Most of the gardens in Southeast Alaska are spring gardens, they come into color early, pushing the snow aside and popping up with golden Daffodils, pink and blue Pulmonaria, and the ubiquitous Pom Pom Primroses. Many are still putting on a show as they move into the later Primroses, Candelabras, Japanese, and florindes, but lots of gardens are done after that.
They may have a few Astilbes, and a Sitka Rose or two. Dahlias are seen on almost every block. for many years they were the subject of intense competition as neighbors vied for supremacy with Cactus styles or Dinner Plate specials, but that sort of neighborhood comparison has also seemed to have gone the way of rear view mirror decorations.
As this week of great weather has pulled most of us out of our houses and into the great outdoors, we have all looked at the yard quickly as we dashed out to the beach or onto the trails, or out to the open ocean, and seen that the period of full color is passed. There are some though, for whom this is the opening of the greatest period of flowering that their yards will experience.
Some of the stars of this time are the Geraniums, not the red or pink bedding style which our parents and grandparents loved, but the rougher and tougher ones that are in full bloom right now. They are two to three feet tall and three to four feet across, and in reds, violets, pinks and brilliant blues. The blue one is extremely striking, and never ceases to flower from now until the first frosts. It is named “Rozanne” and is one of those sterile hybrids that never get the signal to stop flowering because they never set seed.
The old fashioned Shasta Daisy has undergone a real transformation too, the modern form, called “Becky”, has won awards all over the world. It’s in full bloom now, three to four feet tall and stems strong enough to hold the six-inch flowers erect even through the winds and rains of our fish calling floods. Combining these with the bright yellow fragrant florinde Primroses, and the Rozannes makes a show that will bring a smile to the face of any observer.
Another real winner is the group of Hydrangeas that have been developed from the old fashioned Pee Gee, which many old gardens still have. The breeders took that scrappy shrubby pale cream colored bush, and morphed her into a whole bevy of amazingly beautiful flowering shrubs. First was “Limelight” a pale green cone on a shrub that would take any conditions and exposure. The color was too soft for many gardeners, but deep within the genes of the shrub were the pink tones that the flower exhibited if the season was long enough. By crossing and back crossing, a persistent breeder was able to bring those pink tones out earlier, and now after several other steps we have one called “Quickfire”, it is just now opening with the pale green flowers, but within a few weeks it will ripen into a light pink, then deeper pink, then to rose and then really deep red. As the flower color develops, the leaves will begin making their own metamorphosis from the color of Romaine lettuce to a dark Burgundy, and they will keep these amazing colors until the season closes down around us. Snow will be falling, and the Quickfire Hydrangea will still be in color. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
August and September are wonderful times to plant in our environment. The spring rush has passed, the push of soft new growth has now hardened off and we can plant with the assurance that the plant is going to use the energy we feed into its system to get established, to send roots into new soil and find itself in a wonderful new home. Whether it’s flowering shrubbery, fruiting trees and bushes, or colorful perennials, these days are perfect for developing your home environment into the delightful oasis that welcomes you back. We have found over the years that this season, right after the massive fish runs, is one of the best for establishing new garden beds.
• David Lendrum and Margaret Tharp operate Landscape Alaska, a nursery and landscape business located on the Back Loop Road in Juneau. Visit their website at www.landscapealaska.com, or reach them at email@example.com. This column “Landscape Alaska” appears every other week.