Better in late summer

While many gardens dominated by flowers reach a peak in midsummer, this garden is mostly woodies, trees and shrubs, a combination of foliage texture and floral color, so there is seasonal color but fewer blooms that persist through the heat of the season. Yes, there are hydrangeas and other scattered flowers through the early summer, but just starting in mid and late August there’s a colorful revival.

The first of the toad lilies begins flowering in late July, though flowers are not plentiful until September into October.

Long ago, I lost track of the numbers of toad lilies (Tricyrtis, above and below) in the garden, and for all but a few I’ve forgotten their names. Somewhere around here, there’s a folder where I’ve written the names of the dozens of Japanese maples to remind my ever faulty recollection. I know all the dogwoods and redbuds, but I should have made lists of toad lilies, hellebores, hostas and barrenworts (Epimedium), not so much for my use but to be able to identify and recommend specific varieties for visitors.

A very upright growing toad lily planted a year ago, and already I’ve forgotten its name.

In any case, toad lilies are a highlight of the late summer garden. All are simple to grow in part sun or shade, and several are quite vigorous, quickly growing into substantial clumps that are easily divided and transplanted when they stretch too far. Until open ground disappeared a few years ago, seedlings were regularly potted and usually given away, but now new plants are made only from divisions that are already sturdy, blooming plants.

The heritage of Gordlinia (x Gordlinia grandiflora, above, a cross between Franklinia alatamaha and Gordonia lasianthus) is a bit unusual, but in this garden it functions as a salve to ease the disappointment of the loss of a treasured Franklinia, lost years ago when a semi dormant spring beneath the garden shed suddenly returned to soak the surrounding soil. A replacement Franklinia of adequate size could not be found, so the gordlinia was planted on higher ground, and here the August flowers are a reminder of the lost tree, though also a reminder that while gordlinia might have gained the strengths of both trees in the hybridization. It remains a step of two behind Franklinia, as I see it. Gordlinia is a multi stemmed, evergreen shrub rather than a tree, and while the leaves of Franklinia colored brilliantly in autumn, gordlinia’s color a bit before turning a crispy brown in winter, then hanging on until spring’s new growth.

While several Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica, above) hardly made a show this spring, one that is overcrowded and barely seen has dependably flowered in recent years, but in August. I debate moving it where it can be seen since it will not be practical to tame its neighbors, but knowing that it’s thriving where it is, at least for now. Probably, it will stay, and always there’s the chance I could delay too long.

I’ve done a bit of experimentation with wax bells in recent years, both Kirengshoma palmata and K. koreana (above). One Korean wax bell thrives in just enough sun that leaves wilt in the late afternoon, but others in more shade just sit there, not doing much of anything. I divided and transplanted an older, weak clump of K. palmata, and purchased a few more to plant in varying exposures and in better soil, but with no better results, so I’m stumped. Oh well, not the first time.

This has been an odd year for the Joe Pye weeds (Eutrochium dubium ‘Little Joe’, above, formerly Eupatorium). All were eaten by deer earlier in the spring, twice, so while they’re much bushier than usual, they’re flowering later, with a few just developing buds. The delayed cycle has disappointed swallowtails that were abundant while bottlebrush buckeyes were flowering a few weeks ago, but now have scurried off elsewhere. Joe Pye is an annual favorite of pollinators, but mostly butterflies. I’m sure they’ll come back around.

Occasionally, I’m questioned why a reblooming Encore azaleas (Encore Autumn Twist, ready to flower in mid August, above) doesn’t flower spring, summer, and autumn as advertised, and for once I know it, the answer is quite simple. While many of the Encore azaleas are cold hardy for the mid Atlantic area, the season is too short for buds to be set after they flower in late April to flower again in summer, and then to reset buds to bloom in early autumn. In northern Virginia most Encore azaleas will flower in late April, then a second time in September or October, so this is spring, summer, and autumn, but only two flowering cycles, not three as some expect.

Autumn Carnation is the most dependable to flower in both spring and autumn in this garden.

An occasional blip might result in a skipped season for one Encore or another, but in late summer and early autumn most varieties are flowering in this garden. The late season flowers typically last a few weeks longer than in spring with cooler temperatures, adding a bit more color to the late summer garden.

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