As mercury rises, so do some blooms

July 24, 2011 

The first month of summer 2011 brought no respite from the persistent heat and dry conditions that began in May. By the third week of July the flowers and foliage on some plants in our spring and summer gardens gave notice that they could not go on.

Sadly I pulled and disposed of dahlias and flowering maples and a hanging basket of begonias that was not going to continue to set buds in full sun and temperatures in the 90s.

Each day, hours were spent watering where the automatic water system did not reach, as well as many newly planted containers. It was hot and tiring work.

Then one morning in the first week in July, I walked outside early to a wonderful surprise. During the night the "Surprise" lilies had popped up out of the ground, their single stem supporting a perfectly formed pink lily. By the next morning there were more; I counted 77 in all.

Grown from seed that I scattered each year, the wind had blown the seed here, there and everywhere. They've lived up to their name. Also called "Rain lilies," they are of the family Amaryllidaceae. Previously called Zephyranthus, they're now labeled Habranthus robusus.

There were more surprises to come. The large, strapping green leaves that had appeared in spring parted to make way for an incredible, statuesque flower of white. Research yielded that this was indeed the Star of Bethlehem. I'd thought that it was going to be tiny and star-like. Bonus: The cut bloom is a long-lasting flower in a vase.

A week later, while cutting back a large stem of a pushy Saw palmetto, I discovered a plant identification tag that read "blood lily." "Beats me," I thought, but a look back in my garden journal told me that I'd planted two blood lilies in October. There was no sign of growth.

Then one morning, up popped two giant, spider-like crimson flowers. Also known as hurricane and schoolhouse lilies, these dramatic flowers were introduced from the Andes in 1807 and came to Texas with German settlers about 1863. They're described as extra tough and able to thrive in any sort of soil. Obviously they've come to the right place.

In mid-July heavy rains arrived and polished off the "Blackberry Punch" Calibrachoa, the hot new superbells that proved so popular with garden shoppers this spring. Unfortunately, mine were in hanging baskets and despite their requirements of care, light watering and allowing to dry out between waterings, rain turned foliage black and flowers to slime.

After weeks of little rain, most of the summer-grown plants responded with new growth. Tomato plants that had been producing small fruit with tough skin and little new growth, began to grow and flower again. The exception to the small yield of others was the orange cherry tomato "Sungold." My three plants continued to yield a small basket-a-day of sweet, perfect fruit. I've grown "Sungold" in containers since its introduction, ordering seed each year from Renee's Garden.

MID-SEASON PLANT REPORT

I've a special interest in weather conditions in the spring and summer. Each year I am sent plants from various nurseries around the country. These plants are new varieties, usually of old favorites. I won't report back until fall, but I like to do a mid-season review.

Southern Living plants: Plants from The Southern Living plant collection are thriving in large containers; the "Princess Dark Lavender" verbena looked a tad wilted on the day the heat index rose to 110, but has revived. The "Flirt" Nandina is described as "stunning, deep red and with superior color through the summer unlike similar varieties." I can second that. The "Purple Pixie" weeping Loropetalum hasn't yet come up with "vibrant pink blooms," but its cascading purple foliage is very striking.

Blooms of Bressingham: From Blooms of Bressingham there were seven plants: two St. John's wort; a Buddleia "Butterfly Heaven," a Helenium "Mardi Gras," a vervain "Lollipop," a geranium "Blushing Turtle" and a Lithodora "White Star." All are perennials. I know St. John's wort will thrive. Years ago I threw one that I thought dead into the woods where it's grown large and flowered. I find the small-leaved perennial geranium difficult in our garden zone, but with a name like "Blushing Turtle" it will likely sell. It has not yet bloomed. The jury is out on the Buddleia, Helenium, vervain (a delicate plant) and Lithodora.

Santa Rosa Gardens: There are grasses Panicum "Northwind" and Pennisetum alopecuroides from Santa Rosa Gardens for Trials Evaluation, also Rudbeckia "Goldsturm," Coreopsis "Jethro Tull" and Sempervium "Hens and Chicks." These are sun-loving, heat-tolerant and a snap to grow. The grasses settled right in and are flowering.

Sakata seeds: I'm growing three plants of grape tomatoes from untreated seeds from Sakata. The plants are prolific, heat-resistant and a handsome size and red color. But they are not very sweet, and the skin is tough. Using a recipe for plum tomatoes I found them delicious. Split in half, place skin side down on a baking sheet; sprinkle on garlic-infused olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme or basil. Roast at 300 degrees for 2 to 3 hours.

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