Some Summer Survivors...2011
Esperanza (Tecoma stans)
Record high temperatures and drought have challenged every gardener in Texas this summer. It is a good time to look around and see what has survived and provided color in spite of the challenges. With little or no rain for months irrigation is critical for survival. As the days shorten and nights cool off we look forward to one of our most delightful times of the year.
Gomphrena globosa variety 'Fireworks'
A few plants seem to be totally at ease with heat and dryness. Two of my favorites are Esperanza (Tecoma stans) and Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis). Esperanza 'Gold Star' is a superior selection from plantsman Greg Grant that is known for its compact form (usually 3-6') bright yellow, bell-shaped flowers and drought tolerance. Yellow bells thrive in full sun but will also work in about a half day of direct sun. They begin flowering in early summer and bloom till fall. In areas where below freezing temperatures occur Esperanza can be cut back to near ground level in winter. They are usually root hardy in Zone 8.
Desert willow has similar heat and drought tolerance. I have been amazed at a 10-12' specimen that has bloomed continuously since late spring in my College Station garden. Foliage is willow-like and the overall effect is graceful and airy with even light wind producing graceful movement among the stems and leaves. Mature specimens don't create a lot of shade so other plants can be successfully grown beneath them. Lantanas and Bachelor's Buttons (Gomphrena globosa) have continued to flower with minimal irrigation. I was impressed by desert willows as a child and when I asked what it was I was told it was called "Orchid Tree". Mine is the orchid-like purple flowering 'Bubba'. I was delighted to see some beautiful specimens of 'Desert Storm' (white) at the Dallas Arboretum this summer as accent trees in the Woman's Garden. Desert willows like well-drained soils and I have seen them thriving as far north as Amarillo. Also in the Woman's Garden is a curving allee of beautiful specimens of Vitex. Horticulturist Jimmy Turner indicates these were planted before he arrived and the cultivar is uncertain. I have been well-pleased with both 'Montrose Purple' and 'LeCompte'. I had never seen them used as an allee and liked it very much.
Sweet potato 'Marguerite'
Bachelor Buttons (Gomphrena globosa) are a long time favorite for Southern gardens. They are definitely hot weather plants and with just a little irrigation will produce 2-3' mounds of globe shaped flowers till frost. Colors range from dark purple to pink and white. A new form 'Fireworks' is as tough as the common ones. I acquired seed from Jason Powell at Petals from the Past Nursery in Jemison, AL last year and they are thriving. Our ancestors grew them and cut bouquets that were hung upside down in a well-ventilated place and used for fall and winter bouquets. In spring they simply shredded some of the flowers for seed to start the next year's crop. This is truly an heirloom and resource efficient plant!
Crinum 'Mrs James Hendry'
Sweet potato vines have been a joy in my garden this summer. I started by purchasing a hanging basket plant of the bright chartreuse (Ipomoea batatas 'Margarita') in late spring. As pansies and narcissus were finishing their season I direct stuck 6" cuttings from my "mother plant" and kept the bed fairly moist for about a week. The cuttings never looked back. It is no wonder that their popularity has soared. The bright green coloration is a great contrast in the garden and their vigor is almost unbelievable. I find myself whacking at them every few weeks with hedge shears to maintain some semblance of control. Many forms including the dark purple, almost black 'Blackie' are now available but none are as vigorous as 'Margarita'.
After returning from a 5 day trip to Indiana recently I surveyed my heat stressed garden and was delighted to find a beautiful stem of crinum 'Mrs. James Hendry'. The leaves are partially scorched by the heat and dryness but somehow it managed to send up a fresh, beautiful and highly fragrant scape of flowers. I cut the stem and have enjoyed it on the dining table for a week. Cooler nights and adjusting my sprinkler system are having a positive effect. This has been a hard summer but Texas gardeners are survivors and we look forward to another season.