Despite severe weather during the 2013 growing season, some plants performed like champs.
We asked local gardeners and experts to share their summer favorites with us so you can plan to plant some in spring.
By Mary Lynn Bruny
You have to be tough to be a plant in Colorado, and this past growing season proved that all too well. Late-spring snowstorms froze buds and smooshed foliage. Then summer winds whipped everything around. But the record-breaking 100-year fall flood reminded folks that Mother Nature can always throw another curve ball. Despite freezing snow, damaging winds and drowning waters, some plants thrived, reminding gardeners why they continue to stick spades in the ground, despite the challenges.
Here are eight favorites of local gardeners and experts from the recent growing season:
Flowers to Dive For
“Ah, how does one ever narrow down to a favorite? That’s like asking to choose your favorite kid. But besides being a peony and rose addict, I am really crazy for the crocosmia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora) growing in our garden. It comes out a bit later in the summer, which makes it a welcome surprise. The best thing about it, however, is that the hummingbirds dive-bomb it all day long. It’s like watching tiny iridescent dragons on full throttle heading straight down towards the red ambrosia-filled vessels. Really, it’s one of the highlights of summer, complete with blinding color and zooming noise! Crocosmia likes full sun, grows 3- to 4-feet tall and makes excellent cut flowers. It’s also deer and rabbit resistant. I read that you should watch for spider mites and thrips on the foliage, but I have never had those on mine.”
—Rebecca DiDomenico, artist and owner of DiDomenico and Swoon Studios, Boulder (Rebecca’s garden has been featured on the Eccentric Artists’ Garden Tour, and her house was featured in the summer 2005 issue of Boulder County Home & Garden Magazine)
“We test many excellent annuals at the Colorado State Trail Gardens in Fort Collins, but this year my favorite is Lantana camara ‘Lucky Sunrise Rose’. Lantanas are known to be heat-tolerant, but this variety is far superior to other lantanas due to its consistent display of blooms throughout the entire summer and into fall. ‘Lucky Sunrise Rose’ prolifically produces bright, multicolored flowers. In the trial gardens, you could distinguish the variety even from a distance due to the number of flowers. Plus, the plant’s dark-green foliage really makes it pop next to other plants. Even though the ‘Lucky Sunrise Rose’ plants were vigorous growers, they still maintained a very uniform growth habit. As it’s sun loving and drought tolerant, this plant is great for dry, sunny locations. It’s a very dependable variety to enjoy in the garden through the entire growing season.”
—James E. Klett, professor, department of horticulture and landscape architecture, Colorado State University, Fort Collins
“This last growing season I loved my delphiniums (Delphinium elatum), because I grew them from harvested seeds. I was so disappointed after the spring snowstorms, as all the blossoms on my apple, cherry and plum trees were lost, and I didn’t get a single lilac bloom. The silver lining was the delphiniums. In March I planted seeds I’d previously harvested. I’ve tried growing delphiniums from seeds before, but have never had any luck. But because of the May snow they got cold enough to germinate and I had a gorgeous batch for the summer. They love full sun and can get 5-feet tall, so they need staking if it’s windy. I love that they bloom twice a year—once in the middle of June and the second time in mid-to-late August. My roses bloom at the same time, so I plant the delphiniums behind the roses. Stunning! They’re excellent for cutting, too.”
—Mimi Ward, Boulder gardener (Mimi’s garden has been featured on the Whittier-Mapleton Garden Tour)
“Putting together container plantings that dazzle is a struggle for me, so when I find a plant that’s a showstopper by itself, it wins a place in the garden. King Tut Egyptian papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) is big and bold, with 4- to 5-foot-tall deep-green stalks topped by feathery tufts of leaves. Exotic in appearance but low in maintenance, the papyrus is in a container at our entrance walkway in full sun where visitors can enjoy it—usually by singing the Steve Martin song of the same name. A dramatic water plant as long as the crown is never submerged, King Tut will thrive in a landscape as well. It does need water, doing best when kept moist, so I used it in a container where I could control the moisture. Pest- and disease-free, the plant’s only drawback was when some stalks bent over from windstorms, and it was cockeyed until I could get out to groom it. King Tut isn’t hardy here, but I’ll look for it at garden centers again next year. A plant with this much impact is a must-have for my garden.”
