Heat and humidity, drought and/or deluge: the mid-July to mid-August stretch is typically the toughest part of the Pennsylvania gardening season, and this year was no exception. Though hints of fall started appearing as soon as August arrived, the best part of the show is a little late in getting going, but there are still some interesting things going on in both the garden and the meadow. Here are some highlights from the last week, starting with some annuals…Above, ‘Purple Kisses’ Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) with ‘Cramer’s Burgundy’ cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata); below, ‘Strawberry Fields’ globe amaranth (Gomphrena haageana).
Behind the globe amaranth, you can just see ‘Pink Zebra’ corn (Zea mays). Most of the plants topped out at about 3 feet, with large, deep purple tassels over the brightly white-striped and pink-blushed leaves. Here’s a better view:
Below is the more common white-variegated corn: Zea mays var. japonica, tasseling at about 6 feet tall. It produced lots of ears, but the Japanese beetles devoured the silks as quickly as I could pick them off, so I don’t know what to expect as far as the kernels forming. Guess I’ll know by next month.
Above, another showy variegate coming along: ‘Sunspots’ sunflower (Helianthus annuus). And below, a particularly pretty seedling from the variegated strain of borage (Borago officinalis) known as ‘Bill Archer’.
Below, another foliage star: black-leaved cotton (Gossypium herbaceum ‘Nigrum’). I grow some plants in my greenhouse each year to ensure they get enough heat over a long enough period to produce seed. But my goodness, it’s astounding to me that they are still alive after baking in that sauna for the last month. I can barely tolerate stepping in there to water them, and yet they are perfectly happy (albeit somewhat leggy). I had to nip out the stem tips to keep them from hitting the roof.
A sunny summer garden needs to have at least one or two zinnias, I think. This one is ‘Red Spider’ (Zinnia tenuifolia). It looks like a low edging plant above, but that’s because a recent heavy storm toppled the ‘Supposedly Cinnabar’ marigolds growing behind them, and the normally more-or-less upright zinnia stems got knocked over in turn. They look pretty good anyway.
Below, the simple red bloom of royal catchfly (Silene regia): rather similar in form to ‘Red Spider’ but on a hardy native perennial. This beauty is a new one in my garden this year, from Missouri Wildflowers Nursery. If you’re looking for a good source of native plants and seeds, by the way, I highly recommend them!
Below is another cool plant I got from them back in January: Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis), also known as prairie mimosa. Every time I pass by, I want to pet its leaves, because it looks so much like sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica), but sadly, its leaflets aren’t touch-sensitive. They do fold up at night, though.
Late last summer, I bought and sowed seeds of tall larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum) from Prairie Moon. The seeds germinated in spring and started flowering this summer. Some of them were like the one above: a lighter blue than I remember of the species, but still definitely blue. But most were like the one below, appearing either whitish or pinkish, depending on the light.
The tall delphiniums were not the only seedling perennials that flowered in their first year.
A couple of other seed-grown perennials that surprised me with a good show of first-year flowers included rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), above, and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), below.
White-veined Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia fimbriata)–in leaf above and flower below–is a perennial, but I can always count on it for at least a few flowers the first year. I’d adore it as a trailing plant for a container even if it never flowered.
Above, the tiny flower and seedpods of ‘Kingwood Gold’ fameflower (Talinum paniculatum); below, the big, spiny seedpods of ‘Carmencita Red’ castor bean (Ricinus communis).
Above, red clammyweed (Polanisia dodecandra), also called dwarf cleome: a reliable self-sower, flowering at about 18 inches in height.
Below, European umbrella milkwort (Tolpis barbata), a new annual for me this year. It was rather spindly at first, and I expected it would wither away during our sultry summer slog, but it’s actually even better this month.
Woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris), below, is hardly uncommon, but I still enjoy its elegant habit and try to squeeze it in somewhere each year. I think it makes a great partner for ‘Purple Kisses’ Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota).
Two native annuals: basket flower (Centaurea americana), above, and pigeon pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), below.
Two glorious morning glories just now starting to flower: above, Ipomoea nil ‘Keiryu’, also known as ‘Mountain Stream’, with chartreuse foliage and tie-dye blue-and-white blooms. And below, I. nil ‘Kikyo Snowflakes’, with deep green foliage and abundant, starry blooms.
