It was tempting to go another direction with this post: along the lines of “be careful what you wish for.” After desperately wishing for rain all summer, we ended up getting all of that missing rain yesterday: 9 inches in just one day. So much for the one day this year that I had agreed to open the garden for a tour.
This morning’s reality included a toppled arbor, washed-out paths, and bedraggled asters. But really, fussing about too much rain isn’t any more helpful than all of the previous whining about too little, so I’d rather think about some new plants that have performed well this year, despite the adversity.
Amaranths as a group thrive in my sun-drenched garden, so it’s fun to try a new one or two each year. Honestly, I have yet to find one that’s more stunning than ‘Hopi Red Dye’, because its foliage is as richly colored as its deep red plumes. ‘Autumn Touch’, though, turned out to be a pretty addition to the color options. The foliage is an ordinary green, but the plumes come in a range of yellow-cream, toasty tans, and rich rusts.
The strain is often described as having “pistachio-green flowers tipped with bronze,” but the blooms in my batch were mostly solid-colored. The first few seedlings to bloom were paler than I expected from some pictures I’d seen. They were all right with medium green partners but much better against deep green…
…and deep purple backgrounds.
Even better was a group of orangey seedlings, which combined beautifully with yellows and purples (not so well with pinks, though).
Catalogs give the height as anywhere from 3 to 5 feet; mine were all around 4 feet, so that’s fair. Don’t believe the “don’t need staking” line, however. My soil’s on the rich side, so I wasn’t surprised when the plants started to sprawl. I didn’t mind cutting down the paler ones, and their plumes made a lovely, long-lasting bouquet. I wanted to enjoy the rusty ones longer, though, so I cut off the top half of the plumes, and they responded as I’d hoped, with bushier growth and more, smaller plumes.
That was enough to balance the heads, so they didn’t need staking, even though the stems were still leaning. I’ve gotten to enjoy them for another 6 weeks so far, and since they survived the storm, I imagine they’ll be around well into October.
Amaranths seem to be sturdiest when they sprout directly in the garden, but as usual, I started these indoors in April to get a jump-start and transplanted them in the third week of May.
‘Autumn Touch’ is available from Territorial Seed Company (as a cultivar of Amaranthus caudatus, which it definitely doesn’t resemble, being upright rather than cascading) and Park Seed (as ‘Autumn’s Touch’).
Not surprisingly, another member of the amaranth family also did well in this year’s heat and drought: ‘Fireworks’ globe amaranth (Gomphrena).
I started these indoors in mid-April (seed is available from Burpee) and set them out in late May. They were in bloom in early July, in time to complement pink phlox and purple coneflowers. The new blooms were a very vibrant purplish pink.
The flowerheads are looser and not as rounded as the usual globe amaranths, and the stems are much taller: to about 40 inches. The stems are very slender and not very leafy, so they look best coming up through lower, bushier companions. I loved the effect of them paired with the abundant, slender foliage and soft spikes of ‘Cassian’ fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides).
What I like best about ‘Fireworks’, though, is its resemblance to a compact Brazilian vervain (Verbena bonariensis), without the prospect of having to pull out hundreds of self-sown seedlings next year. (Well, I’m assuming that won’t be an issue: Brazilian vervain definitely does self-sow enthusiastically, but globe amaranths only rarely do so here.)
The flowers of ‘Fireworks’ have aged to a softer rosy pink. I miss the brighter new color, but I appreciate how long they’re lasting, and how much they add to the rudbeckias, asters, and other autumn standards.
And speaking of asters: I’ll finish this group with one aster that never needs staking and that will never keel over, no matter how much rain they get pelted with: ‘Snow Flurry’ heath aster (Symphiotrichum ericoides).
Granted, the straight species is quite sturdy in its own right, with stiff, woody stems that reach 3 to 4 feet tall. It thrives all through my meadow, with the grasses and red cedars, and it has seeded into the garden, where it creates a frothy, baby’s-breath-like effect in September and October.
I normally wouldn’t be interested in a shorter form of something this fine, but ‘Snow Flurry’ isn’t just a more-compact form: it has a completely different, ground-hugging growth habit. Through the summer, it was only quietly interesting, mingling comfortably with woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus).
It really came into its own in early September, as the hundreds of dainty buds burst into bloom. What a pretty thing!
Like the species plants, ‘Snow Flurry’ thrives in full sun but adapts to light shade too. I’m looking forward to interplanting it with both spring and fall crocus to make even better use of the space it fills.
There’s just one weird thing: my ‘Snow Flurry’, and those I’ve seen in other gardens around here, are all in the range of 3 to 4 inches tall, but several nurseries sell taller plants under the same name. (Lazy S’s Farm offers a 10- to 12-inch clone, for instance, and Sunlight Gardens describes theirs as being 12 to 18 inches tall.) If you want to get the true mat-forming form, try High Country Gardens or Fairweather Gardens.