The Rose Whisperer: More brilliant jewels in the summer garden

Photos courtesy of Lynn Hunt.
This is my mystery plant, probably some sort of swamp mallow.

After my post about Summer Surprises appeared, my friend and gardener extraordinaire Nan called to say she loved the idea of bright spots and was heading out to look for some on her farm.

After talking with her, it occurred to me that these summer treats don’t necessarily have to be things we grow in our own gardens. They can be flowers or plants that catch our eye and provide even short-term interest.

For example, I recently noticed something blooming down in the grasses of our little creek-front beach. I have no idea what it is or where it came from, but every morning for the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed watching its jaunty pink flowers wave to me as I watch from the window. (See first photo above.)

My other summer pleasure is admiring all the fabulous crape myrtles now in full bloom here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. (Click above to see second photo.) They are certainly one of the brightest jewels of August and I feel bad for those north of us who usually can’t grow them. But that general rule might be changing.

Crape myrtles are members of the Loosestrife family, brought to America from China in 1747. Early English colonists were said to have planted the first of these exotic ornamentals at Middleton Place in Charleston, S.C., The original plants apparently still thrive there.

Because of its long blooming season, the crape myrtle became known as the “tree of 100 days.” Given the wide range of colors, the extended blooming period, and the interesting growth characteristics, it’s no wonder it has become one of the most useful ornamental plants in the South.

Varied sizes of crape myrtles are available from dwarfs to standards that reach 30 feet. Most of us grow Lagerstroemia indica, available in a palette of vibrant colors including red, white, pink, lavender and deep purple. This variety is hardy to the upper boundries of USDA Zone 7 (winter lows no deeper than 0).

The Japanese native Lagerstroemis fauriei is reportedly hardy with protection through Zone 6. The flowers of most cultivars are white, but hybrids such as Hopi are brightly colored.

Miniature crape myrtles can be grown in a planter in Zone 5 and moved indoors during the winter. There are rumors of a new weeping miniature that is cold hardy to Zone 4, but I haven’t been able to confirm the story and will report back when I know more.

In the meantime, why not take a stroll and look for the bright spots in your garden or neighborhood. A book club friend found a pumpkin vine growing by her mailbox and figured it was a stray seed from a jack-o'-lantern that was sitting there last Halloween.

There are many brilliant jewels just waiting to be discovered.  And what you find might just take the bite out of these dog days of summer.

PSSST: The first of the fall catalogs are coming with all kinds of enticing new rose offerings.  This stage of the year, when many bushes are at their worst, is a good time to decide whether you want to keep a particular rose or dig it up and make room for a tempting new variety.

Editor’s note: You can find more posts by Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, at our blog archive. There are numerous garden articles on a variety of topics at the Monitor's main gardening page.

You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos — and possibly win a prize. Winners of this month's contest will be announced shortly. A new contest begins next week. Join the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions.

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