Marianne Binetti

Marianne Binetti: Beautiful blooms without watering

Campanula flowers bloom at the governor’s mansion in Olympia in 2014.
Campanula flowers bloom at the governor’s mansion in Olympia in 2014. Staff file, 2014

Some perennials and annual plants will be looking great this week, and those are the ones that are drought and heat resistant.

Perennials are plants that come back each year without the need for replanting. Perennials do not flower as long as annuals or bedding plants, but if you pick from one of the plants below you will find them less thirsty and with more interesting flowers and foliage.

Agastache — Hummingbird Mint

This may be the best perennial you’ve never heard of. Fragrant leaves and brightly colored, tube shaped blooms make this bright bloomer a plant that hummingbirds and butterflies can’t resist. The slightly hairy leaves mean agastache is both drought and pest resistant, and the tidy growth habit makes this summer blooming perennial good for both pots and borders. You will find agastche in shades of yellow gold, red, pinks and an impressive deep violet blue color on the award-winning plant called Agastache Blue Boa. Plant this perennial in well-drained, sandy soil in full sun.

Tip: For containers and smaller gardens choose the agastache kudos series as the plants are more compact but still colorful.

Bergenia — Pig squeak

Huge, paddle-shaped leaves make this perennial a go-to plant for adding texture to the rock garden or dry perennial bed. This spring blooming plant thrives on neglect and will even grow in poor or sandy soil. If you live in a mild winter area, the foliage will be evergreen, and if you like early spring color, the wands of bright, pink bloom clusters will delight you.

Bergenia may have bloomed in your grandmother’s garden, but the newest varieties are making this plant the rock star of the rock garden. Bergenia Lunar Glow has lime yellow leaves that highlight the bright pink blooms and the dwarf bergenia Dragonfly is more compact for tiny spaces.

Tip: In dry shade, plant bergenia in front of fall-blooming Japanese anemone and alongside the fine texture of shade plants such as ferns, bleeding hearts and lamiums. Bait for slugs in early spring around this plant.

Campanula — Bellflower

This cottage garden plant has many different varieties, but all have bell-shaped blooms in shades of blue, lavender, white or pink. Most of the campanulas are drought resistant, especially when grown in the shade garden. There are dwarf rock garden campanulas often used in tiny fairy gardens and the hardy wall campanulas will reseed and colonize piles of rubble and old rock walls and other spaces where no other plants seem to survive. Some of the easy-to-grow campanulas can become invasive, so this perennial is recommended for areas with dry soil.

Tip: It is best to move, add or transplant campanulas in early spring or in the fall. They need somewhat moist soil to get started but then are more drought resistant once established.

Crocosmia — Montbretia

Grassy, swordlike leaves and brilliant orange blooms on plumelike spikes make this summer flowering bulb a favorite for sunny hillsides or any spot with well-drained soil. So long as our winter temps stay above zero degrees, the small bulbs will come back in larger colonies year after year. If the weather does get colder, cover the bulbs with a mulch a few inches deep each fall to keep them from freezing. The variety of crocosmia called Lucifer has large and very bright orange blooms, but new varieties with yellow and scarlet flowers are also available.

Tip: If you notice that your crocosmia have fewer blooms after a few years in the garden, then it is time to dig and divide the corms. Do this in the fall once the green leaves start to fade.

Eryngium — Sea Holly

Spiny leaves and spiky blooms make this a dangerous looking perennial, but the silver color means this plant needs little water once established, and the flowers are unique, starlike and vivid purple or electric blue. Eryngium is a taller perennial that has a long bloom time. The starry flowers hold color from summer to fall. Leave the flower bracts in place all winter and this plant may reseed in all the rocky, sunny parts of your garden.

Tip: Harvest the unusual blooms when they feel dry to the touch.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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