We’re in the midst of summer’s “scorching days” commonly thought of as July 3 to August 11 – and the most sweltering heat of the year. The term refers to the days of the year when the Dog Star, Sirius, rises and sets around the same time as the sun, according to the Farmers’ Almanac. Because the Dog Star is the brightest star visible on Earth, the ancient Romans believed it gave off enough heat to combine with the sun’s heat during those sweltering summer days.
With this heat and limited rain, it’s a difficult time for gardeners; lawns periodically turn a little brown and many plants such as hostas lose their shine. Hostas are great for spring and early summer foliage, but are now marred with unsightly blooms and senescent blooms, although some hostas in our garden, such as ‘Sum and Substance’, still have blooms “aesthetics”.
Adult Japanese beetles have yet to leave the scene and continue to frustrate plant lovers, even thriving on our beautiful buckeyes. There is much to enjoy though, from the maturation of the florets on hydrangeas like “Strawberry Shake” changing from white to frothy pink, to the fluttering of pollination bumblebees and dancing dragonflies distracting us from pesky mosquitoes.
It’s the time of year for Russian sage, a member of the mint family, since 2017 reclassified from the genus Pervoskia in the genre Salviaand with many new varieties, some more compact than the bold displays of the species: take a look at the wonderful “Peek-A-Blue” brand.
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Delight in the continued season of daylilies, the glorious foliage of papaya and fern-leaved beech, the beauty of the glossy green leaves of tupelo/black gum that periodically shed a few brilliant scarlet leaves heralding autumn. So take your dogs out for a well-hydrated run, in honor of the Dog Star. But, speaking of daylilies…
A giant daylily?
While walking around Secrest Arboretum in Wooster last week, I phoned curator Jason Veil and said, “Jason, what’s that spindly, almost spider-like daylily with much larger flowers? than a usual daylily flower?”
He said that as a daylily it is not one of over 100 true species of lilies in the genus. Liliumneither one of the popular Asiatic lily hybrids (Asian Lilium) beautify Secret. Nor is it one of more than 200 non-lily plants with “lily” in their common name, from lily of the valley to lilyturf various types of fritillaria, alstromeria or gladiolus, nor the Japanese water lily (Nerine).
Veil added: “It is, in fact, another plant with lily in its name which is not a real lily; it’s a real daylily (like daylily = one day flower. It’s a spider daylily! These are defined as daylilies at least four times as long as they are wide. Pretty cool. I won’t say I prefer them to standard daylilies, but they make for an interesting contrast.
And some of the cultivar names – from “Dr. Doom” to “Heavenly Pink Twister”, and “Awesome Butterfly”, “Blizzard Blast”, “Dr. Octopus”, “Electric Lizard” and maybe the one I have noticed (we’re not sure), “Giant Teraton.” Try them.
One of my favorite harbingers of the end of summer are the salmon-pink flowers of Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochia spp.). I think of this tall, herbaceous perennial blooming in meadows and gardens as a companion to ironweed and goldenrod as a late-season bloom plunging us into autumnal hues. Yet it is beginning to bud and even flower now in a field adjacent to Secrest Arboretum.
The typical wild species we see are 4 to 6 feet tall, and a few years ago horticulturists realized that this native plant could be an excellent background plant for perennial gardens with shorter plant layers. It is therefore now a popular garden plant, and there are shorter cultivars, such as ‘Little Joe’ and ‘Baby Joe’, which tend more towards the lower end of the spectrum for Joe-Pyes.
The sunnier the garden, the taller the plants will grow and if they are too tall for your design, consider pruning half way back in late spring or early summer: the result will be shorter plants with a bushier form.
I’ve always wondered who “Joe Pye” was, and there’s plenty of evidence that he was an 18th-century Mohican from Massachusetts named Schauquethqueat before a name change. Incidentally, the plant also underwent a Latin genus name change in 2000, from Bonewort at Eutrochiawith salmon-pink flowering species with mostly whorled leaves reclassified under its current genus name.
There are many wonderful types of buckeyes for forests and landscapes, starting with Ohio’s floodplain buckeyes. (Aesculus glabrous) growing naturally in the woods, especially in southern Ohio; the spectacular scarlet flowers and clean foliage (good resistance to leaf spot disease) of the red chestnut tree (A. pavia); the imposing yellow chestnut tree (A. flava); and the graceful shrub, the bottlebrush chestnut tree (A. parviflora).
Virtually all buckeyes are long past their blooming season, but the mid-summer frilly flower panicles of the late-blooming bottlebrush buckeye cultivar A. parviflora serotina “Rogers” still graces the stage. To see while it lasts.
The name of the game
You’ve noticed that I write a lot about names and classifications, and their changes, for everything from insects (gypsy moth changed to gypsy moth), and those lilies and daylilies above, to renaming birds (coming soon).
This happens for many reasons: from eliminating pejoratives in names to identifying differences between plants and therefore referring to their proper care. More importantly, the names and knowledge of the relationships with each other are changing due to new scientific discoveries once we learn more about the DNA of organisms. Not to mention the need for facilitated communication, the classic case being the European water lily which has nearly 250 common names in just four languages but only one Latin name, Nymphaea alba.
Names matter – as a Chinese philosopher noted thousands of years ago: “The beginning of wisdom is to call something by its proper name.”
Finally, here are some anonymous heatwaves of summer poetry. You decide what weather forecast this year.
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Jim Chatfield is a horticulture educator and professor emeritus at Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about maintaining your garden and other topics, email [email protected] or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if writing.