"Top summer colour"

Many plants give summer colour in Sydney.
Sunday, 23 February 2014     

Pentas lanceolata

Last week, I participated in a lively group discussion about the best perennials and shrubby perennials for summer colour in Sydney gardens. It was surprising how much consensus there was on the topic, despite the variety of gardening styles amongst the group. One of the most commonly mentioned plants was Pentas lanceolata (ht to 1 m). This shrubby perennial flowers seemingly indefatigably from late spring until the end of autumn, with dainty posies of starry blooms in colours ranging from white, pinks, purple, mauve and reds. In recent years, dwarf cultivars have been promoted but they don't have the presence or vigour of the traditional taller sorts, and tend to die after one season, whereas the taller ones last several years. After three years or so, they do become quite woody and new plants should be propagated by cuttings, which strike fairly easily.

Salvia plants were mentioned by many as a good source of long-lasting summer colour. The cultivar 'Wendy's Wish' (ht 80 cm) is a firm favourite of many Sydney gardeners for its reliable cerise flowers. Like Pentas, it seems to exhaust itself after a couple of years and needs to be replaced but it will have given much during its lifespan. The compact Salvia microphylla and Salvia greggii cultivars are also excellent summer flowerers. Many of the larger Salvia don't really come into their own until early autumn.

Cane and shrub-like Begonia plants are firm favourites of our garden group, as cuttings have been generously shared by several very keen Begonia growers over the years. These plants are bloom from late spring until the very end of autumn and are particularly stunning at the moment. They are excellent for dry, shady spots, though many (if not all) cane types can also grow in full sun as well. Bedding Begonia are also very tough plants for Sydney, in sun or shade, including very dry spots and containers.

The purple coneflowers - Echinacea purpurea - are very floriferous during summer, individual blooms lasting for many weeks. There are a number of different colours of these flowers apart from purple available nowadays. Another good herbaceous perennial for summer borders in Sydney gardens is the perennial Phlox. It has clusters of lovely blooms in colours of white, pinks, cerise, red, purples and blue, and will rebloom if deadheaded after the first flush. Both of these plants do best in sun, though the Phlox can cope with a little shade. The gorgeous Geranium cultivar 'Rozanne' (which last year was voted as the UK Royal Horticultural Society's 'Plant of the Century'), is agreed by many of our group to be the best of its type for Sydney gardens.

Canna and Dahlia hybrids are stars of many summer gardens in Sydney, flowering over a very long period, especially if deadheaded on a regular basis. They give a flamboyant tropical style and can be had in myriad flower colours as well as varieties with interesting foliage. Tough Fuchsia hybrids bloom for months in Sydney gardens - not all cultivars are robust, but our group swaps cuttings of the good ones, including 'Ambassador', 'Pixie' and 'Joy Patmore', which all grow well in garden beds. Fuchsia magellanica is also an excellent plant for Sydney.

Foliage plants that provide wonderful colour through our steamy summer months include the many and varied coleus plants (most survive through winter and come good again in spring), the freckle-face or polka-dot plants (Hypoestes phyllostachya), vibrantly hued Iresine cultivars and silvery Plectranthus argentatus.

 Reader Comments

1/5  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 24 February 2014

All plants mentioned perform well in Sydney"s heat, but this year, my perennial phlox were very poor. Whenever I hear, or see, Geranium "Rozanne", I think I must procure it, it seems to put on a lovely display. The same goes for the coneflower. I have never grown it, maybe in my extended garden? Plants offered for sale, at the gardens mentioned sound most enticing. Some plants, e.g. coleus, begonias, never cease to surprise, as they adapt well to sun and heat. I think the phlox may have suffered from the very dry spell we had in summer. It is good to see how many other plants can cope with such extremes. Deirdre

2/5  Jan - 2582 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 24 February 2014

Thanks Deidre, I enjoyed that. Yass experienced a record breaking run of heatwaves this summer - even the Salvia flowers burnt off and took months to recover. Stars under these conditions were gaura, agastache (flowers stayed strong even as the plants themselves wilted during weeks of 40+ degrees), geranium and penstemon. And we"ll be investing in summer flowering natives as well as more automation of watering systems over the next few months! Gaura kept the garden colourful - fabulous plant. Great to hear from you, Jan. It"s good to hear of what grows in your area, despite the heat and dryness. Deirdre

3/5  Chris - 4034 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Tuesday, 25 February 2014

In Brisbane, we have felt the heat and drought. Most of my plants needed a good talking to. The plants you mention seem to bounce back. The grey leaf plants cope quiet well. The other plant which stands tall and hardy is the old fashioned Vinca. It is hard to know what to grow with the extremes in our weather. Thanks for sharing. I haven"t grown vinca for years but I must grow it again - it is a very tough and pretty plant. Hope you get some rain soon. Deirdre

4/5  Ronda - 3058 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Wednesday, 26 February 2014

I wish I was in Sydney to visit the two inner city gardens in March. I love discovering plants that are not commonly grown in gardens. Two of my favourites which are not seen in Melbourne gardens are Rondaletia Amoena and The variegated Abutilon cultivar"Souviner de Bonn". Ronda, there is a big plant fair in Melbourne this weekend at Melbourne Uni Burnley Campus - see the Open Gardens Australia website for details. Should be lots of interesting plants for sale. Deirdre

5/5  Florence - 4070 (Zone:11B - Tropical) Sunday, 13 April 2014

Hello Dierdre, April is a good month for planting perennials and shrubs in your agenda, and I was wondering if there were any plants best planted in spring. Doing a major reshuffle of my cottage garden section, removing too scrappy plants and adding geranium, salvia, grass, scabiosa, evening primrose and sedum. Would you recommend holding back on any of those? And do you think Echium candicans would be happy in Brisbane? thanks a lot I think this is the best time of year for planting. It means things can get established before the heat and drought of summer. The echium could go OK in Brisbane - may not last for many seasons as it does not like humidity but worth a try. In any case, it is best started anew every few years as it gets rather woody after a while. Deirdre

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