—Carol O’Meara, horticulture entomologist with the Colorado State University Extension, Longmont
“The plant that’s my current favorite is gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’), commonly called whirling butterflies. I love it because it has a nice wispy look to it and blooms almost all summer and into the fall. It also comes in white, but I prefer the pink variety. At 2½- to 3-feet tall and wide, it makes a great companion plant intermixed with grasses, and is a nice backdrop for shorter perennials. It can stand well on its own, but also is great planted in mass quantities. It makes an excellent meadow garden plant. I like it with sedum, echinacea, asclepias (butterfly weed), campanula (balloon flower) and nepeta (catnip). It needs little to no maintenance; the only thing I do is cut it back in the fall. It likes full sun and once established it doesn’t require much water.”
—Julia Viel, horticulturist, City of Boulder Parks and Recreation Department
“My brother Jim, who lives in Kansas, and I send pictures back and forth on our cell phones of one rose that is always different in appearance: ‘Double Delight’ (Rosa ‘Double Delight’). That difference is one reason it’s become a favorite rose of many since it was introduced in 1977. The story goes, it was almost disposed of as a seedling because it looked like ‘just another white rose.’ But soon its phototropic characteristic became apparent, which is responsible for the petals gaining or changing in color depending on the amount of sunlight the plant gets. Thus, ‘Double Delight’, which is usually cream to light yellow at its base, gains strawberry-red coloring on its petals the longer it’s exposed to the sun, making each rose different in appearance. This terrific hybrid tea rose is doubly delightful, because it has a long-lasting, strong, sweet, spicy fragrance—even after sitting in a vase for several days. The gorgeous blooms are about 5 inches in diameter and the plant grows to 3½-feet tall and 2- to 3-feet wide, though it’s not a fast grower here.”
—Lynn Nichols, Gunbarrel rosarian and senior instructor, CU Department of Theatre and Dance, Boulder (Lynn’s garden currently contains 450 roses, including 17 ‘Double Delights’, and was featured in the spring 2012 issue of Boulder County Home & Garden Magazine)
Loopy for Lupines
“My newest favorite plant is the Russell hybrid lupine. It’s a favorite of passersby, too, because whenever anyone walked by and saw it, they’d inevitably gasp with delight and ask me what it was because the flowers are so striking. Even the green mounds of palmate leaves are eye-catching. The Russell hybrid is a flashy, erect spring bloomer that brings the garden to life when not much else is poking up. It’s available in a wide color palette; I have red, yellow and pink Russell lupines, but it also comes in purple, mauve, white, blue and violet. Just plant it in a place that doesn’t get sun-blasted, water it regularly and next spring you’ll get comments from passersby, too.”
—Carol Brock, editor, Boulder County Home & Garden Magazine
“I have a xeriscape front garden that includes three Vermillion Bluffs Mexican sage (Salvia darcyi ‘Pscarl’). They are just gorgeous and always blooming. They start in mid-to-late June and just keep blooming until the end of the season. It’s a really good, bright bright red, tall perennial that’s hard to find; mine are about 3- to 3½-feet tall. Hummingbirds and bees love them, but because they’re a sage variety and very fragrant, deer stay away from them. I’ve never had a pest or mold issue with them either. But if you don’t get them well established and don’t mulch them in winter, sometimes they won’t come back. They’re always late emergers in spring; usually when all my other perennials are up, they’re still dormant. My Vermillions are mixed with ‘Seafoam’ artemisia, nice bright-yellow rudbeckia, ‘Goldsturm’ black-eyed Susans and ‘Ice Carnival’ daylilies.”
—Hannah Upham, assistant manager and bedding plants manager, Sturtz and Copeland Florists, Greenhouses and Fine Stationery, Boulder