Early summer weather saved May
Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams
We wrote a few weeks ago of the problem, so-called, of a green May, when the spring explosion of color had almost flickered out and before the burgeon of summer perennials had started.
Well, toward the turn of May and into this month, summer-like temperatures, well into the 90s and far above normal, catapulted us into a summer ambience well before the official onset of that season, with the solstice coming up later this month. Spring, alas, is over.
It is a strange phenomenon with many people that a yearning is evident much of the time for the next season on the calendar. Come the first heat wave of summer (this time around it was in spring) I begin to pine for autumn, when the first cool nights at last begin to mollify all that broiling.
Then, about the first day of winter just before Christmas, it is the coming spring that takes over the longing. Such is our impatience and dissatisfaction. And it’s a long time until October.
But that May-June turn, replete with color (besides green), salvaged the waning month and introduced the waxing one with aplomb.
Take our red border, for instance. Most red perennials and their accompanying woody plants are summer features, and that border generally doesn’t get the bit between its teeth until summer really does astronomically begin with the solstice.
We’re ahead of schedule there. That border is heavy on daylilies, and the first of them are just now peeking out. Alongside have been, since late May, some clumps of a hardy amaryllis, the St. Joseph’s lily, red with a white stripe in the center of each petal. This is a hand-me-down plant, common all over the south and seldom offered by bulb growers for some unknown reason. At any rate, it is an excellent perennial, the strappy foliage holding up long after the flowers have faded (not yet).
Like a miniature amaryllis, in flower form, is Indian pink, not pink but red, the little scarlet funnels lined on their interior with chartreuse. There are few red native perennials, and this is one of the best, holding up for a month in flower and keeping its foliage until frost.
The heat has rushed up cannas. The red border is strong on them, grown mostly for foliage. Australia has leaves of almost black, and nearby is a giant of a canna, the name lost from memory. It has maroon leaves and can grow to 10 feet, bearing small orange-red flowers late in the season.
Another excellent canna there is Intrigue, with, again, maroon leaves, but slender and pointing rakishly upward. They have a glaucous overbloom of gray. The reddish flowers are secondary.
Grasses are here, too, and just now showing well. Two similar panicums get to four feet, with slender and upright blades that turn red later. One of them is Shenandoah; I forget the other.
Not red, but grown for its early bloom, is a miscanthus, Adagio. It will produce tan plumes as early as July, while most miscanthuses wait until August or September. But well before the flowers appear, Adagio offers thin and lithe blades.
Now to some woodies. The common purple leaf sand cherry, Prunus cistina, is a foliage attraction. This makes an awkward, floppy bush if left to its own devices. I cut it back sharply every spring, to two feet or so, and the resulting flush of leaves is bright red-purple, and glossy to boot. Back-lit by the sun, early or late, they virtually glow. Every few weeks, I pinch the stems, keeping new leaves coming on.
Not far away is a smokebush, Grace, a cross between the European and American kinds. Treated similar to the sand cherry, its larger leaves are a greeny maroon. The cutting back prevents the smoking, but that is no great loss.
There are several roses in the border. One of the Flower Carpet series, Amber, grows to two feet or so and produces an abundance of amber little flowers, fading to salmon, throughout the summer, but starting in May. Another Flower Carpet, this time Scarlet, is not far away.
There are a couple of other shrub type roses in the collection, but the star is Home Run, one of the Knockout derivitives. It is a true red, and does not fade to pinkish tones like the straight Knockout. Blooming almost incessantly, it only needs deadheading to keep producing. The foliage flushes red in spring, and it is almost worth it for that alone.
Annuals were poked in the frontal pockets in the border in early May. These were squeezed in between maroon and “red” pansies, which had been blooming since October. The summer ones are now taking over. Among them is Dragon Wing Red begonia, just about my favorite red annual. This foolproof plant will spurt up two feet high and more across with heat and moisture.
Then there are a few of the umbiquitous “red sage” plants, useful for their spiky stature. Dwarf ones are in the front but further back is Bonfire, that can get to three feet and branch into a small annual “tree.” This salvia is not easy to find, but thankfully some of our local nurseries have it. There is no substitute for it in my red border, and it will, in fact, work in considerable shade.
The described border is only about 60 feet long and some 6 feet deep. It would seem nothing else could be yet waiting in the wings, but these mentioned plants are only those that are blooming as we speak. There are tons more to come later.
Last week’s piece on crape murder brought more comment than any in a long time. Professor Maurice Houston Field, an old Grove alumnus and basketball teammate there of Paul Veazey back in the ’50s, e-mailed me with comforting words that my pillorying of Paul and Peggy was fully justified and appropriate. I hear rumors (not substantiated) that I might be nominated for a Pulitzer prize in the humanitarian category. It is suggested that the effort might take a bite out of the exploding crape murder rate.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 6.14.11
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path