Category Archives: Summer Blooming Perennials

Hydrageas in Bloom

In case you missed the Hydrangea tour and talk with Maurice last weekend, here are a few highlights.

PHydrangeaMacMerritSupreme#2071201The crowd favorite of the tour was ‘Merritt’s Supreme’.  This Hydrangea is in the macrophylla family which includes plants with the classic mophead flower shape. The color in our garden is especially striking, being an intense blue fading to purple. Remember, hydrangea’s will change flower color with different soil pH: 5.0-5.5 for blue flowers and 6.0-6.5 for pink flowers. Here in the NW our soils tend towards lower, more acidic pH levels due to the high rainfall which leaches out water-soluble minerals like calcium, which raise soil pH. To keep your soil even more acidic, try adding coffee grounds, fine bark dust or sawdust around your plants.

The group also looked at the less common Hydrangea aspera. The latin ‘aspera’ means “rough-textured” and refers to the downy underside of the leaves. The aspera complex of hydrangeas is rich in species and selections of underused shrubs for our borders. We have several in our collection. PHydrangeaAsperaMacrophylla#2071701Hydrangea aspera ‘Macrophylla’ (Big-leaf Chinese Hydrangea) is an exceptionally attractive large shrub. It recently gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.  The lacecap flowerheads are proportionate in scale and domed. Good-sized, antique white sterile florets encircle the sizable, fuzzy looking cluster of fertile florets. The “macro” leaves referred to in the cultivar name are a good 10 inches in width and are covered with a felt-like layer of fine hairs. This felting is echoed in the young wood as well where new growth is similar to the velvet on a deer’s antlers.   pHydrangeaasperavarvillosa072209 Hydrangea aspera var. robusta is magnificent and somewhat mysterious in appearance.  This selection of Hydrangea aspera has immense wooly leaves that are just shy of a foot long and five inches wide. Purple leaf petioles add to the allure of the plant. In addition, the matte green leaves recurve along their edges as if trying to imitate the rounded shape of the large, six-inch lace-cap inflorescences. The fertile flowers are lavender pink and fuzzy in appearance. They are surrounded by white sterile florets consisting of four (occasionally 3 or 5) sepals. The flowering stems are covered in velvet like that on deer’s antlers. The rust colored bark on the older branches defoliates much as birchbark does.

Overall it was a fantastic tour and a unique opportunity to spend a few hours with Joy Creek Nursery owner, Maurice Horn in the garden.

Looking forward to next week’s class ‘Cuts from the Garden’ with our plant propagator, entomologist and plant pathologist,  Leslie Glover. She will talk about ways to use all aspects of your garden to create beautiful cut flower arrangements. Hope to see you there!


Some gardeners are afraid of large herbaceous perennials because they leave gaping holes when they go dormant in the winter.  In the maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest where we are blessed with relatively mild weather and can easily achieve an all-but evergreen garden, this is perhaps a relevant complaint.

That said, there is still the sheer thrill of growing herbaceous perennials for the sense of seasonal change they give us.  Among the very easiest of underused and very hardy herbaceous perennials are the Bluestars, genus Amsonia.    At Joy Creek Nursery, we have been growing these delightful, billowing plants for almost twenty years.   The tongue-tying species Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia was our introduction to the genus.  (By the way, A. tabernaemontana is commonly calledWillow bluestar and it is odd that the varietal name also means “willow-like foliage.”  Perhaps this is simply to amplify our understanding of its appearance.)  From there we graduated to A. illustris and later to A. cilliata and A. hubrechtii.  Along the way we tried to grow the dry-land species Amsonia peblesii from seed but did not have much luck.  We have only grown the North American species although there are species from Asia, Europe and theMiddle East as well.

Amsonia huprectii

These are not plants like lilies that announce their arrival with large blaring trumpets.  They are much subtler than that.  Their stems emerge in early spring from well-developed clumps much as those of milkweeds do.  (In fact, the common name for one species is blue milkweed.)     Instead of trumpets, the willowy, upright stems bear constellations of small soft blue stars in panicles at their tips.  The blooms arrive in late spring or early summer depending on the species.  During the course of the summer, the fertilized flowers form numerous long, narrow, papery seed pods that are also of interest.

The foliage and height of these various species is what makes them distinct from one another.   A. tabernaemontana has fairly broad leaves that are up to three inches long.  In our garden, it stands four feet tall or better.  A. Illustris is also in the four foot range with similar lance-shaped leaves.  A. ciliata (called the Blue milkweed) has much narrower leaves and it ascends to three feet or more.  (There is a selection from this species called ‘Halfway toArkansas’ that is much shorter than the species and has slightly broader foliage.)  Of all of the forms we grow, A. hubrechtii, from the central to the northeast part of the States, has the most feathery foliage.  This plant only gets to about three feet.

