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Roll Call: What Looks Good In a Bad Year

by Andrew Keys on August 6, 2010

Man oh man. If I haven’t talked much about my garden lately, here, on Facebook or Twitter, it’s because my garden is mostly depressing this year. Why? Because we’ve had appallingly few soaking rains since June, along with heat and humidity that’d make ANY good Southerner request a cold drink. It’s brutal out there, and to be honest, I’m mad. Mad at having to water, even from the rain barrel; mad this could be a product of climate change (Did I mention we had the wettest summer ever last year?); mad my hard work in adding plants this spring is just wilting. Yes, I’m keen on drought tolerant plants, but few plants are drought tolerant until they’re established, and I planted a lot this year. Ugh.

Still, I guess there are bright spots. Let me show you some.

A handful of plants are weathering this heat instead of withering in it. Some might even surprise you. Here’s a big slideshow and a big list.

  • Aralia cordata – I covered this one in the latest issue of Fine Gardening magazine. Others of my beloved Aralias are looking pretty parched, but cordata takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
  • Baptisia Twilite Prairieblues™ – You know I love this plant. Add this to the laundry list.
  • Buddleia ‘Black Knight’ – Ditto.
  • Calamintha nepeta – A little division I got as a passalong this spring all of the sudden came into its own and couldn’t look more more fresh amidst its scorched bedfellows. I wonder how many divisions I can get out of this one little plant?
  • Carex muskingumensis ‘Oehme’ – Gifted from Scott Hokunson, these guys have proved to be WAY more drought tolerant than I’d have thought. I suspected they might be when I saw then growing in full sun at Tower Hill Botanic Garden.
  • Centranthus ruber – Planted in July, of all times, it’s not blooming much, but Amanda Thomsen told me it could take the heat, and she was right.
  • Cephalaria gigantea – From Annie’s Annuals and planted last year, these bloomed without a second thought. I think they’d be taller if it had rained at all, but at more than 5 feet and NOT sunburned, I’ll take it.
  • Chasmanthium latifolium – I divided up some pots of river oats two ears ago into bits I know now were too small to amount to anything quickly in dry shade. This year, they’ve finally come into their own. It was well timed.
  • Comptonia peregrina – Thinking of replanting my entire garden with sweetfern. It could NOT be happier. Now if it would just spread…
  • Eleutherococcus ‘Variegatus’ – Whom you may know as Acanthopanax really is as good in dry shade as they say, once established.
  • Hydrangea ‘Little Honey’ – No one is more surprised than me that three ‘Little Honey’ babies I planted out in spring have not even sniffled in this heat, unlike their French relatives.
  • Magnolia tripetala – Jill Nooney from Bedrock Gardens gave me four seedlings of this awesome magnolia in July. They’re in the shade, and they couldn’t care less about the heat.
  • Miscanthus x giganteus – My plants in sun burned at their bases, but a couple in shade are just fine. Of course, they’d have grown more if it’d rained at all.
  • Mystery grass – A gardening friend gave me a division of this grass this spring. Any takers? I’d love to know what it is, because it’s doing great.
  • Panicum virgatum – Sigh. This is the Panicum that was supposed to be ‘Shenadoah.’ It’s not, but you know what? It looks so good I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of it.
  • Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ – My most favorite grass ever. This is why.
  • Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ – OK, so its green parts turned sort of a limey green I’m not wild about, but it looks outstanding otherwise. More, please!
  • Physocarpus Coppertina™ – Has decided to spend the summer as an octopus. Still, it’s doubled in size this year.
  • Phytolacca ‘Silberstein’ – Variegated pokeweed! This version isn’t as vigorous as its unvariegated sister, but mine have grown in leaps and bounds this year. (Also pictured in the banner.)
  • Polystichum acrostichoides – You’d be hard pressed to beat Christmas fern in dry shade.
  • Pycnanthemum muticum – Is my new darling. Another July addition (long story), and is pretty much unfazed by the heat and dry weather.
  • Senna hebecarpa – Is getting moved to a more prominent spot next year, because it looks outstanding now.
  • Yucca ‘Color Guard’ – Of course these guys are happy.
  • Zanthoxylum simulans – A young ‘un I got at Stonecrop Gardens this spring, it’s all “Heat? What heat?” which bodes well for it.

So… How’s YOUR garden holding up this year?

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