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Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Gardening: Add some life to perk up your summer garden

Joanne Young
Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report

Well, July has come and gone, and August promises to be another warm month. Sometimes during this mid- to late-summer season, we can find our gardens looking a bit tired, lacking colour and in need of some new life.

I am sure that most of you who have some experience gardening, if questioned, could come up with names of a few mid-summer blooming perennials such as: purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, Russian sage, summer phlox and daylilies.

These proven-over-time plants are the staples in our summer gardens and rightly so. But there are other underused perennials that should be considered when creating a new space or renovating an existing garden. Here are a few of my summer favourites:

Bear’s Breeches – Acanthus mollis: If the Latin name “Acanthus” sounds familiar to you, that it is because the shape of its leaves has been used as a big part of Roman and Greek architecture for centuries. Although this Zone 6 perennial will tolerate full sun, I find that it thrives best in a light shade with an evenly moist soil. It’s very large, glossy, dark green, thistle-shaped leaves makes a bold statement on their own, but then in mid-July the plant will push up three to five feet tall, sturdy stalks with showy, purple and white flowers. It is sure to be the centre of attention in any garden.

Leopard Plant – Ligularia: There are several species of Ligularia available to purchase and although their leaf and flower shapes vary greatly, they all have very large, lush leaves and bloom mid- to late summer with yellow to orange coloured flowers which can either be in a spike form or as black-eyed susan-like form. They prefer to be planted in a moist to boggy soil. They are a great addition to any part shade or shade garden. 

Two of the most popular varieties of Ligularia are “bottle rocket” and Ligularia dentata “Britt Marie Crawford” that sports large, round burgundy leaves with orange black-eyed Susan like flowers.

Dwarf Torchlily (Red Hot Poker) – Kniphofia: For many years, the Red Hot Pokers were a common sight in the perennial border, but like so many plants, it seemed to have lost favour with gardeners. Over the last five years or so though, there has been a revival with the addition of new dwarf varieties as well as some long blooming and repeat blooming cultivars. The colours range from yellow through different shades of orange to red. Red hot pokers prefer a full sun location with a drier, sandy type soil. The different varieties range in height from 18 inches to three feet. For that fresh summer look I like a combination of orange flowers beside something with a bright lime coloured foliage such as lime coralbells or golden barberry.

Sneezeweed (aka ‘Helen’s Flower’) – Helenium autumnale:

Contrary to this plant’s common name, this fabulous native perennial flower does not make you sneeze. In the ancient day they used to dry the leaves making a snuff to induce sneezing to rid one of evil spirits. Hardy to zone 3, sneezeweed will provide you with six to eight weeks of flowers from late July into September. The late pollinators, such as bumble bees, are attracted to the flowers in preparation for their winter hibernation. This plant enjoys growing in a sunny location with evenly moist soil. 

A few other less commonly used perennials worthy of mention are: perennial hibiscus, crocosmia, butterfly weed and agastache. So, if you are finding that your garden is need of summer sizzle, consider some of these plants to perk up your garden in August.

Joanne Young is president of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Horticultural Society. For 30 years, she worked as a garden designer/consultant at Mori Gardens in NOTL, leading seminars and workshops on many gardening topics. Since the closing of the garden centre in December 2020, she has operated her own business designing gardens and coaching people on how to improve and properly care for their gardens. Gardening is truly her passion. She is writing this exclusive gardening column for The Lake Report. See her website at joanneyoung.ca.


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