Late-summer perennials

Does your garden need a late summer pick-me-up? Try some of the hardy perennials–they grow to Zone 5 or colder–listed below for a dash of colour when the garden blahs hit. Plant them this fall for  good performance next summer.

Aconitum napellus (blue monkshood)
 Tall perennials that don’t need staking, in several varieties that bloom late July to frost. Part shade; all parts are poisonous.

Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssopShrubby wildflower with blue flowers, about three feet tall. Anise fragrance; attracts bees and butterflies. Flowers are edible. Full sun.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (blue leadwort, also called plumbago)
Low groundcover with blue flowers August through October. Foliage turns maroon in fall. Doesn’t like wet ground in winter; sometimes is late to appear in spring.

Chelone oblique (turtlehead) 
A sturdy little native plant about eight inches high with pink or purple flowers shaped like, well, turtle heads. Sun or partial shade; August through October.

Cimicifuga racemes (bugbane, black cohosh, or snakeroot)
 Ferny foliage and wiry stems with a bottlebrush bloom, four to seven feet tall. Rich, moist soil, sun or partial shade, likes a woodland setting. Early September bloomer. ‘Brunette’ is an attractive cultivar with purply foliage and rosy white flowers. It has a new botanical name: Actaea simplex (Atropurpurea group).

Coreopsis verticillata (thread-leaved coreopsis or tickseed) 
Starts in June or July, but keep deadheading and will flower into September with bright yellow flowers and dainty foliage. Withstands drought and hot sun, about two feet tall and mounding. ‘Moonbeam’ has pale yellow flowers. New cultivars include a pale pink (not as tough as ‘Moonbeam’) and ‘Limerock Ruby’, a deep, rich red.

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ (montbretia) 
Brilliant red, glowing blooms August through September, with gladiolus-like foliage; three feet tall. Needs winter mulch in areas colder than Zone 5.

Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower, echinacea) 
The basic plant is the hardiest and seems to bloom forever, from late July into September. It’s reliable, tough, and copes with heat and dry soil. Grows about three feet high and sometimes taller. Bees and butterflies love it. Good cultivars include ‘Magnus’ (deep pink with dark orange disks), ‘White Swan’ (white with orange-brown disks), ‘Kim’s Mophead’ (like ‘White Swan’ but half the height) and ‘Kim’s Kneehigh’ (purple and half as tall as other varieties). Some of the other cultivars (in yellow, golds, peach, orange, etc) don’t stand up as well, but they’re worth trying out. Also try Echinacea pallida, the pale purple prairie coneflower, which has lovely reflexing petals and languid, ballerina-like stems. Its blooms don’t last as long as purpurea.

Kniphofia hybrids (red hot poker)
 Long, narrow leaves with brilliant yellow, orange or red spikes of bloom; some have all three colours. Grows two to three feet tall, depending on cultivar. Very showy. Attracts hummingbirds. Blooms June to September. Hates wet soil in winter.

Ligularia. A couple of varieties are available. L. dentata has showy dark green rhubarb-like leaves with dark red undersides; its cultivars (‘Othello’, ‘Desdemona’ and others) produce branching stems with bright orange daisy-like flowers. L. stenocephala ‘The Rocket’ has toothed, lighter green leaves and grows spikes of yellow flowers. Both like moist soil in part shade. They’ll take sun but sometimes wilt in the heat of the day. Both upwards of three feet tall.

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian sage) 
Fine-textured gray-green foliage. Flower spikes of lavender blue. Contrasts beautifully with coarse-textured plants and blooms late July to September. About four feet tall, dryish soil. A new, shorter cultivar, ‘Little Spire’, has less tendency to flop.

Phlox paniculata. Phlox is a mainstay of the late summer garden. Many cultivars are available, in various shades of pink, red, orange, mauve-blue, lilac and white. It’s fragrant, grows about four feet tall and likes sun and well-drained soil. Cut off blooms to promote more flowers. Except for the mildew resistant ‘David’ cultivar, plants are prone to powdery mildew–give themsome space for good air circulation.

Solidago rugosa‘Fireworks’ (goldenrod) 
This cultivar of the common wildflower is a clump-forming perennial with horizontal branches of golden yellow flowers that look like exploding fireworks. Blooms late August to October.

Bye-bye garden blahs, hello new life

late summer 1

Suddenly this summer: the hydrangeas puffed out and the phlox bloomed large, the ‘Karl Foerster’ grasses made themselves known and the echinacea took on a strong supporting role, ending my attack of the summer blahs

One thing I like about the garden in late summer is that it signals the end of the mid-summer blahs, that time when everything looks so awful you wonder why you ever took up gardening in the first place.

In late summer something happens. Suddenly the hydrangeas are huge and gorgeous, like massive white–or chartreuse or pink tinged–bowling balls; the Phlox paniculata is in full glory, and the black-eyed Susans are putting out their cheerful yellow faces by the hundreds. I’ve been trying to banish those Susies from my garden for years, but late every summer they redeem themselves by being a bright spot in a sad-looking garden, and so they have managed to stay.

