The late summer landscape can vary dramatically in appearance from year to year, depending on the whim of Mother Nature. A year ago, gardeners were coping with heat, humidity and drought-stricken landscapes.
The late summer landscape can vary dramatically in appearance from year to year, depending on the whim of Mother Nature.
A year ago, New England gardeners were coping with heat, humidity and drought-stricken landscapes. Crispy, straw-colored lawns, parched perennial borders and wilted container gardens were the norm as many of our valued plants struggled to survive. Spider mites were the bug du jour. Hours were spent hauling hoses and buckets to drought-stressed plants.
In stark contrast, summer storms have been unrelenting this August, and the combination of cool temperatures and copious rainfall have created a lush, overgrown, tropical green jungle.
Some plants have succumbed to soggy soils, rot or diseases; many vegetable gardeners have yet to enjoy their first red tomato due to minimal sunshine.
The patter of marble-sized hail on rooftops and windowpanes has been deafening at times, creating a curiosity for young and old alike as it bounced off hard surfaces and occasionally coated the ground with an icy covering. The broad leaves of several hostas and squash in my garden were tattered by the pelting ice balls, expanding the Swiss-cheese effect created by the hoards of snails and slugs that are prevalent this summer.
While some plants may be languishing due to the damp, dreary weather, members of the hibiscus family are flourishing, providing spectacular splashes of color in the late-summer landscape. Few hardy perennials rival the showy blooms of the flamboyant rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos).
Shrub-like in appearance, some cultivars of this woody-based perennial will eventually develop into clumps 5 feet high by 5 feet wide. Foliage may be rounded, reminiscent of hydrangea leaves, or attractively lobed and dissected, resembling cut-leaf maple leaves. Broad, circular blooms often reach dramatic proportions up to 12 inches across, in shades of pink, red and white, of which many display a contrasting red eye.
Provide these tropical-looking plants well-drained soils with consistent moisture in full sun to ensure large flowers and lush foliage. Patience is required each spring, as new growth rarely appears from the base of the plant until late May or early June. Old canes will not produce flowers or foliage in subsequent years and can be cut down in autumn but are sometimes best left until spring to mark the plant’s location.
Numerous rose mallow cultivars have been developed, including the hardy Southern Belle series, a mixed strain of white, red, pink and bi-color flowers on 3-foot stems, and the Disco Belle series, 20-inch, compact growers often treated as annuals. Hibiscus Lady Baltimore (pink blossoms with red centers) and Lord Baltimore (glowing red flowers) each display handsome maple-like leaves.
Several spectacular new introductions feature bronze-tinted foliage, among them Kopper King, with huge white flowers highlighted by burgundy centers and radiating cherry-tinted veins; Fireball, a sensational flaming red; and Plum Crazy, which produces unique purple blossoms.
The Proven Winners line of selected plants now features the Luna series of rose mallow cultivars, including Luna Red, White and Pink Swirl. Hardy to Zone 5, these newer introductions produce clumps 2 to 4 feet tall. Visit provenwinners.com to view the broad range of plants currently offered in the Proven Winners line and look for their green and white pots.
These hardy members of the hibiscus family should not be confused with tropical varieties (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) which have shiny, deep-green, toothed leaves and require temperatures consistently above 50 degrees in order to survive. The magnificent tropical hibiscus, with flower colors ranging from crimson to orange, yellow and white, can be summered out-of-doors, but they must be relocated to a sunny window or greenhouse once cooler temperatures prevail in fall, several weeks prior to a killing frost.
The popular, long-blooming rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) has been grown since Colonial times. Like the mallow, it is late to break dormancy in the spring. Flowers may be single or double in shades of pink, red, white, red, purple or blue. Many selections exhibit contrasting-colored eyes.
Reaching a height of up to 15 feet at maturity, these summer-blooming shrubs, which can be trained to produce a small tree, will readily adapt to a wide range of growing conditions — part shade, city pollution and seashore. Spring pruning is preferable, as plants bloom on new wood. Each flower lasts only a day, but an established shrub will continue to produce innumerable elegant blooms from late July until frost.
Personal favorites include Aphrodite, with deep pink flowers accentuated by a red eye; Blue Bird, an alluring, unique shade of lavender-blue blossoms highlighted by red eyezones; and Red Heart, which produces glistening white blooms, each with a ruby-red center. The cultivar Diana displays especially large, pure white flowers that glow in the evening landscape. I prize a variegated form solely for its attractive blue-green and white-toothed foliage, although its small, burgundy button-like flowers are hardly noticeable.
Proven Winners line of shrubs (colorchoiceplants.com) has introduced two new series of rose of Sharon: the chiffon series with blue, lavender and white semi-double blossoms; and the satin series with blue, blush, rose and violet flowers with contrasting centers that are reportedly stronger performers than their predecessors. A future release boasts a variegated form called Sugar Tip, with double pink flowers.
Add one or more of these showy members of the hibiscus family to your landscape for sensational late summer color and watch the hummingbirds hover at the heavenly blooms.Suzanne Mahler is an avid gardener, photographer and lecturer who has been developing the 1.5-acre property surrounding her home in Hanover, Mass., for more than 30 years. She is a member of two local garden clubs, past President of the New England Daylily Society, an overseer for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and is employed at two garden centers.