Favorite Summer Perennials

White River Gardens is Blooming!

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By Nina Evans, Horticulturist

I love to watch the parade of flowers in the White River Gardens as they bud, bloom, and fade, giving way to others that are doing the same. It creates an ever changing canvas of colors and textures. Many are so wondrous to me that their appearance makes me feel the same way I do when I unwrap a special gift!  And best of all, I get to share this excitement with our guests, beginning in the freezing cold of February and continuing into the chill of November! Here are a few of my very favorites that you can delight over as you visit the Gardens this summer.

Red-hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria ‘Flamenco’)

I think all Kniphofias are fabulous, with their sword-like leaves and two to three foot tall spikes of red, orange and/or yellow flowers that bloom from the bottom up. There are many to choose from anymore, all liking full sun, regular moisture, and good drainage (wet, heavy soil will cause them to rot). ‘Flamenco’ is a dependable one, an All-American Selections Winner in 1999, begins blooming in June.

Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida)

I tend to root for the underdog, and this native coneflower gets overshadowed by the many cultivars of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Its down-hanging, long, narrow, light pink “petals” (they are actually ray flowers) are very appealing to me. It’s a tall on, with flower stems easily three feet or more in height. Full sun and slightly dry soil are its favorite growing conditions. Look for it a little later in June into July.

Calamint (Calamintha nepeta ‘Montrose White’)

Once this foot or so tall plant starts blooming in June, it just goes and goes, often into October. And the pollinators love it! Its bushy stems will be covered with little white to barely lavender flowers, which are nicely fragrant. A member of the mint family, its leaves are also aromatic. This is another plant that likes lots of sun (though I’ve had some in a partly shaded spot for years) and soils that aren’t soggy.

Hardy begonia (Begonia grandis)

Yes, this begonia will come back for you! I always remind myself to be patient because it takes a little while for it to begin to show up in the spring. Then its pretty pink, very begonia-y flowers appear in July and keep appearing through September. It a appreciates moist, partial to pretty shady site and gets up to two feet tall. If the original plant doesn’t make it through the winter, its seeded babies will appear to keep it going for you.

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis)

Easily my favorite ornamental grass, dropseed is a native that gets to be two to three feet tall. It does like the sun and dry to medium moisture, but, again, I have put it in a partially shaded spot and it still does well. Its airy panicles of flowers look like a low cloud when dropseed is planted in groups, and they small lightly of coriander.  The grass’s size makes it perfect for smaller plantings, but it is also a wonderful sight when many are massed as a groundcover.

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