Article by Lindsey Panton, sidebar by Ashley Andrews
Hardworking Flowers for Your Summer Garden
Most of us would like our gardens to be places to relax on summer evenings, places which welcome us home. Often, however, we find ourselves spending more time maintaining our gardens than relaxing in them. The good news is that there are plants that can help us. They perform month after month and ask little of us in return – they are simply hardworking flowers.
Hardworking flowers are easy to care for, bloom for a long time and have low susceptibility to disease and insect pests. They can take the heat and high winds that are common in our area and are rarely eaten by rodents. Here are some plants which will work hard in your northern Nevada garden. Most are perennials, have relatively low water requirements and grow best in sunny areas.
Landscape roses– Everyone loves roses but they can be tricky to grow. Landscape roses are an exception. They produce thousands of small blooms from early summer through the first frost and are very low maintenance, requiring no pruning or dead-heading.
Lavender– English lavender, with its fragrant purple blooms, is a garden favorite. Lavender plants release scent when you brush past them, even after the blooms are spent. To dry lavender for sachets, harvest the stems in the morning when the flower buds are just beginning to open, and hang them to dry in a shaded space with good air flow.
Coreopsis and Black-Eyed Susan– For a dazzling show of yellow or gold, plant drifts of Coreopsis or black-eyed Susan. Coreopsis produces abundant yellow blooms which continue through the heat of summer. Sheer off the first flush of blossoms to promote longer blooming. Black-eyed Susans, or Rudbekias, hold upright daisy-like blooms on sturdy stems from late summer to frost. They are also available in rusts and reds and are drought tolerant once established.
Shasta Daisies, Coneflower, Pincushion flower and Campanulas– Grouping white and blue flowers together creates a cool, calm landscape. Plant bright white Shasta daisies, or Coneflowers, which attract butterflies. Pair them with airy light blue pin-cushion (Scabiosa) and campanulas, which produce blue, bell-shaped flowers over low evergreen leaves. Add frothy white annual sweet alyssum for fragrance.
Thyme and other culinary herbs– English thyme is a popular culinary herb but it also makes an elegant edging for informal flower beds or lawns. Thyme spreads quickly and its small purple flowers attract bees. Creeping thyme works well between stepping stones or pavers. Other low maintenance herbs include oregano, rosemary, chives and mint. Herbs in the mint family have a tendency to grow so well that they take over your yard. Plant mint in a pot sunk into the soil to keep it under control. Catnip also grows vigorously and will attract bees, along with your neighborhood cats.
Remember to add organic compost to flower beds each year and to water appropriately. With very little maintenance these hardworking plants will fill your garden with color and fragrance, butterflies and bees, year after year. Cut some flowers and create a vintage posy. Sit back, relax and enjoy the view.
Sidebar: Growing Flowers and Food during Drought
When picturing a water-efficient home, it is easy to imagine one surrounded by a lot of hardscape and very few plants, if any. But luscious water-wise landscapes and gardens are possible with appropriate plant selection and careful irrigation.
When shopping for landscape plants, purchase those that are native to arid and semiarid regions. These plants are adapted with leaf formations and root systems that enable them to thrive with little moisture. Drought-adapted plant leaves are small, hairy, curled, waxy, succulent or blue-green or gray tinted.
The root systems of drought-adapted plants tend to be larger than the above-ground part of the plant. They can be shallow and extensive to best capture light irrigation. They can be in the form of a tap root, delving deep to take advantage of permanent ground water. They can be sinuous and able to grow through narrow spaces to find water, and they can be fleshy and capable of storing water.
Many of Lindsey’s hard working flowers are water-wise and feature these leaf formations and root systems. They can be planted in the landscape to beautify and conserve. To efficiently use water in the home garden, plant only what you will eat and avoid heavy water use crops like corn and beans. Fruit-loving homeowners can swap seldom-used turf areas for a vineyard to dramatically reduce water use while growing wine or table grapes.
Once you have selected your plants, it is important to water them appropriately. Drought-tolerant plants only require frequent watering when they are young. Thoroughly irrigate established water-wise landscape plants only when the soil is dry or you see signs of drought stress. Overwatering established water-efficient plants can kill them.
For best results in the landscape and in the garden, amend the soil with organic matter, group plants with similar water needs together, mulch the planting area and irrigate with a drip system on a timer. Organic matter holds moisture in the soil until it can be used by plants, and the use of drip systems in mulched gardens can cut water use in half.