All of these species have lovely fall color.  The more sun they get, the more pronounced their transformations.  Generally, their leaves turn yellow, but in A. tabernaemontana, A. illustris, and even somewhat in A. ciliata, there is also bronze and a little purple in the mix.  A. hubrechtii seems to turn uniformly golden in our garden.

Amsonia ‘Halfway to Arkansas Fall Color

Amsonia do not ask much more than average summer water.  Over time our specimens have become somewhat drought tolerant.  Further, we have never had to down-size our plants although it did take several years for them to develop into generous clumps.  We use them in the background and as specimen plants.  Their stems move gracefully in the wind.  Their flowers are attractive to pollinators and birds and they offer us a sense of the changing season from spring green through delicate bloom and brilliant autumn coloration to winter dormancy.



Among the plants that Joy Creek Nursery is introducing in 2012 are two perennials that we found as seedlings in our gardens – one a helenium, one a geranium. We have enjoyed them both immensely.

Helenium ‘Tijuana Brass’ PP22346 has a long history. We found it at least 15 years ago and fostered it until we could determine its merits. Plantsman David Culp visited our garden not many years later and was taken with this particular helenium. David noted the large size of the flowers and the fact that the foliage on our seedling looked fresh and green while the stems of the other named cultivars of heleniums looked naked. (Many cultivars suffer from this “bare-legged” appearance.) We monitored the plant for several more years and finally offered it to Sunny Border Nursery in Connecticut for trialing. They trialed it and then sent it to Peter zur Linden, a helenium authority in Germany, for trial. His judgment was that it was superior in all ways with a vigor and size he had not seen before. Sunny Border Nursery helped us with the patenting process.

In the garden at Joy Creek Nursery, ‘Tijuana Brass’ is tall and upright in habit. It produces golden yellow ray-flowers that are larger than those of most named cultivars and maintains the foliage on its lower stems throughout the blooming period. The central cone of the flowers is golden brown. The flowers are favored by plant pollinators and, when in bloom from mid-August to the end of September, they are abuzz with a variety of native bees as well as honey bees. Standing from 4 to 5 feet, this helenium makes a glorious backdrop to the summer border.

Geranium ‘Pure Joy’ has a much shorter history. Found six years ago in our clematis display beds, this geranium caught our attention from the moment it bloomed because of the pristine appearance of its flowers. We grow other white-flowered forms of geraniums but none of their flowers are as pure as those of this seedling. The whiteness of the filaments and the near-white of the cream colored anthers all combine to enhance the effect. Even the creamy buds are attractive. The leaves betray the parentage of this seedling, looking like those of G. sanguineum. In habit, this perennial is low and mounding. We have also been impressed with the length of its bloom time. With a little dead-heading, it will flower throughout the summer.

We hope that all of our new plants enrich your garden experience


Joy Creek Nursery has long relied on “garden penstemons” to brighten up our mixed borders. These versatile perennials come in so many vibrant colors and bloom over such a long period of time that it is hard to imagine our gardens without them. Their tubular flowers are large and showy, just the right size to house sleeping bumblebees overnight. Most cultivars have flowers with relatively wide lips surrounding their flower tubes. The lips consist of three lobes in the lower lip and two in the upper. Over the years we have selected and introduced seedlings that have unusual colors or markings.

Usually, the throats of penstemon flowers are streaked with dark guide lines that are possibly used to guide pollinators in search of the nectar at the base of the flowers. However, occasionally, during our evaluations, we have come upon odd-ball seedlings that have almost pure white throats that contrast sharply with the color of the surrounding lips. Some of our first penstemon introductions, a series which we called the Kissed Series, featured just such a combo of white throats and colorful lips. The series included ‘Cerise Kissed’, ‘Violet Kissed’, ‘Coral Kissed’, and ‘Wine Kissed’ which we released over a short period of time in the late 1990’s.

Recently our attention has been drawn back to the Kissed Series because of an extraordinary set of new seedlings that we grew. Among these seedlings were several plants with very white throats surrounded by lips in colors we hadn’t seen before.

The first of those seedlings to catch our eyes had flowers with vibrant rose-colored lips. The large flowers measured more than 1 ½ inches across. What was also pleasing was the composition of these flowers on the stem. Forty or more flowers and buds were arranged in a loose triangle with the flowers facing outward. Eventually, we decided to add this to the Kissed Series and named it ‘Rose Kissed’. It stands between 27 and 30 inches tall with a 15 inch spread.

