Summer sun washes out pastel colors
Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams
The weeks just before and following the summer solstice June 21 provide a “high sky” as hunters and pilots have it. That is, the sun is straighter overhead than at any other time of the year. On the solstice itself, it reaches the most northern point in its yearly travel.
This at just the time our gardens should be building toward a peak of colorful perennials and annuals. The coincidence is unfortunate, since a high sun does not provide the most flattering light.
Photographers will tell you the middle of a sunny June day is just about the worst time to succeed with their craft. The light is glaring, while later (or earlier) in the year it is softer and provides a gentler adjunct to flowers and foliage.
I used to be fond of pastels with my perennials and annuals. I had seen too many artsy European garden book and magazine pictures. These always have the mauves, blues, creams, pinks and whites at their best under the wan British or Irish sky. The British Isles lie further north than even the U.S.-Canadian border, and the prevalent clouds seldom allow glaring light to penetrate. Under those conditions, pastels shine like jewels.
Here, on the other hand, pastels, particularly in open exposures, literally wash away in the middle of a summer day. Then too, it is much hotter here and foliage sags under the brutal sun, where such a happening is rare in Europe.
We have had a number of groups visit us at Tennessee Dixter since early spring. Lately, the show hasn’t been as colorful as it was earlier. Part of that is due to the vagaries of the season, the fact that summer perennials have not kicked completely in and spring things such as azaleas and dogwoods are over. May was relatively green.
The nature of the meteorological beast in our climate and latitude prevents much of what can be done in England and Europe. However, by choosing colors that won’t yield under heat, some recompense can be realized.
I have leant more toward hot colors in recent years. Reds, yellows, oranges, purples and maroons hold up much better, on average, under heat stress than the pastels.
Take heucheras (coral bells), for instance. I have several of them, of Heuchera villosa parentage, sited in full sun, while they are generally recommended for shade. The dark-leaved ones, particularly, stay in fine fettle as long as they receive plenty of water, while paler varieties tend to burn a bit.
Daylilies in red and orange shades don’t generally fade under heat as much as pastels. Some of the latter will, on a 95-degree day, lose most of their color. I have one particular deep gold self (single color) daylily that never yields under the hottest sun. I wish I could tell you the name of it, but it is lost in memory (or lack of it). At any rate, when I bought it some 15 years ago, it was a common, low-priced variety.
Other strong colors that hold up well under brutal heat include red Home Run rose, one of the Knockout series; purple leaved sand cherry (grown for foliage and pollarded every spring); Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), a star in May and June in our garden and red, not pink; bronze fennel, an herb with truly brown, gauzy foliage; Red Dragon persicaria, grown for maroon foliage but also providing little white blooms in summer, and, of course, chrysanthemums later.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 6.16.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path