Monday, August 4, 2014

August Notes

It was not hard to say goodbye to July.  It was a punishing month, with brief, vicious storms almost every day.  Hail ripped the broad-leaved perennials to shreds.  My giant hostas, for which I held high hopes, are tattered.  I could spend August experimenting with cutting them back, feeding heavily and enjoying new growth, but I fear that will set them back for next year. 

The solution for the moment is to do nothing and think about how to minimize the damage in future years. If you are seduced by the largest of the hostas, it may be wise to plant them alongside smaller leaved plants so that any damage will not be too visible. They would do well with other shade lovers --hydrangea, fern, hellebore, epimedium, heuchera.

Mixed Shade Planting

On the positive side, August is the peak month for garden lilies.  Now is the time to select yours for fall planting.  John Scheepers and Van Engelen bulb catalogs have probably arrived on your doorstep by now, so be sure to work your way to the back of the catalogs, past the daffodils and tulips, to the lilies and make your selection.

There are relatively few chores to tend to in August.  Be sure to replenish mulch; it will decompose in the heat of August.  Finish pruning spring-flowering deciduous shrubs. This is the last call to start perennials and biennials from seed. Garden sales start up in August.  Take advantage of them; container-grown plants will continue to drop in price. Butterflybush (Buddleia) disappeared from almost all gardens this past winter, and the nurseries ran out of stock early.  You will probably feel shortchanged in butterflies this August, unless your beebalm (Monarda) survived.

Buddleia and Friends

Among the brightest spots in the August garden are the Big Yellows.  It’s not uncommon to see Cup plant (Silhpium perforliatum) towering over the top of a roadside fence.  A native of tall prairie grass, it is quite common in the Midwest.  It’s one of the few plants that thrive in the hot, humid summers of the prairie states, and so it seems quite at home here.  The yellow daisy-like flowers are two to three inches in diameter and bloom at the top of the stalks.  They hold their bloom for weeks.  It is rarely seen in the garden, although its dark green foliage would make an excellent backdrop for other perennials.  The plants are tall and wide enough to block an unsightly view, enhance a shed, or simply fill up a large empty space. It is reported to perform best if given full sun and sufficient moisture, but we have seen it in dry clay soils, where it seems to be just fine. 
Cup Plant in an Open Field

The Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) is a more manageable late-summer yellow bloomer.  Growing to a mere five feet, it has a full, airy character, and is not nearly as tall as the Cup plant.  The flowers appear as sprays across the surface of the plant, with yellow rays and brown centers.  It starts to bloom mid-summer and continues into the fall.  The literature on species and varieties is somewhat murky, and it seems to be classified as a biennial, although it performs as a perennial for us. The form is lovely, light and full without being dense, and more graceful than the Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta).  It doesn’t block a view or stop the eye; it encourages you to draw closer.

Brown-eyed Susan

Ligularia stenocephala ‘The Rocket’ will do the same for you in the shade that Brown–eyed Susan and Cup plant will do in the sun. Almost four feet tall and as wide, it sends up tall yellow spires that make a strong counterpoint to its shade-loving companions, invariably hosta and ferns.  Ligularia can be a little difficult to locate correctly in the garden, as they need moist soil and shade for the foliage, but enough sun to produce their spectacularly tall blooms.  Too much sun, and the foliage will wilt during the day.     


A native of Japan, Houttuynia deserves to be tried more widely in American gardens.  It’s very showy; mounds of tiny yellow-green blooms are carried above white petal-like bracts. A rapidly spreading, potentially invasive perennial, its heart shaped leaves and unusual flowers make it a worthy risk.  For the strong of heart, it can be partnered with Gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides),  another beauty hard to control.  This loosestrife requires space, and will win out over any competition.  It will take over your garden if you turn your back on it.   
Gooseneck loosetrife

For next August, think about more white flowers.  Shorter days will bring an earlier twilight and a particular luminosity to white flowers in the garden.  Think about Nicotiana and White phlox for next year.  Perhaps a white Rose of Sharon at the edge of the lawn.

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