Below, another intriguing vine: snake or serpent gourd (Trichosanthes cucumerina var. anguina).
Above and below, an oddball edible I last grew in 2016, apparently, and which somehow suddenly reappeared this year: creeping false holly (Jaltomata procumbens). Curiously, it is not creeping– it is bushy and basically upright–and it has nothing to do with true hollies (Ilex); instead, it is solanaceous, more closely related to tomatoes and potatoes. It’s grown for its deep purple-black berries, which are kinda-sorta sweet. I wouldn’t say that the flavor is phenomenal, but the plant as a whole is interesting and unusual and the edibility is a bonus.
Last winter, I tracked down seeds of a few more strains of variegated tomatoes to compare against my old friend ‘Variegata’.
Two were winners by my standards. The leaf variegation on both was pretty good, though maybe not as showy as on ‘Variegata’. The fruits, however…’Faelan’s First Snow’, above, was outstanding, with gigantic, meaty, flavorful fruits. Once slice of this beauty is all you need for a whole sandwich! And below, the beautifully stripey-swirled fruits of ‘Painted Lady’. They are on the small side–maybe just a bit bigger than ‘Variegata’–but they too have a very good flavor.
I’ve also been very proud to succeed with growing a very special watermelon, despite garden invasions by three different groundhogs so far (and alarming signs of a possible fourth incursion).
Outside, the fruit of ‘Cekirdegi Oyali’ looks like an ordinary watermelon. But oh, when the seeds inside are dried, they develop all kinds of intriguing markings. Just amazing.
A few more perennials…
Above, the first-year flowers of skirret (Sium sisarum), grown for centuries as a root vegetable, though not very common now. Below, the first flowering season (on a two- or three-year-old plant) of a white-flowered form of devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis ‘Alba’), blooming at about 4 feet tall. Thanks for the seeds, Clara!
Above, just one of an endless variation of markings on ‘Axminster Streaked’ balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus). Below, cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), grown from seed I collected from a wild plant in my meadow last year. The plants showed a fair bit of variation in leaf but look pretty much the same in bloom.
Below, a single bold bloom on ‘Heartthrob’ hibiscus (Hibiscus) with Deam’s orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii).
Above, a pink -flowered seedling of Japanese burnet (Sanguisorba tenuifolia) that showed up here a few years ago, almost exactly between plants of the maroon-flowered S. tenuifolia ‘Purpurea’ and white-flowered S. tenuifolia ‘Alba’. I figure that ‘Rosea’ is an adequate name for this one, for now, or maybe I’ll call it ‘Hayefield Rose’. I look forward to moving some of it closer to one of my Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum) clumps–perhaps the one below.
Might as well add a couple more wider-scale shots here…
Above and below, what used to be the vegetable garden and is now my “seed farm.”
Above, a mowed path in the meadow. Below, some sunny abundance in the side garden, with Deam’s orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii), golden lace (Patrinia scabiosifolia), and ‘Autumn Minaret’ daylily (Hemerocallis) seen through a haze of tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) and purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea var. arundinacea).
And to finish, my new favorite combination: yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) with Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum) against ‘Dewey Blue’ bitter panic grass (Panicum amarum).
A Few Final Notes
August isn’t a busy time for sowing seeds, but it sure is for collecting them. Here at Hayefield, it’s a particularly crazy season, as I’m trying to balance my time between collecting and cleaning, so I’m a bit behind in getting more seed listings up in my shop here, but I do expect to put up a bunch of new ones in the next week or so.
You can get updates on new shop additions and related seed news–and special offers too–by signing up for my shop newsletter at the very bottom of this page. (Note that this is different than subscribing to the blog. Also, if you place an order, you are not automatically subscribed to the newsletter; you need to request a subscription.) I’ll get the next newsletter out as soon as I get the next batch of listings up. I strongly encourage everyone to give their own seed-saving a try, and to get their new seeds ordered early this year; I’ll explain why on both counts and announce a couple of ways I hope I can help.
By the way, it looks like many of you who participate in my yearly seed giveaway have already subscribed, so I am strongly considering handling the upcoming giveaway through the newsletter rather than through an open-to-the-whole world posting here on my blog. That may be another incentive to subscribe, if you haven’t yet.
As always, thank you all for visiting Hayefield today!