Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
July, 2009
Regional Report

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You can't beat the stunning new varieties of black-eyed Susan for bright summer color.

Midsummer Color in the Perennial Garden

It is midsummer, the time of ripeness in the vegetable garden, full-blown fruits in the orchard, and hot summer color in the perennial garden. This is a time when days are lazy and there is not a lot of incentive to getting out in the garden for weeding. Hammocks are much more fun.

I thought I'd give you some of my recent favorites for color that will amaze and enthrall you in the heat of summer. Natural colors for this time of year are the reds, oranges, and yellows. Think of the field of black-eyed Susans or the red-orange of Mexican sunflowers. However, there are also some pinks and blues that pop up in midsummer so don't feel that you only have to use a warm palette.

These annual sunflowers tower at 6 to 7 feet, and have exciting reddish-orange blossoms of about 5 to 6 inches across. The huge shrubs make a statement at the back of the border and will grow just about anywhere you have full sun. Don't forget to cut a vase-full and bring the light indoors.

Helenium 'Mardi Gras'
With the strange common name of sneezeweed, Helenium 'Mardi Gras' grows to 3 feet with bright red-orange-brown-yellow blossoms. They are more subtle than some other summer bloomers, but they offer a beautiful shrubby accent with hundreds of blossoms.

Ligularia 'Desdemona'
This is a perennial favorite of mine even though it's not a new plant. The huge tropical leaves give way to 3-foot-tall spikes that unfold bold golden daisies. One of the best attributes of this plant is that it grows quite well in shade. In fact, it tends to wilt every afternoon in sun, so give it a shady, moist situation and it will be the star of the garden.

I can't write about summer flowers without mentioning coneflowers. The traditional purple is still a winner, but this has been a hot area of breeding for several years, and coneflowers now come in the most dramatic of colors, from all shades of pink and purple to yellow, salmon, fuchsia, orange, and frosty white. With their brown to orange to golden centers, these are true stalwarts of summer color.

The summer garden wouldn't be the same without yarrow. A stunning selection is 'Gold Plate' with huge flower heads, up to 8 inches, with shining golden flowers that last and last. They also make excellent cut flowers and will last for a couple of weeks in a vase.

There are so many other choices out there to use in summer, from coreopsis to lily, phlox, cleome, and torch lily. Take a look at your local botanic garden or even neighbor's yard to find some treasures to add next year.

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