Heady with their beauty, these plants are proud to proclaim it loud and clear.
Our climate is changing, and instead of sporting a big ole’ temper tantrum, I’ve decided to adjust to the changes by inviting more and more tropical growers. They must also come with plenty of good foliage color to make up for any lack of blooms. Often, if they do bloom, they wait until fall. A good example of this is Salvia Vanhouettei, a hot, little, red number I now use, throughout the garden, for late summer color continuing into fall.
No matter how high summer temperatures soar, I know this reliable bloomer will grow all summer and then stake its claim in September. Another is S. longispicata x farinacea ‘Mystic Spires Blue.’ I saw this tall, blue beauty blooming its head off in Indianapolis last September and decided it needed to be a part of my repertoire too. In a mild winter, it might return, but don’t bet on it. Instead, plant more next spring.
September is a month of changes with the best saved for month’s end. Cooler temperatures, and by these I mean, in the 80s and 90s give flowers time to build to a blooming crescendo in October.
Tropical plants are not true annuals, but behave as such in a climate super hot in summer and often just as cold in winter. When people visit, they may be wowed by ‘Princess Caroline’ grass, but they routinely ask me if she returns. I shake my head and tell them she does not. Their faces fall, but I try to then convey how she carries my summer beds and borders from late May until October. I just don’t think you can ask more of a plant. All of the Penniseturm purpureum grasses hybridized by Allan Armitage as part of his Athens Select™ program are just as reliable. I’ve trialed many of them, and the hotter the weather, the happier they are. I don’t mind replanting them every year. ‘Prince‘ and ‘Princess‘ are now Proven Winners® plant selections so they should become more available in Oklahoma. So far, the only ones I’ve found locally are ‘Princess Caroline’ and ‘Princess Molly’ from wholesale Guthrie Greenhouses under their Red Dirt Plants label. If you chance upon any in this line, I urge . . . no, I implore you to make room in your garden for these big beauties. They take up a lot of space, but they are drought tolerant–meaning you still must water–but they are sublime if you love the color purple.
Gardeners love flowers, but we need to rely more upon foliage for our color as temperatures grow hotter. We also need to grow plants that bloom in spite of the heat for pollinators. So, we’re in a tricky balance. The southern sun is as bright a thing as God ever created, and under its glare, our garden can appear washed out and sad. At least mine does. I’ve countered this by planting bold foliage, and I counter the boldness with smaller flowers that don’t mind the heat. Salvia greggii ‘Pink Preference’ is a good example. Completely dependable, and the pollinators love it. As I noted above, I also like all of the Salvia vanhouttei group. I wonder how S. vanhouttei ‘Dancing Flames’ from Logee’s would perform here? That’s the wonder of gardening and what keeps my motor running . . . thinking of what to try next year.
Although some of the subtropical beauties, like many of the salvias, will return, most of the bold and beautiful make their presence known in only one season. They aren’t concerned with passing on their genetics or returning another year . . . at least not in my climate. They are like Latin lovers who wow us with their charm and hot, good looks, but leave before summer’s end. I can live with a summer romance. Can you?