Hot and Dry Weather: Survivors in the Garden

Hot, dry, windy summer weather can be extremely stressful for plants in the garden. Temperatures in Gloucester have hovered near 100º for the last several days, topping out at 102 yesterday. Life seems to be fading from much of the garden. I am usually found hiding inside during intolerably hot weather, however in the late afternoon, I’ll take a stroll to check out heat tolerant plants that shine through the high temps. Several shrubs and perennials are doing well. Here are two that stand out:

The ‘Becky‘ Shasta Daisies, Leucanthemum superbum, that I planted en masse in early spring for our June ‘wedding garden’ are still going strong. I have been rewarded a hundred times over with waves of showy pure white blooms… great for admiring and great for cutting. They’re the 2003 Perennial Plant of the Year and are proving to be heat and drought tolerant. All they ask for is sunshine and a little deadheading.

Becky Shasta Daisy

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9

Light: Full sun

Soil: Growth is optimum in moist, but well-drained soil

Bloom: June to September.

Another favorite that I’ve blogged about a couple of years ago is the Blackberry Lily or the Leopard Lily, a plant that is three plants in one.

1. In the spring, we are rewarded with blue green leaves than fan out in an attractive pattern much like an iris. Indeed it is a member of the iris family.  Familiarly known as Belamcanda chinensis, after a DNA analysis, the new classification is Iris domestica.

Iris-like leaves of the blackberry lily

2. In mid-July we are blessed with a multitude of small orange and red lily-like flowers, each blooming for a day then twisting like tiny wrung out rags before dropping from the plant. I’ve not read anything about the nectar of this flower but have observed a variety of insects actually competing over the sweet fluids.

Blackberry Lily and Sweat Bee

Blackberry Lily and red ants

3. In the late summer and fall and winter, the 3-lobed pods that are green and swelling now, split open to reveal the glossy fruit that resemble blackberries. These will fall from the plant and self seed or stems can be used for flower arrangements. I adore all three phases of this colorful summer perennial.

Belamcanda chinensis

Image via Wikipedia

It will reproduce by seed and by rhizomes which may be divided and shared. Plant rhizomes under 1″ of soil and allow to dry between waterings.

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 5-10

Light: Full sun, partial sun, partial shade (I moved my plants from full sun to partial sun and they seem less stressed)

Soil: Well-drained; grows taller in fertile soil.

Bloom: July and August

Zones: 5-10.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

There’s a Leopard in my Garden!

Leopard LilySometimes I look around my garden and think I must be running an animal preserve.  I see hens and chicks, elephant ears, turtleheads, oxeye daisies, chickweed, lamb’s ear, and the most fearsome animal but loveliest flower of all, the leopard lily, an aggressive animal in the jungle but gentle flower in the garden.  It’s not a lily at all but a member of the iris family.  I have read that it is invasive, that it has established itself in pastures and ditches, that self seeding causes it to sprout everywhere, but in my garden it is a leopard that purrs and behaves itself.  Though not a color I sought for the garden, each deep orange bloom with red spots is heavenly in the heat of the summer and the 6-petaled flowers in clusters of orchid-like blooms are irresistible.  No one can pass by without admiring them.

Flowers appear in mid-summer in sprays that grow on delicate stems that rise above the dried bloomiris-like foliage to a height of three feet.  Each bloom lasts barely one day but is soon followed by new blooms that shine during the heat of the summer months.  After a day, each bloom dries into a tight spiral that is as delectable as the full blooms themselves.  We are rewarded again several weeks later blackberry lily seedsduring fall when the seed pods split open to reveal a cluster of lustrous black seeds looking like giant blackberries, hence the other name for this plant, the blackberry lily.  I have found these can be cut and dried and used successfully in flower arranging.

Interestingly, in the book, Jefferson’s Garden, I read that Thomas Jefferson planted the seeds of this tropical-looking plant in his oval garden in 1807 and today it still self-sows on the property.  Somehow I feel a little bit of fulfillment sowing the same seeds and growing the same perennials enjoyed by fellow Virginia gardener, Thomas Jefferson. All three stages of flower development are simply fabulous and I recommend this plant for Virginia gardens and gardeners.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester