Buffalo is one exuberant gardening city, widely known for Garden Walk Buffalo, America’s largest garden tour, and increasingly for all the other community garden walks and open gardens. But even gardeners who decorate their porches and yards just for themselves and summer gatherings have advantages in Western New York.
Our garden centers and nurseries offer fabulous flowering plants and try to maintain them for your new project or summer fill-ins. If you don’t have bright and beautiful flowers in containers or in the ground, don’t think it’s too late. Go get them – from professional sources first, where they were grown or are tended by pros.
Then enjoy the bright summer beauties.
Here are some dependable plants, whether you’re going red/white/blue for July Fourth, tropical orange/yellow, or prefer a quieter palette.
Annuals for a strong performance
If you pick up tropical or annual plants now they may be quite mature and possibly outgrowing their plastic pots, so move them into high quality potting mix in the next sized container and watch them grow. If they are in large pots, use them just as they are.
All these plants need regular watering, many of them daily in hot weather. If they are in high-quality soil and big enough containers, they last longer.
All need drainage after watering – holes in the pots please.
• Begonia ‘Dragon Wing’: This plant performs, and most buyers return for it every year. It mixes well with others such as ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia. It lowers continually in baskets, urns, or in the soil.
• Coleus: Hundreds of them for both sun and shade are useful everywhere you’d like color. Look for them throughout the gardens you tour (such as a famous 16th Street Buffalo garden).
• Mandevilla: This is a great flowering annual for hot locations, as it tolerates full sun. You will see the flowery vines (red, white, or pink) overflowing window baskets or planters. They can also climb trellises.
• Strobilanthes (Persian shield): Everyone comments after seeing these dramatic plants, describing them as “purplish – maybe indigo – long, strapping leaves with black stripes.”
• Million bells (Calibrachoa) and petunias: Million bells (ancestors of old-time petunias) are usually the most flowery basket in the garden center, and reportedly flower continually – if you keep cutting them back, haircut-style, and water thoroughly. Many gardeners say they fail in the summer heat but return to full glory in early fall. I think the newer petunias are even better. The newer ones are not like the old-fashioned ones that needed deadheading and made you sticky. Try them.
• Geraniums: They are the traditional July 4th and cemetery urn plant. Why? Because they take the heat and with a little snipping keep on blooming. Trailing geraniums (the European window box star) really exceed expectations.
Other exciting annuals – blue salvias, white or pink Gaura, sweet potato vines, and silver or lime plectranthus – are waiting for you in garden centers, including many that you’ve never seen before. Choose proven winners or the plants your seller has branded as their best. If you think you are late to the gardening moment and your old favorites are gone, try something new.
Dramatic tropicals or summer bulbs
For large planters, to make a big statement, you may need to go tropical. Bananas, cannas, New Zealand flax, annual grasses, hibiscus, gingers, papyrus, elephant ears, angel trumpets — see what you can find and put them in huge pots wherever the patio or garden looks dull. Many gardeners overwinter them in the basement.
If an event is happening in your yard, this might be the time to place a large mixed planter already designed by professionals.
If I had to choose a royal family among summer flowers, I would name dahlias. You will see them – massive, elegant flower heads rising above lovely foliage – in many Open Gardens (happening on Thursdays and Fridays in July), Garden Walk Buffalo gardens (July 28 and 29) and throughout the region.
They require lifting and storing for winter.
Perennials for now and for the future
Perennials are the plants that return year after year, if you have placed them well and tended them properly. (If they die it’s all about the site and the care including drainage, light, and especially watering during the first couple of seasons in the ground.)
The other truth about perennials is that most flower for specific, limited periods, unlike most annuals. You can extend the flower period of June bloomers if you cut them back now, after their peak; most will flower again.
There are other perennials – many Coreopsis, some daisies, and salvias – that flower for many weeks, and some perennials are loved for the foliage (lambs’ ears, hostas, coral bells) so the flower time doesn’t matter.
A few mentioned below are especially noticed in July gardens:
• Astilbe: Often considered shade plants they are also gorgeous in sun if they get lots of moisture.
• Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’: It’s the big strappy plant with dangling orange-red flowers that is popular in many tour gardens.
• Hemerocallis (Daylilies): The most seen, most dependable, and possibly most gorgeous of the flowering perennials, daylilies appear in hundreds of gardens on my tours and in many garden walks. Deer eat them ‑ so protect them. Otherwise they simply thrive.
• Hostas, of course: We have international hosta experts, growers, and collectors in our region and many of our best gardens showcase these best-of-all-possible plants. From tiny to gigantic, there are hostas for you.
• Pollinator plants: Our gardeners have caught on: We must support the pollinators with the foliage plants for their caterpillars (Asclepias or milkweed species and many others) as well as lots of pollen and nectar-rich choices such as Monarda (Bee Balm), black-eyed Susans, Veronicastrum (Culvers’ root), daisies, sedums, and penstemons.
Just keep lots of flowers blooming in your summer garden for the honey bees, and you and your guests are likely to stay happy as well. Happy touring and happy summer.
Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.