Summer Cheer
from July 2001

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More than a few of us can remember a time when "summer color" anywhere beyond the annual bed consisted of the yellow of a Gold Coast juniper, the red of new shoots on a photinia, or the blue of an occasional agapanthus. All that has changed, of course. Yet for many gardens, summer is still the time of winding down from the glories of spring. Careful selection of garden plants with the march of the seasons in mind can make the garden much more interesting, not just through the summer but throughout the year. Here are a few ideas, ranging from an unusual shrub-tree to several rock garden and border perennials.

Crinodendron patagua, the lily of the valley tree, is one of many Chilean plants which deserve more attention. It is a bushy, upright-oval shrub or small tree, growing from 10' to perhaps 30' high but easily controlled by pruning. It has attractive smooth bark and leathery deep green, shiny leaves 1-3" long. For several weeks in summer creamy 1" bells with divided tips hang in rows from the younger branches. Their fragrance is delightful but needs to be enjoyed at close range.

This is a showy and manageable shrub. It should have a prominent place in the front yard, in sun or light shade and with regular watering. It is hardy to 15-18oF.

Salvia microphylla var. neurepia was one of the first southwestern salvias brought to California by Richard Dufresne in the 1980s. It has been the longest-lived salvia in my own garden, thriving in poor soils, sun or shade, and with garden watering or summer drought. It has never been out of bloom for me. This is a relatively low but spreading shrub, reaching perhaps 4' by 8' in time. The apple-green leaves are around 2" long and quite broad. Each shoot bears a long succession of bright red flowers, resembling those of the better-known S. greggii but nearly twice as large. It has already shown itself hardy to 10oF or less.

Calylophus drummondianus. This little Texas native is one of my all-time favorite plants. It is quite variable in the wild, but this unnamed selection from Central Coast Growers is almost perfectly prostrate, with many wiry stems. Closely lining them are narrow bright green leaves, 1-2" long. Flowering begins in mid-spring and reaches a crescendo during the summer months, with clusters of brilliant yellow 4-petalled flowers at every shoot tip. The blossoms measure up to 2" across and have an interesting, slightly wrinkled surface.

This is a fine plant for open banks and sunny borders. It should have well drained soil but can take a variety of watering regimes, including full summer drought. It is hardy to 10oF or less.

Scutellaria (skullcap) is a widespread group of perennial mints, long appreciated in Europe but only recently so here. Its many species share the features of small size, neat habit, and clusters of colorful 2-lipped flowers which resemble those of snapdragons or linarias more than those of other mints. Our collection seems to grow each year, with the help of friends and nurseries in the Southwest.

These are fine plants for rock gardens, banks and low borders. The following appreciate sun, reasonably well-drained soil and moderate summer watering. All are hardy to 10oF or less.

S. orientalis is a low mat with closely set somewhat greyish green scallop-edged leaves. It flowers mostly in July and August, carrying dense upright clusters of 1" lemon yellow blossoms marked with white or brown. S. pontica is a similar plant, growing 6-10" high, with darker green leaves. The flowers in our material are painted a deep purplish pink. S. suffrutescens is my own personal favorite. It makes dense low hummocks of grey stems and small, dark leaves. Its display of deep pink flowers often lasts throughout the summer. Many more species are on the way.