First flowers

Abundant rainfall through July has kept the garden from fading as it does typically through the heat of midsummer. Possibly, favorable conditions have also encouraged earlier flowering of several late summer bloomers.

Gordlinia (x Gordlinia grandiflora, above) was planted to ease the pain of losing a Franklinia (Franklinia alatamaha, below), an uncommon treasure that declined over years as an area in the rear garden became progressively more damp. While certainly not rare, I could not find a replacement Franklinia of suitable size, so I jumped at the chance to purchase a shrubby gordlinia. This hybrid of Franklinia and gordonia has flowers that are nearly identical to those of Franklinia, but with evergreen foliage and a shrubbier form. Also, it’s breeding suggested a tougher constitution.

Franklinia flowering in late August

Maybe, maybe not. Through any winter, cold or mild, the evergreen leaves turn brown and are completely lost. Following winters with temperatures that regularly dropped just below zero, gordlinia’s survival was in doubt, but in the end it suffered some twig damage and nothing more. The upright shrub recovered quickly, with no sign of injury by midsummer, and with a full flush of blooms by late summer.

On this first day of August, the first two flowers are seen, and many marble sized buds will open over the next six weeks. Is gordlinia an acceptable substitute for Franklinia? Perhaps, but I’d prefer one of each.  

With a dozen or more cultivars of toad lily (Tricyrtis) in the garden, one or several will flower from early August into October if frost does not interrupt. ‘Samurai’ is the earliest to bloom in this garden, and while its flowers are not as large or showy as others, its growth is vigorous and its foliage excellent.

The native Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) grows wild in the wetland behind the garden, but ‘Little Joe’ is more appropriately sized for the garden. In damp and dry conditions it grows vigorously, and seedlings have been encouraged to grow in damp gravel at the edge of the koi pond. Joe Pye is a magnet for Tiger swallowtails, that often visit by the dozens.

Until recent years, the earliest of the Encore azaleas to flower in this garden in mid summer was Autumn Twist, which typically begins blooming by mid August. ‘Autumn Carnation’ (above) was planted a few years ago, I delayed because I am not fond of its bubblegum pink color, but it flowers dependably and earlier than others in this northwest Virginia garden. It must be noted that the flowers of azaleas persist for a considerably longer period in late summer and early autumn than for the few short weeks in early spring.

And, not the first hosta, but possibly the last of dozens of varieties to flower. I apologize for not labeling hostas, and the names of too many have been forgotten. I wish this could be blamed on old age, but twenty years ago it was just as bad. While hostas are typically not planted for their flowers, many are delightful.

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