Between the Rows: Sunny flowers for August

I am an August baby, born under the sign of Leo, and I am in love with the sun and the golden rays of summer-blooming flowers. In fact, many summer flowers like black-eyed Susans, sunflowers and heleniums do not have petals, they have rays around a central disk of tiny florets.

One of the greatest (in every sense of the word) of the golden August flowers is the sunflower. The proper name of the sunflower family is Helianthus, which comes from two Greek words, helios for the god of the sun and anthus for flower. Helios was the Greek god with golden locks and golden rays around his head who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky every day.

In the past, sunflowers have usually been a golden yellow, but nowadays they come in a range of hot colors, from golden yellow to red and mahogany. Some, like Mammoth Russian Giant, grow to 10 or 12 feet tall with a large central disk filled with seeds that people and birds find delicious. Others range in height down to dwarfs like Teddy, 8 to 12 inches tall, with shaggy blossoms that are perfect in a child’s garden.

Sunflowers have become very popular as a cut flower. There are new hybrids like Sunny and Double Quick Orange that are single stem flowers; pollenless varieties like Sunrich Gold; and the branching Peach Passion, which is also pollenless. There is a sunflower for every taste and occasion.

I should also mention that sunflowers attract pollinators.

August can be a very dry month and a number of sunny-rayed flowers are drought resistant. Rudbeckias, or black-eyed Susans range from the wildflowers growing by the side of the road to a range of hybrids like the classic Goldsturm to Cherokee Sunset which has double flowers in hotter sunset colors and Cherry Brandy with deep red-maroon flowers. All have a long season of bloom and are deer resistant as well as drought resistant.

Coreopsis are drought tolerant, hardy, easy-care perennials that have a long bloom season and also a long life as a cut flower in a vase. As with so many of these golden flowers like the old coreopsis verticillata or threadleaf coreopsis, there are now varieties in white like Star Cluster and the endless mahogany variations of Route 66. Early Sunrise is golden and the winner of many gold medals. I was admiring the new plantings in front of the Greenfield Savings Bank in Shelburne Falls and was particularly taken with a peachy coreopsis with lacy foliage that I think might be Sienna Sunset.

Darrell Probst, who is famous for his Garden Visions epimedium nursery in Hubbardston, has been hybridizing coreopsis for the last 10 years or more. His Big Bang Series includes the unusual deep red Mercury Rising and the white Cosmic Evolution, which develops a violet stripe during the cool months but becomes pure white during the heat of late summer. This unique group of coreopsis is available through mail-order nurseries like Bluestone Perennials and Wayside Gardens.

Cone flowers are native to the eastern United States, but do well over most of the country because they are hardy and tolerate both drought and poor soil. The native varieties with pink or white rays have been joined by a host of wild hybrids.

Some of the hybrids retain the single-flower form with rays circling a pronounced brown cone. However, they are now available in shocking colors of red, orange, hot pink. Others, like Hot Papaya, have a multitude of shaggy orange rays creating a fluffy pom-pom center and Marmalade has a frilly double row of rays around a tangerine pom-pom center. The cone centers attract butterflies as well as birds when they have gone to seed.

I confess I was a little slow to keep heleniums and gaillardias straight in my own head. My helenium, Mardi Gras, is about 3 feet tall, like other heleniums. There is a pronounced rounded cone in the center with rays in shades of red, orange and gold. Dancing Flames is more gold and orange, while Red Jewel has deeper red flowers.

Of course, I have only touched on the tip of sunny gold August flowers. There are easy-to-grow daylilies in a whole range of yellow and gold and red. Chrysanthemums are an iconic fall flower that begin to bloom in late August.

Dahlias also begin to bloom in August from little 2-inch pom-poms like the golden petaled Kasasagi tipped in red, to glowing Candlelight with gentle orange shading to gold petals, and the giant El Sol, 12 inches of shaggy orange blossoms.

It’s too late to plant fancy mums or dahlias now, but I find that this is the time of year when I start making lists of must-have plants for next year. And, sometimes, I am even organized enoughto get those must-haves. Have you started planning for 2015 yet?

Pat Leuchtman, who is The Recorder’s garden columnist, has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her Web site:

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