Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

May 26, 2005
Plan year-long dose of color

Early spring brings tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses to Tooele County gardens. Summer brings a deluge of annuals in all colors, sizes and shapes.

Most of us would like a garden that looks good all the time not just in spring and then again in the summer. What flowers bloom between the two to avoid the on-again-off-again flower garden?

The gardeners at Temple Square are masters at keeping gardens looking their best at all times. After the flush of spring bulbs mixed with biennials (for which, by the way, the gardens have received international acclaim), gardeners and volunteers tear them out to make way to plant summer flowers.

However, they leave in some beautiful late-blooming perennials to continue the spring show while the summer plants become established and begin to perform. Take a page from their book and you can enjoy a colorful garden all season long.

Among the flowers that make a delightful transition statement are some long-time favorites in this area. Irises, peonies and lilacs are well-adapted plants that have always done well in this area. They are blooming now. Pinks and sweet William, like carnations, are Dianthus and are short-lived perennials that liven up the garden at midheight. They bloom in a wide range of colors.


There is no shortage of irises to choose from. They form a large and remarkably diverse group of 200 to 300 species.

Their bloom periods vary although most bloom in late spring or early summer. The most widely grown of these flowers are the bearded irises.

These are the ones Grandma probably called “flags.” They earned that name because they often bloom for Memorial Day — when flags fly freely in the breezes. They grow from rhizomes and they are very tough plants. They prefer well-drained soils, so if you are planting them in heavy clay, put them on mounds or hills to keep the water from settling around the rhizomes and rotting them.

July to October is the best time to plant irises — after they have bloomed and had some time for the leaves to nurture the roots through photosynthesis.

They tend to spread, so plant the rhizomes about one or two feet apart with tops just beneath the soil surface.

Growth proceeds from the leafy end of the rhizome, so “aim” that end in the direction you want them to grow initially.

Groundcover Some lovely groundcovers that you will find blooming during this period include Aurinia saxatile, or basket-of-gold, arabis or rockcress and aubretia or purple rockcress. All of these plants bloom freely in the spring then settle back and provide a green backdrop among the annuals of summer. All three of these are also particularly attractive in rock gardens, growing in chinks in walls or between steppingstones.

Aubretia blooms with purple flowers and has small graygreen leaves. Arabis produces flowers that may be white, purple, pink or rose.

Basket-of-Gold grows taller than the other two – about 8 to 12 inches high. Leaves are gray.

It produces dense clusters of tiny golden yellow flowers in spring and early summer.

Dame’s Rocket One of my favorite late blooming biennial/perennial flowers is Hesperis matronalis or Dame’s Rocket. This old-fashioned cottage garden plant puts on a dazzling show en mass or mixed with other plants like deep purple iris. The flower grows three feet tall and about that wide with rounded clusters of 1/2 inch four-petaled lavender to purple flowers.

They resemble the flowers of stocks — however, they are actually members of the mustard family. In the night, they produce a delightful clove like fragrance.

The term “Rocket” reflects the super-rapid growth in spring before the plants bloom and the word “Dame” came because it was a favorite of women and mothers in medieval flower lore. Their blooms appear with the iris at about the right time for Memorial Day decorating, but they continue to bloom for a time then form seeds and die back before fall.

They are originally from Japan, Europe and Asia Minor but have adapted well in American soil.

The plants do return from year to year although they are easy to remove if you decide to change your garden design.

They also seed freely so that new, young plants appear each year. If you do not want them to seed, cut the flowers off after the plant blooms before the seeds have a chance to mature. To propagate them the process is painless, take the seed stocks and sprinkle them into areas where you want the plants next spring and wait until spring rains bring them up the next season. The seeds need light to germinate, so do not cover the seeds. This perennial blooms in the second year and seeds itself freely. I have read warnings that the plant becomes invasive in the Midwest and they cannot be shipped to Colorado. But in the heavy clay and alkaline soil of my garden, I have not found invasiveness to be a serious problem.

Look around at the possibilities and do a little planning and planting to provide a year-long dose of color in your gardens.

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