Long-blooming summer plants

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Perennial Cleome in the garden of Kathryn Hipkin in Brisbane

I was recently asked for some suggestions of plants that flower for a long time in the garden. One answer to this question (especially for those who live in warm temperate or subtropical climates) is to choose summer-flowering shrubs, perennials and annuals, because they have a much longer period of bloom than spring flowers in many cases. I actually steered my garden to be at its best in summer and autumn when I realised how relatively short was the time spring bloomers lasted compared to those plants that flower when the weather heats up. Nowadays, I tend to visit other people's gardens in spring to admire those achingly gorgeous blooms rather than have them in my own plot.

Salvia microphylla Angel Wings

The genus Salvia is the first to come to my mind when recommending long-flowering plants, as they really do have an incredibly extended blooming time. Many of them flower from autumn all through winter; the summer bloomers begin around October and keep going till May. There are just so many species and cultivars around these days to choose from, but my own personal favourites include Salvia guaranitica Large Form, 'Joan', 'Wendy's Wish', 'Phyllis' Fancy', 'Van Houttei' - and many of the small-sized S. microphylla cultivars. At a garden stall at an open garden in Brisbane last weekend, I was interested to see how many cultivars of these are available in Queensland that I had never heard of. I purchased a very pretty one called 'Angel Wings', with pastel pink flowers held in dark calyces (pictured above). I look forward to trialling it in my garden.

Pentas are also fabulous long-bloomers, beginning in late spring and continuing on until early winter. They grow best in sun but some of the varieties (especially a red one that I grow) do well in part-shade. The family Acanthaceae has summer-flowering members that are floriferous for months - including Justicia carnea, Justicia brandegeeana, Justicia betonica, Ruellia elegans, Brillantaisia subulugarica and Thunbergia grandiflora. In my friend's Brisbane garden, I saw a bright pink-flowered cultivar of Ruellia elegans called 'Firebird', which was very attractive growing nearby the similarly coloured veins in the leaves of Iresine herbstii 'Brilliantissima'.

Hydrangea shrubs are in flower now in Sydney and will continue for many months to come - giving them great value in shady parts of the garden. There are so many different ones available these days - lacecaps, double-flowered varieties, compact forms and so on. They need reasonable moisture but once established are pretty tough - especially the old-fashioned, thick-stemmed types. Almost all of mine have been grown from cuttings from other people's gardens. Another great shrub for shady spots is the cane-stemmed Begonia. In bloom for easily nine months of the year from November onwards, they bring stunning pendulous flower heads in colours of pinks, white, red and orange and ask nothing more than to be pruned back in early spring to give them a new lease of life. The shrub-like Begonia cultivars are also excellent long-flowering plants for shade.

Dahlia plants are also great value for a lengthy display period. They grow easily in Sydney gardens and don't have to be dug up except when you want to divide them. By pinching off the spent heads every so often, the flowering time can be extended from November to around May. There are many pretty colours and forms to be had and they revel in summer's heat. I have a fondness for the dark-leaved types, such as 'Moonfire', but they are all good plants. They associate well with Salvia plants.

I have a fondness for long-flowering summer annuals in my garden, especially those that come up every year through self-seeding. I have grown Cleome ever since the first summer in my present garden. Recently, I was pleased to receive a perennial form of Cleome (pictured at the start of the blog). There are pink and white forms of this, and they are shorter and more compact than the annual one, and flower almost all year, apparently. Amaranthus caudatus, with its long burgundy tassels is another of my favourite summer annuals. In bloom now, it will not give up until early winter. Hundreds of seedlings come up in my garden each spring and I pull out all but a couple: these quickly develop the stature of small shrubs. During my sojourn in Brisbane, I was also reminded of other worthwhile summer annuals, such as Catharanthus roseus for sun and the brightly hued New Guinea Impatiens (which don't seem susceptible to the fungus that wiped out other species of Impatiens in recent years) for shade, and I vowed to add these to my garden this season.

