Hail to the Hardy
The summer that sizzled, the plants that lasted
A few weeks ago I wrote a column about which plants in my garden best weathered the heat and mere .89 inches of rain between June 1 and Aug. 31 (the normal amount for that period is 3.3 inches). Since then, dozens of you have sent me your nominations for hard-working plants. I wish I had room to print all your praises of plants that still looked good at the end of our driest, hottest summer because they form a record of the most drought-tolerant plants for Northwest gardens.
Mary Pyper Scharer planted a new garden last fall, and was impressed with how the Russian sage (Perovskia), coneflowers (Echinacea) and cape fuchsias (Phygelius) came through the blazing sun on the west side of her house.
Some plants not only survived the drought but also were spurred on by the heat to surpass their usual performance. In Carolyn Herzog's garden, Diascia 'Coral Canyon,' Penstemon 'Ruby' and Lavatera 'Bredon Springs' just kept on blooming and blooming.
Sue Willingham watered her escallonia very little, but they've grown more than 2 feet over the summer. Living on Vashon Island, she couldn't help but add that the deer leave these glossy-leafed, pink-blooming shrubs alone. Her other nominations for both drought and deer tolerance are Himalayan honeysuckle, Cistus and Berberis thunbergii 'Rose Glow.'
"In my garden Penstemon gets first prize. I have four patches, each a different variety, and they have bloomed steadily since May," writes Docie Woodard. Surprisingly, her roses soldiered on through the scalding summer. Rugosas, of which such sturdiness might be expected, have continued to perform, but so have R. 'Super Excelsa' (deep-pink flowers) and the David Austin apricot-colored rose 'Leander.'
You'd expect a thoughtful response from anyone with "plantmommy" as part of her e-mail address, and Irene Mills didn't disappoint. "This summer forced a revision in my assumptions about the heat and drought tolerance of plants in our south-facing roadside border, which I really thought I had almost fine-tuned. Hah!" But some plants passed the road test with flying colors, including Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple,' Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and various crocosmia, which proved practically indestructible.
"As for hard workers, I could not be without the Japanese anemone 'Honorine Jobert.' Its cheerfulness during the day and its brightness in the evening light make up for its desire to creep and outgrow its bounds. I LOVE this perennial," writes Betty on Whidbey Island, proving that the pleasure a plant brings is often in inverse proportion to its snob factor.
Maia Eisen sent a short list of the plants still standing in early September after only minimal water: Fuchsia magellanica, the same anemone beloved by Betty, rosy-flowered Persicaria 'Firetail,' and all the Mediterranean herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary.
My friend David Laskin nominated the hardy fuchsias, "which have been blooming like mad with just the occasional watering from the lawn sprinkler. Plus Ann Folkard geraniums. We were gone for two weeks in July and returned to a very crisped garden, but these were happy as can be sprawling over the brown lawn and up through gasping roses."
When I rounded up all your nominations, the hardest-working plants proved to be that old favorite Japanese anemone as well as other common plants such as lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina), hardy fuchsias, Russian sage and Sedum 'Autumn Joy.' I was surprised to find that Oregon grape and salal were the only native plants, and feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster') the single ornamental grass mentioned more than once.
But thanks to all of you observant gardeners, at least now we know where to turn the next time Seattle goes desert.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
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