Gardening: The dog days of summer

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Fragrant, old-fashioned crinum lily.The odds and ends of August

Welcome to the Dog Days of summer, the steamy period of late July through August. It seems that ancient skywatchers associated the hottest days with the “Dog Star,” Sirius, the brightest star in the sky as well as brightest of the constellation Canis Major (big dog), because its rising and setting coincided with that of the sun. Ancient Romans thought the earth received heat from it, but not so—just another attempt to explain the mysteries of the universe. Rather, the heat of summer is a direct result of the earth’s tilt.

What does that mean to us? Do you really want to go into your garden on most days? Probably not, but you still want something pretty to look at. The hardy perennials and some really tough annuals are your best answer.

Last month’s article featured some reliable summer survivors. A few others that come to mind are two new cultivars of gailliardia, or blanket flower, tested and highly touted by Athens Select. ‘Georgia Sunset’ is a brilliant gold and orange bicolor whose blooms seem to glow and which testers claim is the best gailliardia they have grown. The other is ‘Georgia Yellow’, a solid butter yellow. Growing approximately 18 inches tall with flowers almost 2 inches across, they are acclaimed as dependably hardy perennials. Athens Select choices reflect the results of the trial gardens at the University of Georgia Botanical Garden in Athens, which are chosen to withstand the challenges of heat, humidity and drought, typical of Southern summers.

Cannas are good performers in late summer for color and dramatic interest. Some dependable favorites are the brilliant red with bronze foliage, ‘Arizona’, the glitzy striped leaved ‘Bengal Tiger’ (or ‘Pretoria’) and the splendid ‘Yellow King Humbert.’

‘Journey’s End’ and ‘Panache’ are more delicate, but long-bloomers. A wide range of choice is available, something to please even people who think they don’t like cannas.

Crinum lilies are perfect for this time of year. This old-fashioned lily has been known as a “passalong plant” for a long time because of being unavailable commercially. One of many varieties is called milk and wine lily, creamy with a winy striped blush and sweet, but not cloying, fragrance. (A downside of creating new cultivars of old favorites for reasons of improving them is that sometimes fragrance is lost in the process.) Crinums can now be purchased from Jenks Farmer’s nursery right here in South Carolina. Sign on to his nursery’s website at lushlifegarden.com for details.

Angelonia is seen everywhere these days, especially the white ‘Angel Mist’. It loves the sun and heat and its apparent fragility belies its toughness. It is beautiful anywhere you put it. Although it can be had in purple and lavender, white is an agreeable mixer in the garden and enhances everything it touches.

Two plants to beware of are Ruellia (Mexican petunia) and Crocsomia. Although bees love Ruellia, and it is fun to watch them insert their entire body into the tubular throat of the blue flower to get the nectar, they are seriously invasive and almost impossible to eradicate once established. Crocosmia creeps along underground and pops up everywhere for years after planting and must be pulled up by hand forever, while the bloom is not worth it.

Finally, verbena and gaura actually demand heat and strong sunshine so are welcome in the Dog Days Lowcountry garden—and always salvia, especially salvia leucantha, s. guaranitica and the cultivar ‘Indigo Spires’.

Interesting fillers and background plants include colocasia and alocasia, the large-leaved and variously patterned elephant ears. Much can be made of them in combination with other plants.

And now for something cool to drink—for garden and gardener.