One of its sisters was also very exciting. The arrangement of her flowers was similar to those of ‘Rose Kissed,’ however this seedling had brilliant scarlet lips. At first we worried that this plant was too similar to the classic cultivar named ‘Scarlet Queen’, but after growing our plant out in the garden, we discovered that it had larger, wider flowers. Also, the flowers of this new selection had a “quirk,” something that gave them “attitude.” Its flowers had very broad lower lobes and much smaller upper lobes. These upper lobes sometimes had a twist or tip to them that gave them a jaunty “devil-may-care” appearance. It is curious details like this that make for interesting plants. The color of the lips was so bright we named it ‘Red Hot Kissed’. It reaches about 24 inches in height and 15 inches in width.

Care for both of these plants is the same. Both like full sun. Although they require regular water, they do not like wet sites and require good drainage. They also resent cold winter winds. We recommend a sheltered site. In milder climates, these form attractive, evergreen shrubs. Cut back spent bloom spikes to encourage new growth and repeat bloom. Penstemons will bloom until first frost in the Pacific Northwest. Their September and October blooms complement the changing colors of the autumn garden while their lingering November flowers serve as bright spots in the early winter gloom.

A to Z of Summer Blooming Perennials: E-I

My travels through the alphabet of summer blooms continues on…
Erigeron karvinskianus `Profusion’
(Fleabane): Lots of little (3/8” or so) white daisy shaped flowers and the reverse of the petal has just enough pink to make things interesting.  This plant blooms continuously from May through October or until frost.   Put it in half to full day sun and it’s not unusual to have a couple of hundred blooms at a time on an established plant.  Erigeron `Profusion’ takes regular well-drained garden soil and occasional watering in the summer months.    It does seed around a bit but in this case it just means that you get to have more, and in this case more is a good thing.  This is a great plant for use in pots and what’s more it’s hardy to minus 20 degrees F.

Fuchsias (The hardy ones that is): Okay everybody, you have my permission, go ahead and get your fuchsias out of those hanging baskets and into the ground where they belong.  A goodly number of the fuchsia you have in baskets are perfectly hardy when put in the ground.  So what do I mean by hardy?  Well, I grow about a hundred and ten varieties in the ground and lost only one to the December 1998 freeze where our lows for three consecutive nights hovered around 11 degrees F.  What’s more, when established, I grow most of them in full sun to part shade.   Once you get a hardy Fuchsia in the ground they can become anything from a small to medium sized shrub and yes you will need to prune them down in the spring.  They do like rich soil with a thorough watering about once a week in the drier months and if it’s really hot maybe twice a week.  I fertilize them in the spring with a complete timed release fertilizer and then I basically sit back and enjoy them.  A few to check out are Fuchsia `David’, F. `Double Otto’, F. `Surprise’, F. `Old Fashioned’, F. `Cardinal’,  F. `Black Prince’, and F. `Mephisto’.   Oh yes and did I mention the hummingbird wars?

Gaura lindheimeri (Now renamed Oenothora lindheimeri): There is a seed strain of Gaura available called “Whirling Butterflies’.  I can not think of any better two-word description for the flowers on this plant.    Growing thin tough arching stems to about 4 feet in height, Gaura stems move and sway in the breeze and the white, one inch, flowers dance like, well you know.  There’s also a pink flowered form available called Gaura ‘Siskyou Pink” (Introduced by Siskyou Rare Plant Nursery in Medford).  Gaura lindheimeri is native to the southern plains states and hence likes all day sun, handles poor soil and when established appreciates water about every other week in the summer.   Note: The leaves tend to get red splotches on them for no apparent reason, it doesn’t seem to hurt the plant so if it happens to yours don’t worry.

Hypericum x inodorum `Elstead’ (St. John’s Wort): When I got into the nursery business I thought there was just one Hypericum, you all know the one I mean.  The one that was planted as landscaping around every bank parking lot in the 70’s, 80’s & 90’s.  The one that spreads by runners and nearly takes an act of God to eradicate.   Well, this isn’t that one.  Hypericum `Elstead’ is one of a group of shrubby hybrid (hence the “x inodorum”) hypericums that have purple, gold or variegated foliage.   Naturally, just to be difficult, I picked the green foliaged form, did I mention the pink seed pods?  Yep, following the golden-yellow, ¾ inch flowers the seed pods develop, first showing up as a pale ivory color and then as they develop and ripen the pods go through the shades of pink and ultimately almost to red by summer end.   The flowers come in waves throughout the summer so there are always different stages of pod development going on.  `Elstead’ gets to be about 3.5’ to 4’ tall and by 3’ wide. Cut the plant down to about 6 inches tall each spring to renew the plant’s vigor.   It takes full sun to part shade and appreciates a good soak about every other week in the summer. Hardy to zero. (BTW, I love Hydrangeas also and it was a toss up as to whether I list the Hypericum or Hydrangea serrata ‘Preziousa’)

