If you’re anything like me, the summer itch has hit. That’s the point where I’m itching to rearrange the garden to cover the bald spots, hide the plants that are past their peak, and adjust for conditions that turned out different than I expected. But it’s hot. Not all plants appreciate being transported and planted in the heat. I miss the spring freedom to plant, move, or divide whatever might need it. So I asked our longtime collaborator and reliable planting expert, Evan of The Practical Plant Geek what’s good to order and plant when we find ourselves in the dog days. These heat tolerant plants will do quite nicely.
The Wedge-Leaved Wattle (Acacia pravissima) is a novelty shrub or small tree that should be more widely grown. Unique, blue-green leaves clasp the stems and branches and despite their pointy appearance are soft to the touch. In late winter and early spring, fragrant, yellow flowers that look like little pom-poms beckon early pollinators and people alike. Hardy in Zones 8-10, Wedge-Leaved Wattle grows quickly to 25 feet tall and wide but can be pruned to create a more compact plant, if desired.
Agave ‘Blue Glow’ would also make a stunning focal point. Producing blue-green leaves with yellow and red colored edges, ‘Blue Glow’ forms a compact rosette, two feet tall and wide. Similar to the other rock garden plants listed here, Agave ‘Blue Glow’ can also be grown in a container. It is winter hardy to 10 degrees F., (Zone 8).
Another viable contender for the winter wildlife garden is Arctostaphylos manzanita ‘Blue Tip’. One of the bluest of the blue Manzanitas, this 12 by 12 foot shrub is a winter bloomer with white flowers starting in December, attracting Anna’s hummingbirds and other pollinators. Forming a tall, pyramidal shape, the bark and stems mature to a bright orange-red, contrasting beautifully with the power-blue leaves. Hardy in Zones 7 to 10b, it needs very little summer water once established.
Kinnickinnick (Arctostaphylos uva ursi) is a low-growing, evergreen ground cover. With small, glossy-green leaves it produces white flowers in spring followed by bright red berries. Growing to just eight inches tall, if happy, it will spread several feet. Winter hardy to Zone 4. Drought tolerant, it needs very little water once established. It also makes a cute, year round container plant.
Chinese Ground Orchid (Bletilla ochracea) is a plant collector’s favorite, not widely planted although it should be. Almost too good to be true, dramatic flowers rise 1-2 feet tall above pleated strappy leaves. Happiest with morning sun and moist soil, it can spread to form a colony. Winter hardy to Zone 7.
California Allspice (Calycanthus occidentalis) is a medium to large, deciduous shrub growing to 12 feet tall and wide. In summer, large, dusky-red flowers perfume the air with their spicy fragrance. Easy to grow in either full or part sun and average, well-draining soil and adequate water. The more water, the bigger the plant. Winter hardy to 5 degrees F.
Willow-Leaved Jessamine (Cestrum parqui) is a fast growing shrub, up to 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide. In early summer until fall, the deep-green, willow-shaped leaves are enhanced with soft yellow, tubular flowers that emit a pleasing fragrance in the evening. Hardy in Zones 7-10b, it may die back to the ground but will resprout in spring, growing bigger and better the following year. Full sun to light shade and regular summer water will make it happy.
Butterfly Gladiola (Gladiolus papilio) is not your grandma’s gladiola. Here is a flower that demands close inspection. Starting in late summer and continuing into fall, each funnel-shaped flower is exquisitely painted with purple, burgundy, yellow and lavender markings. Perfect for the border, the rock garden and the table, as it makes an excellent cut flower. Easy to grow in any soil in Zones 7a-11, in full sun, the corms will multiply to create an 18 inch wide clump.
Hardy Ginger Lily (Hedychium coronarium) starts its fragrant floral show in late summer and early fall, just as the rest of the garden is winding down. During spring and summer, fleshy stems grow up to ten feet, producing mid-green lance-shaped leaves. In summer, pine cone-like buds form, eventually revealing the white, delectably fragrant flowers. Perfect as a cut flower. Plant in a warm, full sun location in the garden or a big container that can be protected in winter. Hardy in Zones 7a to 10b.
Hesperoyucca whipplei is a fantastic focal point contender for the rock garden, if you have room. Marvel at its silvery-gray, narrow, pointy leaves that form a rosette eventually reaching three feet tall by four feet wide. Native to the western USA, Hesperoyucca is winter hardy to 0 degrees F., (Zone 7).
While we generally think of cactus growing in desert locations, Opuntia ‘Baby Rita’ (among others) is right at home in any well-draining rock garden that stays above -10 degrees F. (Zone 6.) A prickly pear cactus, ‘Baby Rita’ forms three to four inch, blue-green, ovate pads, often aging to chartreuse and purple-pink. Starting in late spring, pink flowers open on the tips of the pads and continue to bloom sporadically through summer. ‘Baby Rita’ tops out at 24 inches tall and wide and performs best in full sun. Once established it requires very little water.
Canyon Gooseberry (Ribes menziesii) is a beneficial wildlife plant for the garden. Starting in January, thousands of tiny, red and white dangling flowers adorn the large shrub’s thorny stems, attracting the resident Anna’s hummingbirds and creating what looks from a distance like a bright red burning bush. Eventually those flowers form little berries that will satisfy the native birds. Eventually forming a large shrub, twelve feet tall and wide, it can be pruned to fit into a smaller garden. Native to southern Oregon and northern California, Canyon Gooseberry is winter hardy in Zones 7a to 10a.
Red-Leafed Dyckia, (Dyckia ‘Red Devil’) is an evergreen terrestrial bromeliad sporting a low rosette with slender, pointed leaves with spiny edges. If it’s happy, it will send up orange flower spikes in mid-spring that will allure the resident hummingbirds. Similar to the Hens & Chicks, it needs a sharply draining soil, especially in winter and full sun to bring out its best color. Winter hardy to 10 degrees F., too much winter water will be its demise.
Chocolate Kiss Hens & Chicks, (Sempervivum Chocolate Kiss™ Chick Charms®) is winter-hardy to Zone 4, so it will remain a year round presence in the container or rock garden. I’m thinking the dark foliage would complement the olive-green and burgundy foliage on Red-Leafed Dyckia in the fashionable rock garden.
Grassy textured Sweet Wild Garlic (Tulbaghia natalensis) is nice contrast for the rosettes we’ve been dreaming about. A clumping perennial, 18 inches tall 24 inches wide, in summer, loads of small, fragrant, lavender-pink flowers appear and continue over a long period. Especially fragrant in the evening, Sweet Wild Garlic is well-behaved and prefers a regular watering regimen. Hardy to 10 degrees F., (Zone 8). Apply mulch in lower climates.
Do tell, we’d love to hear your trusty summer planting favorites.