Stalwarts in full summer bloom
June 21, 2005
Summer is here, and everything seems to be blooming at once. The full heavy heads of a luminous pink peony are framed by the fine texture of our silvery native Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum).Next to them is the subdued red of Centranthus ruber, red valerian or Jupiter’s beard, with leaves the same shade of bluish-green as the scale-like leaves of the evergreen juniper. All three look great, with or without flowers. The spent flowers of peonies, like irises and daylilies, depart rather gracelessly so I cut them off as they fade, leaving their handsome foliage to stand on its own.The broad, crinkle-silk petals of Papaver orientale, the Oriental poppy, lasted a long while and still have a few new flowers next to the seedpods. The fading poppy petals briefly look tattered; then they drop to reveal seedpods like large acorns with a fuzzy brown, 12-fingered star decorating the top, which gradually matures into a saltshaker cap. On poppies, it’s the yellowing leaves that need to be removed, while the interesting flower stalks remain.Lychnis chalcedonica is picking up the brilliant orange where the Oriental poppy left off. Called Maltese cross or, even more colorfully, scarlet lightning, the stoplight clusters of flowers, composed of five curiously flat and deeply indented petals, dominate a flowerbed. Lots of dark green foliage saves them from garishness. Several other poppies are filling out their buds and will soon move into the spotlight: the bread poppy, P. somniferum, and the peony poppy, P. paeoniflorum.The rivers of dainty white flowers blanketing my favorite invasive weed, Cerastium tomentosum, aptly called snow-in-summer, are being replaced by the strong individual form of an unfurling mullein, Verbascum bombyciferum. Don’t you just love that name? I grew this biennial from seed for its irresistible name and kept it for its irresistible looks.Imagine my surprise when I found out that the species name means “silky,” not “bombastic,” which suits it much better (I have this trouble with botanical Latin all the time). This mullein is, without a doubt, the grandest presence in my garden and is hard to miss in any landscape. I’m frequently asked about it.I’d grow it for its massive, silky soft rosette of leaves alone, but in its second year, look out! A thick, wooly, almost white flower stalk shoots up, drooping like a shepherd’s crook, then gradually straightening like a poker. It’s pasted with quarter-sized, lemon-yellow flowers opening progressively up the stalk, as the tip continues to elongate and sometimes branch. The old flowers drop off cleanly, and it looks like buds are opening both up the stalk and down at the same time.The candles of another meltingly soft plant, lamb’s ears, Stachys lanata, are just beginning to open their tiny purplish flowers. The symmetrically opposite leaves up the stem stick out on either side like small shoehorns. The lamb’s ears is bold by virtue of its solidity, thick overlapping leaves making pools of cool pewter, while giant catmint, for instance, is bold by volume, a haze of blue. Both may be either fillers or the main event, and are endlessly versatile.The Bachelor’s buttons, Centaurea cyanus, whose bright blossoms define “cornflower blue,” have for the last month been vividly accompanying yet another poppy, the golden Escholtzia californica. Remember the rude bumper stickers once popular with Aspen locals? As the Bachelor’s buttons begin to look weedy, I’ll pull them out, while a succession of other blue flowers come into bloom. Sometimes several generations of the California poppy germinate and bloom in one season. The stiffly vertical, purplish-blue wands of Rocky Mountain penstemon, Penstemon strictus, are great partners.Columbines, the Aquilegia species, are iconoclasts, following no rules but their own and merrily interbreeding; the seedlings surprise you with wonderful colors. This year’s crop includes the following: all yellow, yellow with red spurs, all white, and blue and white, the Colorado state flower. Columbines are so relished by the deer, I’m surprised that I have any.The rangy herb, common valerian, Valeriana officinalis, is waving airy panicles of tiny white florets around, and the white form of Jupiter’s beard is just as tall but with more substance and slightly larger florets.Clematis jackmanii is unfolding its angular purple petals like origami. The late Mrs. Paepcke used to have masses of this clematis cascading over her garden wall, where passers-by could admire it. I can’t leave well enough alone, so mine is twining through a white rose, with flowers shaped like the Harison’s yellow rose. It’s still blooming with Nepeta Six Hills Giant, the giant catmint, billowing wonderfully around its legs.All these plants have one important thing in common: Once they’re established in your garden, chances are they’ll be with you as long as you care to have them. Some get bigger and better with every year, and some seed themselves into places you couldn’t get them to grow if you tried, places you always wanted them but just didn’t know it! They’re all delightful stalwarts; you can count on them.Anna happily grows all these plants and many more in her garden in Basalt. She’d love to hear about what you’re growing at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “Anna’s Garden” in the e-mail subject line.
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