Selecting the Best Summer Flowers for Your Montgomery Garden
Summer begins on June 21 this year, but for me, Memorial Day seems to signify the end of spring and the beginning of summer. Either way, it’s time to talk about summer flowers.
Many homes and businesses use annual flowers to add some color to their properties. Annuals will bloom all summer, and that’s a great advantage. On the other hand, annuals won’t come back next year, and that just bothers me. I like to think that anything I plant will grow, and be there next year. I suppose I’m just lazy.
Three tiger swallowtail butterflies on Joe Pye weed. Photo by Larry Koplik
There are several choices of deer-resistant annual flowers, including shade-loving begonias, which come in many colors, but most annuals prefer sun.
Zinnias are lovely for bouquets. Nasturtium is edible, gomphrena can be cut for bouquets or dried, and cleome grows to four to six feet tall. Cleome will also produce seeds that grow the next year. Salvia, ageratum, sweet William, lantana, and snapdragon are other choices. Visit one of Montgomery’s garden stores to see a variety of annual plants, ready to plant.
There’s also a lovely native annual called partridge pea, but I don’t think it’s deer-resistant. It has yellow flowers with a touch of red from June or July through September, and fern-like leaves. It’s a legume, so it adds nitrogen to the soil, and it tolerates partial shade. I’ve seen it growing in full sun in a wildflower meadow. Bees and butterflies love it, especially bumblebees, and birds eat its seeds. If you want to grow this one, you’ll probably have to order a packet of seeds.
I’ve admired all these colorful annual flowers over the years, and my husband, Larry Koplik, grows or has grown many of them in his gardens. However, I stick with perennials. In some of my gardens I try to mix flowers that bloom at different times of year so there’s always something pretty and colorful.
Sometimes I fail, usually around early June, when it seems to me there’s a dearth of blooming perennials. I wonder what the bees are doing for nectar and pollen in early June. I suppose they could be visiting all those annuals, but surely they evolved to get their food from native plants. It’s a puzzle.
I love irises, and peonies, perennials my mother grew. They are both deer-resistant, and sun-loving. Peonies with double blooms need something to support their stems. Various metal frames are available at garden stores to prevent them from falling over in the rain, or you could get old-fashioned peonies with single blooms.
There are bearded irises, Siberian irises, Japanese irises, and the native blue flag irises, which like moist or wet places, as well as sun. Unfortunately, over time irises will get crowded and they bloom less and less, so you have to dig them up and separate them to get more flowers.
Below: Orange butterfly weed
I recommend orange butterfly weed, whose flat-topped clusters of flowers start blooming in June and don’t stop until sometime in August. It loves dry soil and sun, and many butterflies are attracted to its flowers.
Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on its narrow leaves, because the caterpillars when they hatch can only eat the leaves of milkweed varieties, of which this is one. Don’t try to transplant it, because it has incredible roots! This native perennial gets to be about two feet tall. Like all milkweeds, deer don’t eat it.
Another beautiful native milkweed is purple milkweed. Like common milkweed, it has wide leaves and globular clusters of flowers. It blooms in June with bright purple blossoms, and it tolerates partial shade.
Swamp milkweed has lovely, candy-pink, flat-topped clusters of flowers in August, and grows to be three feet tall or taller. It has narrow leaves, like butterfly weed, and seems to get the most monarch caterpillars. It doesn’t need a swamp; it will thrive in wet to average soil, and full sun. I discovered this accidentally. I didn’t mean to plant swamp milkweed in the flower beds in front of the municipal building. I ordered butterfly weed, but somehow swamp milkweed came along with it.
Below: Butterfly garden planted by Sarah Roberts at the Montgomery Municipal Building. Photo by Barbara A. Preston
These beds, surrounded by concrete, can be very hot and dry, usually when I’m away on vacation and can’t water them. But the swamp milkweed has survived for years, and spread, and provided homes for many monarch caterpillars. Don’t hesitate to try it if you like pink flowers, or monarch butterflies, and have a sunny place.
Another favorite sun-loving and deer-resistant summer flower is Liatris spicata, or blazing star. It has long, tall, lavender-pink flowers in early July, which I discovered when I planted them in a courtyard at Montgomery High School, hoping that students and their families would see them at graduation in June. My timing was off! This native flower is drought-tolerant, likes average moisture, and is recommended for rain gardens. It grows to be two to four feet tall, but that’s mostly its flower stalk; its leaves are fairly low, and easily shaded out by taller plants. Blazing star makes a striking addition to a bouquet.
Though I do most of my gardening in shady places with lots of deer around, I feel lucky to have a small, sunny, fenced-in garden, where I can protect some of my favorite native perennials from deer. My very favorite flowers are Turk’s cap lilies and Canada lilies. Both are orange, and bloom in late June and July. I think I love every lily I’ve ever seen, but these are the most spectacular. They send up a stalk with whorls of green leaves, and at the top of it they send up several stems with as many as twenty hanging Canada lilies, or 40 Turk’s cap lilies. The whole plant can be as tall as eight feet, and the effect is like candelabra. The shades of orange can vary from yellow-orange to red-orange, and they are a nectar source for hummingbirds. These New Jersey native flowers like moist but well-drained soil.
Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium purpureum, is a favorite of mine for the swallowtail butterflies it attracts, especially the tiger swallowtails. The large flower heads are mauve. It’s a useful and attractive plant, native, deer-resistant, up to 7 feet tall, happy in average, moist or wet soil, in sun to partial shade. Joe Pye was said to be a Native American doctor, but nobody seems to remember what ailments he treated with this plant.
Another flower I love is queen of the prairie, filipendula rubra. Its fragrant flower clusters look like pink cotton candy. It isn’t native in Somerset County, but it is in Hunterdon, which is close enough for me. Never call me a purist! It grows in average soil, but prefers moist or wet soil, which may explain why my husband Larry’s plants never grow to the eight feet that is their theoretical potential. They like full sun to part shade, and they need to cross-pollinate to produce seeds. You could buy one plant and never have to worry about it becoming a nuisance, or you could buy two and share the seedlings with your friends. The jury is out on deer-resistance: some sources say it has it, but our deer do eat the flowers.
Of all the plants that I’ve planted I get the most compliments on bee balm, so I’m pretty sure you’ll like it. It is a slightly ragged-looking flower, bright red, blooming in July, and deer-resistant. Humming birds love it, also bees and butterflies. Need I say more?
One of the more beautiful flowers of summer is the bright scarlet cardinal flower. It’s a frustratingly short-lived perennial, and must have wet or moist soil at all times. I should have planted it last year! It won’t tolerate fallen leaves over it in winter, but deer and rabbits don’t bother it. Sometimes it spreads its seeds and sends up more plants.
In summer you’ll want shade as much as you want flowers, so think about planting some more trees. As a child I played under sugar maple trees, and I loved the dappled shade under honey locust trees, with their fern-like foliage. You might plant fast-growing tulip trees, or a disease-resistant American elm tree.
They’ll also be lovely in spring when they leaf out, and in fall when their leaves change color. Pull up a lawn chair under a tree, sit in the shade, and admire your summer flowers, blooming in the sun.
Questions? Comments? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. ■