A garden without beautiful foliage is boring especially in the middle of a hot summer. Except in Oklahoma’s most temperate years, most flowers slow down or even stop. That’s why roses in my part of the country are spring and fall performers. They hang on through summer petulant and miserable as only queens can. Since Oklahoma is rarely temperate I’ve come to rely upon beautiful foliage plants, both perennial and tropical, to carry my garden into fall.
Then, if it gets too hot in July and August, I go on vacation leaving the garden to fend for itself for a couple of weeks. Because I have a watering system, I can do that. I gardened for twenty plus years with soaker hoses and timers. In fact, the garage bed below is still on a soaker hose and timer. I run it for an hour four days a week. It has very sandy soil because of all the builder’s sand from when we built the garage.
Before you hit the nurseries this spring–I see you Bustani Plant Farm lovers–consider foliage before blooms. Gardens take planning, and now is the time to plan. I’m predicting a hot and dry spring followed by a La Nina summer. God help us, I hope 2016 isn’t like 2011 parts I and II. That was the worst summer of my entire gardening life. Unfortunately, 2016 is starting out similarly. It was 73°F again yesterday with lows above freezing most of February. I’m not complaining. I’ll just enjoy this perfect weather while it lasts.
While there are summer flowers for summer heat, if we have a hot and dry summer again, your blooms won’t be as abundant. No amount of watering takes the place of rain, and we must conserve water. As I explained to a friend from another state, in the middle of summer in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, nights stay almost as hot as the days. Plants never get a chance to recover. It’s like asking Southern belles to wear their petticoats to bed with no air conditioning. How would you like to bed down on a sleeping porch in a hoop skirt?
Yeah, me neither. Easier to grow a dark dramatic grass like the one above at the Botanic Garden at Oklahoma State University, than a temperamental rose any day. I still like roses though. I bought two new English roses this spring.
Which beautiful foliage plants do I love best? Let’s start with that charming chameleon coleus. There are so many wonderful varieties these days because most don’t mind the sun.
Let’s pause a moment and let that last sentence sink in. How many of you remember when coleus was only a shade plant?
Can I get a hallelujah? The pot, above, is a large one that sits on my back deck in full sun most of the day. ‘Henna’ coleus shrugs off the heat. However, remember that these pots have drip irrigation and with a timer set to run everyday. I have different sized nozzles for different pots depending upon how much water they need.
One of the earliest sun varieties was ‘Alabama Sunset,’ and I still grow it although there are plenty of others from which to choose. Some were developed at the University of Florida. I love Big Red Judy™, Electric Lime™ and Royal Glissade™. Maybe I should write a post called “Crazy ’bout Coleus.” Look for that next week. Ha!
Alternanthera is a varied genus full of opportunity. Yes, it’s tropical and will die with the first freeze, but cuttings are an option for overwintering, or you can buy more plants the following spring. I’m always on the lookout for ‘Red Threads’ or ‘Purple Knight,’ and the latter can be grown from seed. I often find alternanthera in the strangest places like Under the Sun Garden Centers in Edmond. If you see a unique foliage plant, and it’s not a coleus, it will probably be alternanthera. Alternanthera doesn’t look like much in a four-inch pot, but give it a little organic fertilizer, water and heat from the sun, and voila! you have almost instant beauty.
Iresine is another genus you should take advantage of for your garden. Chicken gizzard plant–a sad name for such a beautiful plant–always grows here in summer. I have some starts in the greenhouse waiting patiently. ‘Blazin’ Rose’ is really pretty if you can find it. So is ‘Brilliantissima’ glowing hot pink in the photo above.
Also, don’t forget some of the brilliant amaranth and celosia. I grew ‘Dragon’s Breath’ last summer. Oh la la. It takes forever to bloom, but who cares?
Not all beautiful foliage is tropical either. Don’t forget red Japanese maples, or the green ones, like ‘Sango-kaku‘ that turn amber in the fall. ‘Tamukeyama’ is the most sun tolerant Japanese maple I grow. Here is when it was very small. Consider adding dark-leaved and mysterious cannas to your repertoire. I
love adore ‘Austrailia,’ and there are others. Also, you might find a four-inch pot of Japanese false nettle, Boehmeria nipononivea ‘Kogane Mushi,’ at Bustani Plant Farm, although I’m told it’s mostly a fall offering. Still, you might ask when you visit. I bought three plants three years ago, and last summer, they looked like this. Also, they don’t have the stinging hairs of real nettles which is a relief.
Whew! That’s a lot to think about as you plan your garden. Now, tell me which foliage plants carry your garden through summer. Now, mes amies, I’d love to learn some new ones as I’m always on the lookout for beautiful foliage. I’m headed out to the garden because it’s another beautiful, almost-spring day. See you soon!