwintering technique for them.

Among my favorite flowers are dahlias and I think that ‘Elise’ and ‘Bishop’s Orange’ are my two top contenders because of their wonderful bronze foliage that provides such a perfect foil for the mid-sized blooms. I like the tall dahlias peering over the picket fence in front of the house in shades of orange, peach, gold and cream. Some are named varieties that I have purchased to fit in with my color scheme. Others have been given to me by friends so that I grow ‘Kim’s Purple’, ‘Ginny’s Red’ and Judy’s Pink’. Dahlias make absolutely wonderful cut flowers. If you can start them early either indoors in March or outdoors in late April, you will get flowers from early summer until heavy frost. Also, if plants are off to an early start, they will quickly outgrow insect feeding damage. I’m not actually sure what feeds on dahlia foliage in May and June but I’m thinking slugs and maybe earwigs. 

Bronzy foliage and flowers of 'Elise'

Bronzy foliage and flowers of 'Elise'

Gloriosa lilies have tendrils at the ends of their leaves which will clasp on to structures making them climbing lilies. Heavily recurved flowers are red and yellow and 3 to 4 inches across. I have them growing up an obelisk in a half whiskey barrel on the porch. They only flower for about a month so I also grow the cardinal climber, which is not a bulb but a member of the morning glory family, in the same container. I plant 6 or 8 seeds of the cardinal climber at the same time I plant the Gloriosa lily bulbs. They start to bloom about the time the Gloriosa lily peters out and are wildly attractive to hummingbirds.

 

Gloriosa lily

Gloriosa lily

Four O’clocks are an old-fashioned annual and most people grow them from seed. Tubular flowers in shades of yellow, white and pink open late in the day and have a soft, lemony scent to them. A few unique varieties have flowers sporting multiple colors. Many gardeners don’t realize that a tuberous root is forming beneath the soil throughout the growing season. This can be dug up after the plant succumbs to frost and then stored just like dahlias. A great reason for doing this is that the plant gets larger and larger each year as its root mass grows. Right now my Four O’clocks are 4 to 5 feet wide and about 3 feet tall. They combine right nicely with self seeding blue browallia and the red-leaved, orange-flowering canna ‘Wyoming’.

 

Yellow four o'clocks grown from tubers

Yellow four o'clocks grown from tubers

All along the base of the porch I have both plain green-leaved and red-leaved ‘King Humbert’ cannas. Their tropical foliage says summer is here and the broad leaves screen the empty area under the porch. While some of the newer named varieties seem to need a bit of coddling for the first year or two before they take off, these two go gangbusters each year and I’m always trying to find a home for all the leftover tubers I have after planting my canna beds. The only problem I have with cannas is that the Japanese beetles do like the flowers. Since I mainly grow them for their foliage, this isn’t quite as upsetting as when Japanese beetles are eating the roses.

 Years ago I ordered some galtonias seeds (summer hyacinth) from Thompson & Morgan. The seeds germinated quite easily and I grew them indoors until they formed little bulbs and could be set out for the summer during their second growing season. Delicate, white bell-shaped flowers dangle from 30 inch stems each August. The bulbs increase in size each year and I keep looking for little bulbils but have yet to find any when I dig them in the fall.

 

Summer hyacinths - galtonia candicans

Summer hyacinths - galtonia candicans

This year’s gardens also include pineapple lily, gladioli, agapanthus, tuberous begonias, caladiums and crinum lilies. I planted my amaryllis bulbs in a shady spot to spend the summer and I just noticed what looks like a flower stalk emerging from the base. Usually amaryllis just makes more leaves which send food back to the bulb so their will be plenty of energy to produce those spectacular trumpet-shaped blossoms around the holidays.

 It is true that summer flowering bulbs are for the most part not hardy and therefore need to be dug and stored over the cold winter months. But this is a small price to pay for such a colossal show that puts a smile on my face – despite the rain!

Dawn