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Some like it hot

Your garden can be colorful and pretty despite the searing Lowcountry heat

Massed variegated caladiumsAlthough our recent weather has been more capricious than usual, it’s probably safe to go out on the proverbial limb and predict that July will be hot. So we — and our gardens — had better be up to the challenge.

At this time of year, most gardeners really want plants that will stand up under 90-degreeplus heat, considerable humidity, searing sun, occasional high winds, too much and/or too little rainfall and the lassitude of the mid-summer gardener. In other words, what will miraculously bloom on and on and give us maximum color as we gaze out languidly from air-conditioned rooms while nursing a glass of something cold and frosty?

First, verbena seems to adore the sun. The most prolific and long-lasting display ever observed by this writer on Hilton Head Island flourished in full blazing sun all  day long. “Homestead Purple” is a good standard cultivar, although there are others. Gaura has also been seen thriving happily in containers on hot beachfront decks.

Melampodium also glories in full sun. It’s a smallish plant, but its yellow flowers are nevertheless showy, multi-floriferous, long-lasting and cheerful in the front of the garden. Dragon-leaf begonias in either pink or scarlet hues seem oblivious to weather extremes and perform brilliantly all summer and beyond. They are perfect in hanging baskets due both to their exuberant growth and graceful draping habit.

Coleus is frequently mentioned in this column, yet the stunning color variations and opportunities for combining them with each other and with other plants increases exponentially every year. That creates a constantly evolving palette of luscious hues. A creative gardener’s eye can select varieties so that each plant reflects and/or repeats shades of the same or complimentary color, resulting in a kaleidoscopic design.

Other plants in the same multicolor foliage category are in the caladium family, which include a wide variety of mix-and-match hues. Caladiums love shade and practically demand hot weather. They must be planted after the soil warms up to a minimum of 65-70 degrees at a depth of 6 inches. This normally can be expected around the beginning of May in this area. They will return the following year, but not nearly as vigorous or colorful. Therefore, it is best to purchase new bulbs each year. It doesn’t take many to make a joyful display. Specialty caladiums from Thailand are available by catalogue, with names that translate into “Thai Beauty,” “Prince Garnet” and “Five Primary Colors.” They are somewhat smaller and more exotic in shading and pattern than what we are accustomed to and would be ideal in an oriental or Asian-type garden.

Some tried-and-true flowers are pentas, coneflower and scaevola. Pentas come in scarlet, white and two shades of pink. It grows to medium height, seemingly lasts forever in the garden and is a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds. Coneflowers are well known to everyone, but that doesn’t make them any less dependable or desirable for long-term color. Scaevola, which also are known as fan-flowers, now appear in an unexpected shade of pink to supplement the previously available blue “New Wonder” and the sparkling white “Whirlwind.” Take your choice or plant all three, either in the ground, hanging baskets or in deck containers. You will not be disappointed.

Finally, for a small to medium, colorful perennial shrub, the California bush daisy (euryops) is hard to beat. It requires little or no maintenance other than occasional dead-heading (and this is not arduous). It blooms cheerfully on and on, even into December. Cutting it back in early spring to a manageable size will ensure that it returns to delight you next summer. A larger shrub is the traditional Southern garden favorite, the hydrangea macrophylla, which should be a staple for every garden in this area. A good choice is cultivar “Endless Summer.”

Hopefully, you’ll have a relaxing summer with many of these old standbys and more recent varieties.