Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Picks and Pans for Summer 08

There’s nothing like late August in the South Carolina midlands to separate the sheep from the goats. We’ve rolled along all summer, enticed by wonderful flowering things we’ve seen growing at the nursery or in glossy photos in magazines. We’ve brought them home and planted them in the appropriate place in the garden and expected them to look like they did in the picture or newly emerged from the greenhouse.

Just like the dress from Talbots that looks fabulous in a size 6 on a 5’9” model in the catalog but not quite the same in a size 14 on you in front of the full length mirror in your bedroom, real life sometimes doesn’t live up to exactly what we expected.

Still in a testing mood after last week’s tomato test, I want to gather some recommendations from Aiken Gardeners for their favorite hardy plants for local gardens. I’ll start with some of my picks and pans:

Dragonwing Begonia. The bright red flowers and thick shiny leaves of this annual make it a star in my book. Dragonwing seems resistant to pests – something I’ve been fighting all summer in some parts of my garden. It’s able to stand up to a few weeks of low water when the sprinkler head was broken, and to just be an all around good plant. It seems happy in shade or a whole lot of sun.
Alternantha. I think this variety is called “Party Time,” though there are dozens of other varieties in many colors with different leaf shapes to recommend. I planted a few pots of this rather late and it still seems to be thriving. Alternanthera is grown for its foliage, and this particular variety has pink and green leaves that fill in the holes with color without the demands of a flowering plant. Tom Rapp uses a chartreuse alternanthera with small, bright green leaves in some of the city plantings and has for several years. That’s a clue that it’s a hardy plant.
Purple fountain grass. There’s nothing like the drought tolerant grasses to add interest and texture to a bed. This fountain grass is especially attractive as it nods in the morning breeze. Too bad it won’t bloom year round.
Black-eyed Susan. Probably the most common wildflower across the United States, a sign that it can deal with hot summers and occasional neglect.
Lantana. Any plant that survives the summer on the west side of my house out of sprinkler range, and returns every year in a burst of yellow, butterfly loving color, can stay in my garden as long as I can turn a spade.

And now for the plants that did not live up to my expectations.
Sun Coleus. I know I have mentioned more than once that whatever is eating plants in the back bed must be especially fond of these coleus. I have grown them for years and they always seemed to stand out as good plants. This year I’m ready to be done with them. Is it something I said? Have I taken them for granted? I’ve vowed to give this bed a thorough renewing this fall and then again in spring. Coleus gets one more chance and we’ll part for good.
Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender” She looked so pretty in the hanging baskets – so hardy and soft. Mona must have given the critters of the night a come hither look and they took her up on the invitation. They’ve been munching on those leaves all summer. No leaves, so no flowers. No more Mona for me unless it’s in a hanging basket.
Some of the new coneflowers. I think I’ll stick with the old reliable varieties. ‘Magnus’ is a good one that’s been around a while and has proven itself.