Almost every gardener I know goes though these annual blahs. Partly it’s us–we’ve spent months planning, buying, planting, weeding, mulching, deadheading, and by early August, we (me, anyway; I should speak only for myself) are tired of it all. I can hardly work up the enthusiasm to turn the compost, which is often the only thing in the garden that’s doing well. Continue reading

Art in the garden: letting go at Brillig Manor

jabberwocky bird brillig house

The Jabberwocky bird at the entrance to Brillig Manor could pass for an unusual piece of modern sculpture, but in fact it’s a hint of what’s to come.

I know this is easier said than done, but I think we should let ourselves go a bit in our gardens. We’d have more fun, we might release more tensions, and we’d end up with more memorable gardens, like the one at Brillig House.

I appreciate as much as the next person beautifully tended borders and well-designed pathways, but the gardens I remember years after scouting them for Canadian Gardening magazine and its eponymous TV show are the ones where the gardeners strayed from the rules and let their instincts take over. I was especially intrigued  with those that were  unique to the point of being wacky.

For instance, there was the woman in Halifax who employed a porcelain toilet as a planter; with ivy flowing over the sides it had a surprisingly classic look. A Winnipeg gardener copiously painted old milk cans and washtubs with colourful flowers and moved them around the beds to fill empty spaces when the real flowers faded. Then there was the Berkeley, California, gardener who set cobalt blue bottles over the ends of the limbs of a mature tree in her backyard. It fairly glowed in the afternoon sunlight.

“What kind of tree is that?” I asked before it registered that they were real bottles. “It’s a blue bottle tree,” she replied, deadpan, then explained that it’s an old tradition–the bottles trap evil spirits who are attracted by the lovely colour and can’t get out.

Which brings me to my point, and another California gardener–Darlene Graeser, whose phantasmagorical garden I visited on the Westlake Village Garden Club Annual Garden Tour in California in early May. Darlene’s garden is called Brillig Manor because it’s inspired by Lewis Carrol’s nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” in Alice Through the Looking Glass, which begins “Twas bryllig, and ye slithy toves/ did gyre and gymble in ye wabe…”

Actually, it’s not only Darlene’s garden—her husband, John, handles the plants ( the garden smelled hypnotically of lavender and rosemary on that warm sunny day) and Darlene does the garden decor. In their other lives, he’s a dentist and she’s a clinical psychologist. What do you make of that?

Darlene has a third life, too–as an artist. And the interior of  her house is a fantastical as her garden. We couldn’t stop ourselves from peeking in the windows. Check out her website to see all her work, which includes jewellery, too.

But words can’t do this garden justice, so here are some photos of the garden at Brillig Manor. I hope they inspire you to let yourself go in your garden.

brillig front 1 The entrance garden is deceivingly  simple, with gravel mulch punctuated by low grasses,  and a footbridge over a stream bed. Then you wonder about the huge mosaic-tiled balls, and notice that that the stream bed isn’t water at all–it’s also made of colourful tiles.

The  agave  looked a little odd, too.  I wanted to straighten it up.

 The front door is classically lovely, with etched glass doors and a tiled entrance pad.  What’s different is the ribbon of limestone that runs right across the front of the house. front door Discreet yet stylish, we thought. Then we rounded the corner to the covered patio at the side of the house.  WOW! patio This is where the window peeking began–that’s me at upper left.There was so much to take in I almost overlooked the painted sofa. painted sofaSomeone told me Darlene had John lie on the sofa so she could draw his outline, then she sat at the other end so her silhouette could be drawn. Then she painted the figures on the fabric. After that we–my son Joe was with me, as well as my husband, Chris, who took the pictures–we wandered and gawked.  And did more window peeking. window peeking bum and gravel garden tools

We saw some unusual plantings ….






And  the colourful area where some garden tools were stored.






There were lots of comfy places to sit in the garden…one was made out of an old bathtub

sofa….and many pieces of statuary to look at .
statuary 2           dog statuary           







statuaryy 1

And of course there’s a pool–this is California, isn’t it?

This pool is different, however–it has a beach edge, which beckoned me to walk in and cool my feet. I resisted…Guess I’m not quite as unhibited as Darlene.


I’ll never forget the Graesers’ garden, but the Westlake Village Garden tour had five very different spreads to view, including a huge one done Provencal style, and a smallish suburban one that featured California native and Mediterranean plants.

If you’d like to take a tour and feel inspired, go to my Photo Gallery page.

A few flowers–and Canada Blooms–will cure the winter mopes

I mope a bit at this time of year, waiting for more daylight and my plant fix. But supermarket flowers help me keep sane. Sometimes $5 worth of less-than-perfect tulips plonked into my best vase and set on the kitchen island will do the trick.

kitchen tulips

Other times I splurge with a few stems from the florist, like these pink peonies cut short and jammed into a vase. They smell good, too. Continue reading