Does your garden fizzle after the fireworks? Does the lack of pizzazz in your beds fill August with angst? And is your backyard scene devoid of snap by September? Join the club. Most gardeners fall for spring bloomers when nurseries are freshly stocked and then let the sizzle fizzle in summer. Plug in the right plants and the color will keep coming even during heatwaves, when most perennials pause. We talked to garden designer Beth Lowrey of Pierce Hill Design about how to fill those blips with blossoms. With a background in fine art and fashion as well as a degree in garden design from the New York Botanical Garden, Lowrey is keen on color throughout the season. “My designs are customer-centric and site-centric. I have found many terrific solutions to cover the midsummer gap with bloomers right when many of our pollinators are feeding,” Lowrey enthuses. Here are some performers that like it hot.
Agastache (Anise hyssop)
“Not only is anise hyssop useful in design for its vertical habit, this bloomer is deer and drought resistant,” Lowrey discovered. Topped by spikes of blue, pink, purple, or orange blossoms throughout summer, this aromatic herb delights pollinators through the dog days. Check hardiness zones on the labels — not all agastaches are equally winter hardy.
Astilbe (plume flower)
Topped by featherlike plumes in white, pink, red, or magenta, astilbes rev up in early summer. “It’s great in a slightly shady situation and astilbe works as a companion to ferns,” Lowrey has found. Even after the flower colors fade in August, the browning flowers are still handsome.
Forgive them their clueless common name, because perennial tickseeds are great midsummer performers. With thready foliage topped by daisy-shaped flowers in colors and bicolors ranging from white, yellow, red, brick, pink, peach, and orange, coreopsis weave between other plants. “Coreopsis forms flowering mounds and the deer don’t eat it,” says Lowrey.
When other flowers are flagging in the heat, echinaceas are going strong. “Plus, they work in sun and partial shade,” Lowrey notes. Coneflowers rarely wilt and survive dry, sandy conditions with a stiff upper lip. And the color range has recently gone berserk moving beyond the typical pink into a white, watermelon, peach, orange, and yellow spectrum with blossoms that continue well into fall — “pleasing the pollinators over a long period.”
Daylilies have come a long way in their color range and blooming span from the original bright orange flowers that grow by the roadside. “The pale yellows work with a soft palette while the orange and plum hues team up with a saturated color scheme,” Lowrey has found. Most daylilies fill July with color, but you can find plenty of versions that perform earlier and later.
Where would midsummer nights be without the perfume of lilies floating on the air? Not only is the range of color expansive, but the flowers can be immense and linger for weeks right when you need blossoms most. “They are terrific toward the back of the border where the flowers seemingly float above their bedfellows,” Lowrey suggests.
Monarda (bee balm)
Compliments are not the only buzz you’ll hear when you plant beebalm. Pollinators (including butterflies and hummingbirds) court these white, pink, red, or purple bloomers. Newly, you can find dwarf varieties suitable for small gardens and the front of the border. “Or, stage the taller varieties toward the back of the border. And another perk is that beebalm is deer resistant.” Be sure to select powdery mildew-resistant types.
Phlox (summer phlox)
In late summer, Phlox paniculata rules. Topped by dense clusters of white, pink, purple, or red flowers sending out heavenly scents, phlox is a vintage flower perfectly suited to now. “Phlox are tall, so they fill the back of the border beautifully,” Lowrey suggests. Powdery mildew can be an issue, so check labels for mildew resistance. The white-flowering ‘David’, is reliably resistant.
Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan coneflowers)
To avoid the confusion between the two coneflowers, call these the black-eyed Susan versions. Golden yellow with a black button in the center, rudbeckias fill the summer gap with the greatest of ease. Pollinators dote on them. Lowrey shares her design secret, “Play them off blues in the garden to achieve a wildflower bouquet look.”
Tricks for Keeping Your Performers Perking Along
• Keep gardens watered to prevent perennials from snoozing, especially during droughts.
• Be sure to deadhead flowers after they fade to prompt more buds.
• Cut spring bloomers back immediately after performing — you might spark a second act.
• Don’t like leggy? Trim back taller late-blooming perennials, such as phlox, in spring to encourage branching.
• Not all summer performers need full sun. Check labels. Partial sun can extend the blooming season, limit the stress, and protect your perennials from scorching heat.