Friday, May 4, 2012

An article from my St. Pete Times column

                      BEAT THE SUMMER BLUES

   Weary of the steamy summer heat? How about slipping your eyes into a cool blue flower garden as you sit and savor an icy drink? We can choose from a handful of inexpensive but reliable perennials and one annual to refresh a fried flower garden that looked good briefly when planted in spring. Plus some are lovely long lasting cut flowers for the dinner table too.

   ‘Indigo Spires’ salvia is three to four feet tall and wide when mature and thus makes for a lovely backdrop to a landscape bed, the long flower spikes ranging from various blues to lavender blues, blooming non-stop plus inviting the charm of butterflies. I’ve yet to see this sterile natural hybrid suffer from bugs or disease. Discovered in the mid 70's at the Huntington Botanical Garden in Los Angeles by a friend of mine, Fred Boutin, this formerly rare treasure can now be had for $4 in a one gallon pot at many garden centers each summer! It is sorely underused as a “retinal cooler” and begs to be in more gardens AND bouquets.

  ‘Salvia guaranitica’ is simply stunning, rich blue honeysuckle-like trumpets adorning a bushy plant about half the size of ‘Indigo Spires’. Plant a few in front of that backdrop for a nice, slightly lower succession of new shades of blue to draw in admiring eyes. Until very recently this was a very rare salvia seen only in collections of “salvia freaks” like me, but it too can be had for that same amazing price. I am still not used to seeing it in the “Big Box” garden centers but am thrilled by that development. It forms underground tubers, so will bounce back in spring after a winter frost or freeze.

  For the “water” in your “flower pool” just fill the garden the rest of the way with Blue Torenia plants spaced about a foot apart. Look for them in four inch pots for about $1 each, sometimes under the names ’Summer Pansy’ or ‘Wishbone Flower’. Skip the new pink hybrids and grab those in the shades of blue that most appeal to you as some are almost purple, others in light pastels. They reseed easily, so feel free to transplant those volunteers to other gardens or pots. This is one of those tough reliables even kids can grow easily.

 But hey, what’s a pool without a “fountain” ?  Lily of the Nile is nickname for Agapanthus, a relative of the amaryllis who various species and hybrids surprise heat strained eyes  with sudden sprays of sky blue, sapphire or the richest royal blue. It tolerates light shade well, as do these others, so the whole “blue lagoon’ garden can be created at the edge of spreading tree, or in the shadow of your home where respite from the noonday roasting sun is offered. Pop in a few in between the Blue Torenias to complete the effect. One long stemmed bloom in a narrow vase is pure class.

  Okay, step back, sip a cold one while admiring that lovely oasis, and when no one is looking, pop in a few pink plastic flamingos!
 Indigo Spires
 Salvia guaranitica

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