Everyday Gardeners

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perennial flowers

There are a handful of perennials that I consider must-haves for the garden. Phlox is one of them. In full bloom right now, it’s offering big heads of flowers reminiscent of hydrangeas in luscious shades of pink, purple, and red. During the day, the flowers are butterfly magnets; I often see hummingbirds visiting them, too. I have several varieties of phlox planted on the west side of my house; in the late afternoon the fragrance is almost overpowering.

While there’s a lot to be said for this wonderfully old-fashioned perennial, there are a couple of reasons some gardeners don’t love it. The biggest drawback is that many varieties, especially older ones, suffer from a disease called powdery mildew which can make them drop their leaves by midsummer. Happily, newer varieties of phlox such as ‘Grape Lollipop’, ‘Blue Paradise’, and ‘David’ do a stand-up job of resisting the disease. Or, if you don’t grow disease-resistant varieties, grow a medium-height perennial in front of your phlox to hide the foliage.

Another drawback is that phlox will create a lot of seedlings the following spring if you don’t clip off the faded flowers. But deadheading phlox will prevent this. And keep it reblooming through late summer or early autumn.

Do you grow phlox? Do you have a favorite variety?

‘Tis the season for spectacular light displays in the nighttime skies from exploding fireworks. You can mimic these explosions of color in your garden by growing plants bursting with color-infused foliage and blooms. Several heat-loving annuals and perennial flowers are  named for 4th of July fireworks. One of my favorites is ‘Fireworks’ fountaingrass, a new purple pennisetum with pink striped foliage. It makes a perfect partner for the hot pink flowers of ‘Fireworks’ globe amaranth. Other color-laden plants exploding in the summer garden include ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod and ‘Carolina Fireworks’ lantana. All of these beauties put on their peak display during the sun-soaked heat of summer.

The pink-and-purple striped foliage of 'Fireworks' fountaingrass combines well with chartreuse, pink, and purple plants in the garden. Feathery seedheads add lovely texture.

'Fireworks' globe amaranth develops hot pink tufts of bloom on tall stems that waft in the breeze. Flowers retain their color when dried, too.

'Fireworks' goldenrod bears arching wands of pure yellow blooms in late summer.

'Carolina Fireworks' lantana combines sizzling orange and yellow hues on a mounding plant that thrives in the heat of summer gardens.

I have a request of plant breeders: Please give us a reblooming peony! It would be guaranteed to sell. Just look at what’s happened in the past few years with Bloomerang reblooming lilac and hydrangeas that flower on new wood as well as old. Both of these traditional favorites with a new twist have taken off in popularity.

Reports of occasional late summer or fall blooms on yellow tree peonies such as ‘High Noon’ and ‘Kinto’ exist. But at best the return bloom is sparse and sporadic. I want truly reliable late-season flowers.

In the mean time, I’ll have to be satisfied with the glorious springtime display of colorful blooms that peonies provide. I manage to extend the season a bit by including early-blooming fernleaf peony, mid-season herbaceous peonies, and late-season Itoh hybrids in my yard. Which is your favorite variety of peony?

'Paula Fay' peony is blooming now in my garden. As the bud opens it changes in color from intense pink to salmon pink.


The yellow blossoms of 'Bartzella' Itoh hybrid develop on plants that are a cross between tree type and herbaceous peonies.

'Sarah Bernhardt' is a late-season herbaceous type with pink double blooms.

Fernleaf peony (Paeonia rubra 'Flore Pleno') is a slow grower that reaches just 18 inches or so tall. It unfurls its red double blooms early in the season at the tip of stems with fine, feathery foliage.

Did you know that March 12 is Plant a Flower Day? I don’t need much of an excuse to plant flowers. I already have several dozen types of annual flowers started in the greenhouse, including the All-America Selections winners for this year (see below), and one from last year.

Salvia coccinea 'Summer Jewel Pink' is a 2012 All-America Selections Bedding Plant Award Winner that I think will look great in my pink border. Photo courtesy of All-America Selections.

Vinca 'Jams 'N Jellies Blackberry' is a 2012 All-America Selections Flower Award Winner. I can't wait for the seedlings that I've started in the greenhouse to start blooming. Photo courtesy of All-America Selections.

'Glamour Red' ornamental kale was a 2011 All-America Selections Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner. It looked great in my garden into December, so I'm growing it again this year. Photo courtesy of All-America Selections.

It may be a bit premature to plant perennials here in Des Moines, but I have some on order from High Country Gardens that will expand my collection of Midwest and High Plains native perennials. A few of them are pictured below. They’re scheduled for arrival in mid-April. By then, I’ll be able to plant them directly in the garden.

Which new flowers will you be growing in your yard this year?


Zauschneria garrettii is sometimes known as hardy fuschia as well as hummingbird trumpet. The bright orange tubular blooms draw hummingbirds to the garden.

Penstemon cobaea purpureus is a type of beardtongue with foxglove-like blooms on stalks several feet tall. It is a Midwest native.

Whether you call it redbirds in a tree or New Mexico figwort, Scrophularia macrantha is a cute perennial for dry sites with its panicles of rosy red blooms on compact plants.

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