Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Light relief among water stress

I was walking through Queen Elizabeth Park early one morning last week, and met a fellow walker, one who was on a holiday here from Taranaki. We got talking, and it turned out he had studied to become a horticulturist, so naturally enough we got talking about plants.
We both noticed how some of the plants in the park are showing signs of water stress, especially some of the hydrangeas. Of course, as we both pointed out, hydrangeas will quickly wilt when they don’t get enough liquid replenishment but will also promptly plump up again once the rains arrive.

However, he did startle me by asking if there was something wrong with our soil, as the lawns were all so brown. I gently explained that we were in the middle of a very dry spell and that they would green up again soon. Of course, being from Taranaki, he was not used to seeing brown grass – a Taranaki drought is when it does not rain for three days.

Moving on, we were both pleased to see the flowers in the new bed at the southern edge of the lake, near the bridges.  A lot of perennials that flower in the late summer and autumn have been planted there, and they are looking especially nice at the moment.

Among several American prairie species growing in the garden, I was pleased to see some heleniums. These are summer flowering daisies, with wide open flowers in the in the yellow/orange/copper range, often bi-toned or bi-coloured. These all have a prominent cone, and as the flowers age, the petals start to curve backwards, giving an even better look.

They are great for this time of the year as they are not too fussy as to ground conditions, provided they are in the sun.  They can cope well with dry spells and provide colour at a time when summer flowering plants are starting to look a bit tatty. They are available in the spring as seedlings, or you can also buy named perennial varieties.

Standing tall in the garden is another daisy, a golden one this time. I am fairly sure that it is the rudbeckia called ‘Herbstsonne’.  There are a number of different species of rudbeckia, often given the common name of ‘Black Eyed Susan’.  That is a problem because there are many different plants called ‘Black Eyed Susan’, causing some confusion among gardeners.

The most common of the rudbeckias is R. hirta, a short-lived perennial that is often grown as an annual. When I first started gardening, this was always bright golden yellow and one of the first plants I ever grew, but in more recent years, a range of other autumnal colours have been added. It is a slightly coarse plant but gives lots of flowers over summer and will generally keep to about the 30cm mark.

On the other hand, ‘Herbstsonne’ will grow to over two metres in the right conditions, and it has masses of lemon yellow flowers carried in profusion over the late summer/autumn months. It is a real highlight if planted cleverly.

I was intrigued to see another old favourite in the garden, one I haven’t grown for years, the bright golden solidago. This is another member of the daisy family, although the individual flowers are tiny.

There are dwarf varieties but the one in the bed at Queen Elizabeth Park is a taller form, growing to about 1.5 metres, and covered with sprays of bright golden flowers. It is commonly known as ‘golden rod’ and is found in the wild across Europe and North America.

It looks great at the rear of a border where it can spread its flattened clusters of flowers at this time of the year. Again, this is a no-trouble plant, one requiring any fuss apart from trimming down a little once the flowering has finished.

Unusually, this member of the daisy family has been known to cross with an aster [another member of the same family], giving rise to a plant with similar growth habits but larger and paler flowers – called a Solidaster. I am not sure if it is available in the nursery trade but is sometimes grown as a filler plant by flower sellers.

There are other golden daisies around at this time of the year. Obviously, the large [and sometimes small] sunflowers are taking pride of place, but there are smaller-growing and daintier plants that should also be seen in the garden, including the bright coreopsis. This comes in several varieties, both annual and perennial, and again provides a lovely cheerful and bright look in the garden at the tail end of the flowering season.

Just about all the above flowers are great at attracting bees and butterflies into the garden, another reason for brightening up the flower border for the late summer-autumn period. 


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