AFTER a long, wet, rainy spring and cool start to summer, it's good to see that the plants in the garden are providing much needed bursts of colour.
July is definitely a peak month for bloom in the garden with mock orange, hydrangea, California lilac, lilies and some soon-to-be-tasty tomatoes in bloom. Thanks to modern breeding and new introductions from around the world, there are now more plant choices for the garden than ever before. And if you cannot grow in a piece of earth, do consider growing at least one choice plant in container on the patio or deck.
For July blooms I must recommend some of the shrubby cinquefoils (Potentilla fruticosa) for the home garden. Yes I know what you are thinking - those are shopping centre plants. Well, not exactly, and it is only necessary to be a plant snob when it is necessary, which is not the case here. Cinquefoils have been used for decades as reliable and trouble-free shrubs for the front or middle section of the garden border. In the old days, Cinquefoils only came in yellow. Then a white cultivar called Abbotswood was developed by Fred Tustin, of Abbotswood, England in 1960, which did not gain popularity in Canada until the '70s. Nowadays there are tangerine, red and pink cultivars on the market and many of these plants have gray-green or blue-green foliage, further enhancing their appeal. If you can get your hands on Red Ace you will enjoy the dark green foliage and the orange-red flowers that last much of the summer.
Cinquefoils grow to an average height of one metre (three feet) and slightly less in width. If you need a small shrub that blooms most of the summer, doesn't require much care, grows in almost any soil and needs little water, then the shrubby cinquefoil is a good choice.
These plants will tolerate some light shade but they do best in full sun locations. No need to fertilize, just dig deep and amend the planting hole with compost or manure at planting time and be sure to mulch two to three inches deep then sit back and watch the dazzling display of colour all summer.
Another great group of plants for summer bloom are the hardy geraniums (Geranium species) or cranesbills as they are commonly known. I have grown hardy geraniums for many years and found them to be one of the most reliable and prolific bloomers in the garden. Thanks to modern breeding we now have some awesome cultivars to adorn the summer garden. One of the longest lasting and most charming cranesbills is called 'Rozanne' which starts blooming in June and blooms its head off until fall frost. The loonie-sized flowers are purple-blue and display just above the deeply cut leaves, lasting well in cool rainy summers. Similar cultivars to Rozanne include 'Jolly Bee' and 'Philippe Vapelle' (more deeply divided flower). There is so much diversity in hardy geraniums that I do not have the time to discuss all of them but they range in size from
miniature rock garden species to tall border species and they come in pink, red, magenta, blue, white and bi-coloured versions thereof. But even with breeding some of the oldest cranesbills varieties are still excellent. Geranium macrorrhizum is an older species that is a vigorous groundcover type cranesbill producing awesome magentapink flowers in June-July that will tolerate some light shade.
The oxonianum cranesbills are another lovely and quite long flowering group but they can be a bit weedy from selfseeding unless you dead-head.
Another favourite hardy geranium of mine is called geranium phaeum which grows more upright than most others in the genus and produces small, dark purple flowers held atop stiff stems. Phaeum will tolerate some light shade and it is easy to grow but does not bloom as long as the other cultivars mentioned, but she is well worth a spot in the garden.
The great thing about hardy geraniums is that they bloom a long time, grow in almost any soil that is free-draining, require little or no deadheading (with exceptions), they are drought tolerant, generally pest and disease free and many species have foliage that is nicely fragrant to the touch.
It is no mistake that I mentioned cinquefoils (Potentilla species) and cranesbills (Geranium species) in the same column. Both of these plants like full sun, average soil that drains freely, require no fertilizer, but do require mulch and they look great planted together in the garden.
Plant cranesbills in the front of the bed and plant cinquefoils right behind your cranesbills to provide an awesome, season-long display of colour and texture to tingle your senses.
Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist, garden designer, writer, consultant and organic horticulture teacher. For advice contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.