In August our gardens are filled with tall, strong, erect, marching lines of bloom. The stalks of Foxglove, spires of Monkshood and spikes of Ligularia are themes that course through the planted landscape. The echoing rhythm of fireweed, wild orchid and the ceaselessly moving stalks of the blooming wetland grasses plays as counterpoint to the more domestic landscape. Rain may beat upon them, strong winds sway them, but they emerge in an hour of sun with all their glory still showing.
These seasonal changes of focus and shape are a significant part of the attraction that landscape creation holds for us. We love to have new patterns arise from old, to change the emphasis of the view by redirecting the eye. Links to enjoyable features in the surrounding areas are strengthened by such methods as framing or echoing the shapes. New facets of the yard are revealed as the seasons roll on, and this is one of real floral extravagance.
The low-lying misty flows of mass plantings of Astilbe light up the forest floor with their brilliant pinks and lavenders, creamy whites and purples, dark reds and pale peach. An undemanding performer, this wild-looking mass of ferny leaves gives no hint of its glorious potential during the long spring, It is only now that the peculiar beaded stalks burst and fill the air with threads of color.
My longtime favorite combination of the spiky, the bushy and the filmy clouds can be developed over and over this time of year. Monkshoods, Foxgloves or Delphiniums, having been cut back in early July and in full color again, planted with Shasta Daisies or Coreopsis to fill the foreground and surrounded with the glow of Astilbe make a set piece that can be repeated year after year.
We have some new entries this year, plants that seem as if they might join our list of good garden performers. One is the dazzling golden Eremuris, the Foxtail Lily. The specimens we got this year are blooming now, slender cylinders of tiny, bright yellow buds, lightly scented and very long-lasting. They have been in color for three weeks now and are less than halfway bloomed. Like many other stalky-shaped flowers, the Foxtail Lily opens the lower buds first and the wave of color progresses up the stem.
These are all sunny yellows, but I know that there are pinks and oranges available too. When we had the cut flower business downtown we carried these and they graced many a wedding.
A new Primula to me is the deep purple globe of the Chinese Primrose. It is decorated with the powdery soft white granules on its stem and the undersides of the leaves called farina, and the contrast between the opening globes of violet and the softening effect of the farina is enchanting. Seen with the rocket ship-shaped Primula Vialli, this new introduction makes another small glorious splash of color. The primrose family really provides us with some floral gems. There have been primroses in bloom all season, early spring to now, and these two look like they will give at least another month of flower.
The season of the true lilies is opening now too. Asiatic lilies in orange, red, gold, pink and white are well-suited to our climate. They enjoy the long bright days and cool nights; it keeps their color bright. They bloom with the Astilbes every year and - as a long-lived, colorful combination - they are excellent partners. The more spectacular Oriental Lilies are still big buds, filled with promise but not yet open. The worldwide popularity of these powerfully fragrant, long-blooming treasures has brought the energies of talented plant breeders to focus on them. The numbers of new colors and sizes of the blooms increases so rapidly that it is beyond my ability to keep current.
Our local favorites, the big orange Tiger Lilies, are blooming in older yards all over town too. They are evidence of the affection that the lily clan evoked in the gardening public. These venerable plants have been passed from hand to hand for a century, being dug up and given to new gardeners by neighbors and friends. They were introduced from China by the early plant explorers in the later part of the 1800s and have gone with us ever since.
Congratulations to all the Master Gardeners whose homes were included in the recent tour. The work and skill of these generous persons have been a topic of much delight for the last couple of weeks. Having garden tours in this season of floral abundance is a wonderful idea. I hope that this will be a continual event.
David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Any responses or questions can be sent to www.landscapealaska.com.