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Perennials for July Bloom

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 13 July 2001

Many people use annuals for color; they bloom longer than most perennials. But I’m too lazy to do all that planting; I just plan my perennials to give me a succession of bloom.

Nepeta mussini (Catmint) is one of the showiest plants in my garden right now. It started flowering weeks ago, but it’s still going strong. In fact, some years I cut it back earlier, to keep its stems from getting too long and flopping over; this delays its bloom a little. Whorls of little lavender-blue flowers top every stem for ten inches; the leaves are a silver-blue green. It loves heat and sun, and laughs at drought. This is a close relative of Catnip (Nepeta cataria), but I don’t have cats going after it the way they do true Catnip.

In shadier sections of my garden, Astilbes are showing off. Their tiny flowers cluster in plumes that stand up straight, in pinks, purples, reds and creamy tones; finely-divided leaves contrast nicely to other shapes. Heights range from a few inches to six feet. Most Astilbes need watering, but the A. chinensis species has a couple of varieties that tolerate drought and sun: davidii, which has purple-pink flowers, and can get six feet tall; and taquetti ‘Superba,’ which reaches four feet, with purplish magenta flowers. They both have bronze leaves.

Growing in sun or shade — in fact self-seeding itself everywhere in my yard — several kinds of Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) light up July with a profusion of little flowers covering the plants, like drifts of bright lace. Some are like tiny daisies, with yellow centers; others are all white, in a variety of shapes: some are buttons, like the center of a daisy with no ray petals outside it; others are fluffy, fully double little puffs with no center showing.

There’s even one strange flower with the ray petals around the central button growing with spaces in between, like spokes of a wheel. It’s a little too weird for me to let a lot of this one grow, but I have to admit its staccato visual rhythm creates interesting punctuation in a group of other shapes. All these varieties are the descendants of plants I bought before I started keeping track of names, and have crossbred so much they probably are not true to any named variety anymore. Feverfew is not very hardy for a perennial, but if you have good soil, you’ll get a wealth of progeny as long as one plant goes to seed.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark