Canna lilies, especially the bronze-leaved cultivar ‘Arizona,’ will take on a renewed vigor this fall.With a brutal summer finally winding down and the beginning of cooler weather on hand, it’s a good time for looking both forward and backward.

We’ve had great success with a number of plants this year, especially our pentas and angelonia.

Both want plenty of sun — especially angelonia, which will grow thin and wispy if deprived of it. But pentas, which can be bloom in colors ranging from pale pink to lavender to cerise, will outbloom and outlast everything else in your garden.

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.

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July is looming, threatening even, with punishing weather that demands the utmost from both garden and gardener. It will be more comfortable if you have done your homework (and yard work) previously and have provided the hardiest perennial surviviors to see you through the next two to three months.

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Frequently it’s the little things in life that add surprise and pleasure to the daily routine, and nowhere is that more evident than in the garden.

Although most gardeners seek out the big, showy flowers that flaunt bright colors for a brief season, at the same time it’s the smaller reliable ones, the workhorses, that quietly provide the background and foundation for the splashier ones.

Sometimes these are groundcovers, which may have little bloom, but have an interesting form and texture. More often they will be small annuals with persistent long-term flowering — and maintaining extended bloom in the summertime extremes of a Lowcountry garden is much to be desired.

0410_garden“Oh, to be in England now that April’s there,” quoth Mr. Browning. Meanwhile, thoughts of April in Paris evoke romantic and nostalgic feelings.

hodges_0310“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
- Anais Nin

Although Nin may have been referring to something more elusive, to winter-weary Lowcountry gardeners it means that spring is about to put in its long anticipated appearance. Following a cruel and damaging winter, forsythia, spiraea, azaleas and cherry blossoms are the first garden plants to take the risk of blossoming.

Focal point arrangementGardening is art, science and philosophy all wrapped together in one mysterious and sometimes unattainable enterprise. But that has never stopped anyone from pursuing it. A satisfying garden requires a basic knowledge of the science of horticulture in order to meet the physical demands of growing plants; sufficient knowledge of the primary principles of art to combine them harmoniously; plus your personal philosophy of what represents the ideal garden.

Get help identifying the horticultural and physical requirements of your plants through nurseries, catalogues, books and online. State or county extension agents and the Master Gardeners program are also useful. The book “Bulletproof Flowers for the South,” by Jim Wilson, features high-heat and humidity-resistant flowers. When searching these resources, be sure to seek information for your specific area and do not succumb to glossy catalogues from other regions.

Magnolia grandiflora • Photo by Neil HodgesAlthough New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, why not resolve to become more familiar with botanical or horticultural designations of plants that we grow or wish to grow?

Why bother?

For starters, it’s useful for precise identification, for information about growth habit and habitat preference, and for bloom expectations.

Though written in Latin, it is often possible to tease out the meaning due to some similarity to the English equivalent. That’s not always true, but it helps advance your general gardening prowess just to try. At the risk of preaching to the choir, it is well known that the binomial system of naming plants and animals was devised by Swedish physician/botanist Carl Linnaeus and published in 1753 in “Species Plantarum.”

What plants are good to fill in the spaces recently vacated by summer annuals?

Purple blooms of salvia leucantha.Though Shakespeare declares that only in June come perfect days, gardeners in the Lowcountry know better. We have not forgotten the crushing days of heat that afected both gardens and gardeners last June. But, October, November — and even into December — we are furnished with perfect days outdoors when brisk air, moderate temperatures, adequate rainfall and bright Carolina blue skies that stimulate and inspire our efforts.

While Northerners are putting their landscapes to bed for months under snow cover, Southern practitioners are busy planting winter annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees.

Mastering the Art of Fine Gardening

oct09_flowerWhat a refreshing idea! It is well known that gardens thrive in the spring and early summer, but what happens or can be expected in the fall in a Lowcountry garden? Those and related questions will be answered on Oct. 17 when the Lowcountry Master Gardener Association presents its second annual educational garden tour. The emphasis is on education and even the most experienced gardener can learn something.