Indigofera heterantha: Having only grown this 4’ tall by 4’ wide arching Himalayan shrub for a couple of years, I’m just beginning to see the plant move towards its maturity.  Related to the familiar black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) sans thorns, Indigofera heterantha bears lavender pink, pea type flowers in great profusion along the stems for most of July, August and early September.   The bumblebees are constantly at the plant and while I won’t say it’s a favorite with the hummingbirds, I certainly see them visiting it often enough.   I grow it in nearly full sun with well-drained soil and I suspect that in our area it will perform at it’s best in as much sun as we have available in our gardens.   The plant is hardy to a minus 10 degrees F. making it a valuable addition to gardeners who live at higher elevations.

I hope to have rest of the alphabet completed before summer is over.  So stay tuned.


A to Z of Summer Blooming Perennials

A couple of questions we get with considerable regularity at the nursery are “What are some good summer blooming perennials ” or better yet “What perennials will give me color and interest all season long?”.    Happily, the list of available plants that meet the requirements is growing all the time and a number of them even fall into that wonderful category of low maintenance.   So for fun I thought I’d work up an  “A through Z” of plants that fit this description.  Boy did I ever set myself up, just try and find a readily available, summer blooming hardy perennial whose name begins with the letter “Q”, I dare ya.  Seeing as this is a large undertaking, it will be broken up into small sections with a new set of letters coming up each week.

Alstroemeria (The Peruvian Lilies): These are the long lasting cut flowers of florist’s arrangements that bring us incredibly wonderful sunset colors in the garden.  Cold Hardy to 10 degrees F. or a little less, these hybrids generally start blooming around the first part of June and if they’re dead-headed they will bloom non-stop well into October.  There is one form in our garden, Alstroemeria `Butterscotch’, that generally blooms well into November.  The Alstroemerias do need full sun and when established do like a good watering about once every two weeks in the summer months. Make sure you  get only the hybrid forms as the species tend to spread and can be a real pain to eradicate.  Incidentally, dead heading in this case involves pulling the spent bloom spike out of the ground which causes the plant roots to generate more flowering stocks, who knew?

Begonia grandis ssp. evansiana: Yep, here it is, a hardy begonia (minus 10 degrees F.) that brings that wonderful green red ribbed foliage into our shade gardens.  The plant emerges late in the spring but once it gets going it easily reaches 2 feet high by about a 1.5 feet wide.   Although the foliage is the main show, the light pink flowers bloom most of the summer and are a welcome surprise in the late summer shade garden.   The plant appreciates moist rich soil and an absence of slugs and snails.

Campanula `Birch Hybrid (Bell Flower): It seems to me there are nearly a `jillion’ good campanulas in the world and for me to single one out as a favorite is likely to be asking for trouble but I probably never had good sense about such things anyway.   For starters, Campanula `Birch Hybrid’ is a very versatile plant in the garden.   It blooms (Blue) beautifully, dutifully and continually from about mid-June to frost and will do it in sun or part shade.  I actually have it growing in one spot where it gets only about four hours of sun late in the day and although it sprawls a bit, it is dynamite in combination with the Japanese Painted Fern (Aythrium nipponicum pictum) and “Black Mondo” grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus `Nigrescens’).

Diascias (Twinspur): Most of the country treats these incredibly floriferous imports from South Africa as annuals.   Happily, most of them are really hardy (15 degrees F.) for us when they get the conditions they like.  So, what do they like?  Full sun, well drained soil and an occasional watering in the summer, if you amend the soil when you plant them, Diascias will go for several years blooming like crazy.  Don’t over fertilize!  The hardiest of the lot in my experience are Diascia vigilis (Medium pink), Diascia `Emma’ (Pink Red & vigorous), and Diascia `Hector’s Hardy’ (Bright dark pink).  With our mild winter this year, Diascia `Emma’ just started blooming in our gardens and should continue pretty well toward the end of October or until first frost.   Although the majority of the Diascia forms available have flowers that are some shade of pink, there are now lavender, apricot, red (still has a lot of pink in it), and a couple of white flowered forms which haven’t proved particularly hardy.   Oh did I mention that they’re great for container plantings, too?

Check back in later as I continue working my way towards Z