We can be hard on ourselves, no? Acquiring a plant that requires a lot of maintenance is a good example.
Everyone knows that a dog needs a daily walk and goldfish need cleaning from time to time. But chances are pretty good that if you planted Sunshine impatiens, you did so not realizing that those long, fleshy stems holding up an abundance of bloom are like drinking straws filled with water. Without adequate moisture at their root zone, they are inclined to simply collapse. To enjoy a relaxed summer full of colour in your garden, whether you are home or not, means planting low-demand flowers.
Here is our list of some of the best low-maintenance plants. You can plant any of them in your garden now, in early summer:
#1 Hosta. Known best for large, dramatic leaves, hostas feature a tough root structure and thick leaf tissue that withstands drought. Many produce showy flowers that attract hummingbirds. Our favourites are Fragrant Bouquet, June and Patriot.
#2 Coral Bells (heuchera). These can fool you. Their masses of flowers, born on long panicles that reach for the sky, can look delicate, almost dainty. Yet, this winter-hardy perennial family (zone 3) is tough as nails. Early to mid summer blossoms produced on 10 to 25 cm plants in partial shade or full sun are outstanding in most any gardens. Great for containers, in the foreground of a perennial border or in mass plantings. The flowers are suitable for cutting. Amazing.
#3 Sage. This perennial culinary herb sticks around so long it is, well, sage. Ha! Tolerant of many soil conditions and blazing hot sun, sage responds to a weekly shearing, as you cut off leaves for use in the kitchen, by growing densely and aggressively. Between us, we can’t think of one insect that will attack sage.
#4 Sedum. Remember the Hens and Chicks perennials that grew in your grandmother’s rock garden? Many of us do. They were the goofy looking, fleshy-leaved “pin cushion” plants. They belong to a large family of slow growing perennial flowering plants that bloom reliably in a sunny position every year, from mid summer to early autumn. Literally, they thrive on neglect. No wonder sedums are used extensively in the hostile environment of green roofs. We recommend the early fall flowering Autumn Joy (40 to 60 cm high) and for a ground cover you can’t beat Dragons Blood (sedum spurium). #5 Lamb’s Ear (stachys) is a perennial Dusty Miller. It produces a bright purple flower this time of year but is best known for its grey-green colour and the soft feel of its’ leaves. Encourage kids to pet the Lamb’s Ear in your garden and you don’t have to feed it as you would a real lamb. Winter hardy to zone 4.
#6 Geraniums and Dusty Miller. If non-stop, low maintenance colour appeals to you, plant Dusty Miller and Geraniums. Both are available at many garden retailers this time of year and will give you up to four months of colour before the late season frost kills them off. Geraniums were made famous by the British 200 years ago when giant beds of flowers were first planted in public parks. Early professional gardeners knew that they were forgiving of dry conditions and require very little work. Honorable mention: Perennials include coreopsis, featuring a butter-cup yellow flower on a 60 to 80 cm high plant plus Black Eyed Susan (rudbeckia) and Bee Balm (monarda) for late season colour. These plants spread quite readily so be ready to dig them back to remove excess roots in a couple of years. Evergreens are generally low maintenance but none of them flower. Don’t hold this against them. Using the permanent green of cedars, boxwood and junipers in the garden is the perfect backdrop to a garden of colour. In fact, the evergreen effect helps us appreciate the flowering specimens even more. Now you can go away for a week or more and enjoy yourself! Your garden will greet you gladly when you return.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.