Gardening is a seasonal experience. By that I mean that there is something different to experience in every season of the year. Spring of course is a fabulous time for the northwest with rhododendrons, azaleas, flowering cherries, dogwoods, daffodils and tulips just to name a few. Fall isn’t too shabby either with a decent display of fall color in the vine maples and sumacs and some fall blooming perennials like mums and asters and of course one cannot forget the ornamental grasses. Winter even has a few highlights for us in the likes of witch hazel, hellebores, Sarcococca, and winter Daphne. But summer, oh glorious summer, may just be the most stupendous of all.
Summer is about drama and passion. The colors have shifted from the pastel pinks and pale yellows and whites of spring to the hot reds, golden yellows and outrageous oranges of summer. And it’s not just the colors that create the drama. It’s the rampant growth. Perennials that started out at ground zero have reached the altitude of 6-8 feet tall. My hardy bananas are upward of 12-15 feet tall. And all of this has happened in just a matter of a few months. It’s pretty impressive if you ask me.
In the front of my house inside my circle drive is what I call my tropical bed. It is a mix of hardy shrubs and perennials that come back every year and reach a climax about this time of the season. The cardoons are just finishing up; their 8 foot high stalks topped with blue thistle heads resembling artichokes. Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is also wrapping up its performance, having reached a height of 4 feet tall and decorated with red hot tubular flowers. Several clumps of dark leaved dahlias have once again returned. ‘Bishop’s Children’ is the variety and they come in several colors of red, orange and purple. My Canna ‘Grande’ clumps have been very slow to get going this year but have finally picked up some speed. While they still are only 3-4 feet tall they should make it to 8 feet before October. Normally they would be 10-12 feet tall. There is a Salvia clump called ‘Black and Blue’ that has come back like gang busters and is now starting to bloom with dark black and blue flowers. From what was mostly bare ground in February is now a rich blend of foliage and flowers that is a total delight to see.
I have always wanted to grow lilies so three years ago I purchased some monster bulbs the size of softballs. The first year was so-so. The second year was better and this year was incredible. I had lilies 8 feet tall with stalks almost 2 inches in diameter at the base. My wife cut fresh bouquets for several weeks until I can honestly say I was sick and tired of them. So much growth in such a short time. Only summer can boast such a show.
My back yard which was planted just a year ago is also filling in nicely. The Missus and I have been fighting over who plants what and for the time being we still have enough room left that we both get to plant what we want (although I vetoed a couple of plants I deemed too aggressive and she nixed a few of my choices that were too bold). Mostly though, she plants the frilly stuff that fills and spills and I do the tall and dramatic stuff that thrills. It’s a nice balance.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love each gardening season for the qualities it possesses. But summer will always remain my favorite. What makes me sad though is that way too many people only have a spring garden and have never experienced the thrills of a summer garden. If only they knew what they were missing.
If you are one of those people whose yard looks tired and dull this time of year then let me challenge you to do something about it. You don’t have to spend a boat load of money or commit to endless hours of gardening drudgery. Start with some good soil preparation so that whatever you plant will actually grow. Then go to the garden center and look for cheap discounted perennials that are being cleared out. Don’t worry about what they look like. You are buying a root system. Your return on your investment will come next spring. Take the plants, loosen the roots and maybe even divide them into several smaller starts. Buy a variety with the thriller, filler and spiller concept in mind. Water them in well then gradually taper off as we move into fall. By this time next year you will be hooked and in a few short seasons summer may very well become your favorite season too.