Last week I talked about how some of our perennials look so sad this time of the year with the heat and humidity, not to mention lack of rain. But…take heart, there are some plants that thrive in the heat and continue to look good through it all. Many of these plants are natives that have been embraced as nursery plants. European and British landscapers call them “Prairie Plants” and they are currently all the rage over there. It is interesting to see what we might recognize as meadow “weeds” in naturalistic plantings around the globe done by internationally famous designers.
One of my personal favorites is Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Although it is a short lived perennial (five years or less), it readily reseeds. The off spring might not look like the parent since it is non-clonal, but that is part of the fun. Try to find a variety that is as close to the native as possible – that is just plain Echinacea purpurea and not the hybrids that might go by names such as “Pink Poodle” or "Tomato Soup.” The Chicago Botanic Garden is doing Coneflower trials to see which new hybrids are worth the money and which last the longest and there are some surprising results. I do like Echinacea purpurea “Magnus” because it seems the closest to the original native form.
Salvias— Be still my heart. I have never met a Salvia that I did not like. Pollinators love them, there are many many varieties and colors, and they are deer resistant. What is not to like? If they look tatty, cut them back and off they will go again. My favorites are Salvia “Amistad” (from Argentina of all places- Salvia guaranitica x gesniiflora), Salvia “Wendy’s Wish” (of course), Salvia “Ember’s Wish,” Salvia “Black and Bloom” or “Black and Blue” (Salvia guaranitica), Salvia splendens “Lighthouse Purple” (never stops blooming and looking great), and a new variety called Salvia “Rockin Playin the Blues.” They do not spread by seeds, but you can split up clumps and/or take cuttings to root in the spring.
Another native is Rudbeckia hirta or fulgida. This is your classic Black-eyed Susan that you often see by the side of the road. Hungry deer can nibble on them so give them a spray. I use Deer Stopper available online. They reproduce well from seeds so when I deadhead them, I scatter the flower heads in the garden to see where they will come up next. When you buy them at the nursery, they need quite a bit of water to get started in the heat. They look great planted in drifts through out the garden for a bright splash of yellow.
Then there is a real pollinator favorite, Cuphea vermilionaire or firecracker plant. (There are several plants referred to as “firecracker plants” and that is why I use the Latin binomial) Cuphea can be grown as an annual, but with our increasingly warm winters, mine has bloomed and flourished all winter long. Hummingbirds and bees absolutely adore this plant. Warning—it can get quite large. Mine is five feet by five feet. You can trim it to keep it in control. It is not deer resistant, but can be grown in a container on a deck to keep little cloven footed minions from nibbling. Or you can spray.
These are just a few of my personal favorites to give you blooms through out the year and occasionally all year. Next week, I will be investigating some annuals that you can start from seed right now to have a nice bit of autumn color. Some annuals require being sown in the fall in the Lowcountry for a spring flowering. Who knew?