Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Candy Apple Red and Neon Green

I saw my first hummingbird of the season this weekend. Turk’s Cap, or Sleeping Hibiscus, never fails to get the attention of those delightful creatures. I got these Turk’s Caps, old garden favorites and hibiscus relatives, at Woodlanders years ago, and, though they are considered tropical plants, they come back reliably ever summer with bright red two-inch blooms that look like hibiscus that never finished opening. Turk’s Caps have a protruding stigma that is a siren call to hummingbirds.

Neon green and neon orange are all the fashion rage this summer, I’m told. A child in an eye-popping green swim suit is easy to spot on the beach, and the color is equally attention-getting in a woman’s tank top. Neon is not, however, the most flattering to our hair and skin tones (“sallow” comes to mind) and maybe that’s not the kind of attention we want.

But imagine neon in the garden, especially in a part shady corner. I happened earlier in the spring onto a few pots of Hypericum calycinum ‘Brigadoon’ at Park Seed/Wayside Gardens’ Greenwood, SC nursery, and brought them home to put in a pot with ‘Nigra’ Elderberry, a lovely cutleaf shrub that I thought I needed. After all, not everybody shares a name with a plant.

Gardeners and non-gardeners alike have looked for years to Hypericum, or St. John’s Wort, for its therapeutic powers. Another species of Hypericum is thought to be antibiotic and antidepressive, though it has some other, less appealing, properties.

This ‘Brigadoon’ turns out to be even more attractive than I realized. It has the brightest, yellow-green leaves I ever seen in a garden, and promises even more treats when it blooms.

Unlike many of the tropical plants I’ve tried this year, ‘Brigadoon’ can take winter temperatures down to zone five, with its bright green foliage appearing in spring, followed by yellow flowers typical of the Hypericums, about a quarter size in diameter with pronounced stamens attractive to bees and butterflies.

‘Brigadoon’ is a low-growing, spreading ground cover that grows twelve to sixteen inches tall and two feet wide. It likes full sun to partial shade and is very adaptable to different soil types. It is listed by Wayside Gardens for zones five to seven, so it should come back next year.

I got a phone call last week from an Aiken gardener asking why her Calla Lily wasn’t reblooming, and I had to admit that my Calla Lily blooms are smaller and fewer in number this year as well. I think having success with Calla Lilies, in many ways, depends on the luck of the draw. You need to have found the right variety for our Aiken soil and climate. Calla Lily needs sun, but not too much sun. It needs cold, but not too much cold, and water but good drainage.

There are also two things worth trying. We can fertilize them after the leaves come up, though it may be too late to do any good this year, or we can dig them up in the fall and divide them into new plants. Calla lilies are just too beautiful not to be worth the fuss, or worth the price of some new bulbs. Online the price of bulbs ranges from a package of ten for twenty-five dollars to one ‘White Giant’ at Plant Delights for sixteen dollars. You get what you pay for, I expect.

We’ve been blessed with recurring afternoon showers lately, and weeding has become our main chore of the day. But the mornings seem cool now, considering it’s nearing the end of July, and weeds come up more easily from wet ground. Hummingbirds dart, butterflies sup. Life is good. Thanks be to God.