The Q&A Archives: Living near the water

Question: I live on the water....Relatively brackish because a lake empties into the bay I'm on emptying into the gulf of mexico at panama City FL....What plants do the best ....Thanks...Bill

Answer: There are a number of perennials that will grow well along the coast. These tolerate tough conditions and are worth consideration:
Asclepias is a native which is finding its way into many gardens. The usual height is about 20 inches, the foliage is a bit coarse, but the flat heads of orange-red flowers are pleasing. It is exceptionally deep rooted.

Baptisia, sometimes called false indigo, grows to a height of about 3 feet and has 6-inch spikes of dark blue flowers. Stands drought and heat well.

Butterfiy-lily (Hedychium coronarium) grows to 5 or 6 feet, has canna-like foliage, and fragrant, white flowers which appear in late summer. It grows under normal garden conditions but will be happier with a bit of extra moisture.

Cannas are popularity in the south is thanks to the dwarf varieties which are superior to the old tall-growing types. Give them deep soil, full sun and a little extra watering during the dry seasons.

Chrysanthemums are one of our oldest flowers and are experiencing a revival of interest. The new garden types will enable anyone to have a colorful garden for many weeks during late fall.

Shasta daisies are too well known to require comment here. Many times these admirable plants die out after a heavy crop of bloom. In my experience, l have found that shade from other plants will invariably result in loss of the daisies. Give them plenty of sunlight and perfect drainage.

Day-lilies or hemerocallis are perhaps the most popular of all perennial flowers in the South and Southwest, where they have proved highly dependable. The new varieties, new colors and ease of culture are making new friends for them everywhere.

Eupatorium is a native to the South and is finding its way into many gardens. The profusion of small sky-blue flowers appearing on 2 to 3 foot plants in late fall is always welcome. It is quite showy and very easy to grow.

Transvaal daisies (Gerberia Jamesoni) thrive right down to the Gulf Coast (they are a favorite in New Orleans) and deep into Florida. The plants form large clumps, are vigorous and deep rooted. The large, daisy-like, pastel colored flowers continue right through the season until killed by frost.

Sunflowers (Helianthus floridanus), with 6-foot stems carrying lots of single, golden yellow flowers in October provide brilliant color in the fall. Though one rarely sees them in cultivation, they definitely do brighten up the border. They will grow almost anywhere.

Lathyrus is the perennial form of the popular sweet pea. It climbs to a height of several feet and blooms over a long season. Requires no coddling.

Iris have a definite place in Southern gardens: the bearded type does well through the mid-South; and along the Gulf Coast.

Ophiopogon in its various forms is perhaps the most valuable plant for permanent edging available to Southern gardeners. It makes a year-round, neat edging that requires practically no attention. In addition to the several species with green foliage, there are also variegated forms.

Phlox will thrive in every section of the South and Phlox Isubulata often wrongfully called thrift is dependable almost everywhere.

Rudbeckia or golden-glow grows 3 to 4 feet high and its heavy crop of fully double, golden yellow flowers in late summer adds a light cheerful note to the borders.

Gentian salvia (Salvia patens) reaches a height of about 2 feet and has ultra marine blue flowers, while Salvia farinacea grows to 3 or 4 feet, has silver foliage and lavender flowers. Both bloom over a long season.

Stokesia or Stokes aster is a fine perennial and native to some sections of the South. It is low-growing, producing large aster-like, blue flowers over a long season. It is one of the finest companions for hemerocallis and will thrive in almost any soil, in sun or partial shade.

In addition to those already mentioned, there are many native perennials whose beauty and ease of culture justify the extensive use of them in our gardens.

Among them are asters, coreopsis, erythrina, liatris, rudbeckia (single flowered species) and tradescantia.

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