Who can forget the first time they saw a mimosa tree? If you're lucky, it was a huge and sprawling tree with a swing or tree house in it. Every garden needs a few summer stars, those plants that shine in very hot weather and bring back memories of younger days. Of course, memories sometimes gloss over undesirable facts about a tree or plant. Mimosa is considered a weed in many areas because it seeds rampantly. It also succumbs easily to disease sooner or later, so there are better choices for summer memory-makers.
Oleander and the Beach
Oleander teaches one of life's tough lessons: Not everything that's pretty is safe. Oleander blooms for months with fragrant white, red, pink, or salmon flowers, dotted all over matte green leaves on shrubs up to 6 feet tall. However, all of it is poisonous if consumed, and some people are allergic to its sap. Warn your kids and make a big deal of it.
And like kids, oleander loves summer. Grow oleander in pots or in hedgerows, in most any soil, but especially sandy or salty ones. My favorite stand makes a wonderful windbreak along the beach.
Attic Fans and Gardenias
Fragrance makes great memories. I remember the smell of my dad's aftershave, pencil sharpener shavings, and my Aunt May's rosewater cologne. One sniff takes you right back in time. Gardenia (Cape Jasmine) is a summer beauty that sends heady sweet perfume wafting on warm evening breezes. I close my eyes and I'm 10 again, the attic fan drawing the cape jasmine scent in through the window screens.
To enjoy this queen of the night garden, maintain acidic soil conditions, and provide a thick layer of mulch. Fertilize in early spring and again in mid-summer. Gardenia's nemeses are piercing and sucking insects such as aphids -- not for their damage, but the honeydew they exude when feeding. The sticky stuff attracts sooty mold disease. You can wash this black mold off with soapy water, then use a pyrethrin spray if the insects return.
Drop Dead Blue Vitex
As kids, we would trap a bee or two in a jar with a few holes punched in the lid. We learned so much from our observations of nature in the raw -- Animal Planet doesn't hold a candle. To help your kids find as many bees as they wish, plant blue vitex. Vitex 'Agnes Castus' is a bee magnet on hot summer days. It forms a thicket unless you train it early on. Select a few trunks while the tree is small and prune out others as they emerge. After that, prune just to keep the top in shape, trim out dead twigs, and shape after blooming.
Photo by former managing editor Nellie Neal/National Gardening Association