Reader Comments

  • By Julie 4510 Monday, 25 November 2013

    Some new salvias to try there, many thanks. As a semi tropical gardener, ( ie between Brisbane and Sunshine Coast) I have inordinate trouble growqing some things that you wd think wd be a given here , such as impatiens, hydrangea and dahlias ...... no matter where or what watering, light, shade etc they get, they struggle amd I lose patience with them ( ha ha impatient with impatiens, see?) Many thanks for your great suggestions, though. I must get some cleome now! Julie. Yes it does seem as if gardening in Qld is very different from here. The salvias for example grow differently and need different pruning from what we do here. The perennial cleome was doing well in the places I saw it in Brisbane and another good plant was Angelonia - doesn"t do that well down here, alas. There are some lovely colours of it. Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 Monday, 25 November 2013

    Like you I really enjoy my garden in summer and autumn. Spring these days can be hot, windy and dry. Hydrangeas are my current fave. They sailed through this crisp spring and laughed at the big fires. More will be planted. I"d add cannas to the list. They are great at the back of a border - or you can get miniatures. Canna foliage is often striking. Check out the coming summer Our Gardens magazine there will be an article about Canna "Cleopatra", one of the older hard to get varieties.

  • By margaret 2122 Monday, 25 November 2013

    My garden is not strictly a summer garden, but I have most of the plants you mentioned, and would not be without them, as they are easy care. Additional colour is provided by the old fashioned gerberas, as well as the annual, zinnia, with all colours, except blue, providing vibrant splashes of colour. The begonia "Dragon Wings", especially the red variety, blooms the whole year, in sun or shade. I am getting interested in the old-fashioned gerberas - I have seen them in local gardens and they seem to flower for so long. Your zinnias are great - so colourful. Deirdre

  • By Julie 4510 Monday, 25 November 2013

    Had to add this comment to Margaret"s like for old fashioned gerberas: I have had these on my dry hard and horrible driveway garden bed for all of the 25 years we have lived here - thy were here when we came - and they flower every year. They"re not great colours, sort of insipid pink, apricot and cream, but boy do they survive and surprise whatever the weather. Love that and even when I"ve ripped out and apparently removed them, they come back with a vengeance and a sort of "Gotcha"" attitude.

  • By Carole 2230 Monday, 25 November 2013

    Thank you for another interesting article with many reminders. My mother loved zinnias!I have still not been able to acquire any liking for them other than an appreciation of their colours. I feel the same for gerberas and I haven"t worked out why - is it their shape, are they too rigid looking? A puzzle because there are very few flowers I wouldn"t like to grow.Really enjoying my gardenia flowers,the justicia carnea are flowering as are the hibiscus, my brugmansia flowers monthly.Love the rain. The old-fashioned gerberas with many fine petals are easier to place in the garden than the florists type and easier to grow too. Deirdre

  • By Florence 4068 Friday, 29 November 2013

    Thank you so much Deirdre, another fantastic blog and all I needed to know. Not rally taken by gerberas, but scaevola and Streptosolen jamesonii are a good long splash of colour. This is the first year since I planted justicia carnea . What happens when you cut the dead flowers? Doesn"t it get stringy? Have a great WWE Florence It is a good idea to deadhead the justicia - it will encorage more flowers. I give it a hard prune in late winter and it grows back well after that. Deirdre

  • By Chris 4034 Sunday, 01 December 2013

    Once again, you have inspired me to look at my garden with a different view, and realise that my salvia microphylla plants are very forgiving, and are a pleasure to have in my garden. They do not give up flowering and survive most of the heat and drought that nature can hand out. Thank you for your ability to give of yourself. Thanks, Chris. I am glad you are enjoying those salvias - they are amongst my favourites. Deirdre

  • By andrew 0 Tuesday, 03 December 2013

    (Miami USA)I prefer plants with along lifespan with 8-12months/year constant bloomers,which in my climate: 1) Allamanda 2) Ixora 3) Hibiscus 4) Justicia 5) Polygala 6) Mussaenda 7) Acalypha hispida 8) Malvaviscus arboreus 9) Euphorbia geroldii 10) Cordia boissieri 11) Cordia lutea 12) Jatrophia integerrima 13) Hamelia patens 14) Plumeria pudica 15) Holmskioldia sanguinea 16) Tabernaemontana divaricata 17) Oleander"Ice Pink" 18) Solanum wrightii 19) Solanmum jasminoids Thanks for your interesting list, Andrew. Some unfamiliar ones in there that I will investigate. From what you grow, your climate sounds a little warmer than Sydney - more like Queensland; but we can grow a lot of subtropical plants here and they are in flower for a long period. Deirdre

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