Lake Barcroft  
 
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RPA Garden Blooms in August

What’s Blooming in August in the RPA Garden?

By Betsy Washington

As I write this, temperatures are hovering in the 90’s, and the dearth of rainfall has caused our lawns to brown, and the lake to smell, well, rather fishy. Nonetheless, the garden at Beach 5 is in full summer swing with hints of fall already in the air.  Much to everyone’s delight, the tiny perennials and shrubs planted out in May, have exceeded our wildest expectations and have burst into bloom their very first summer. 

One of my favorite native shrubs, Summersweet, hails from damp stream banks and swamps of the coastal plain.  This deservedly popular shrub opens its fragrant white to pink spire-like blooms for several weeks in late July and August, adding a welcome spicy fragrance to the late summer garden and attracting clouds of butterflies and bees. The garden features two popular cultivars of Summersweet. ‘Ruby Spice’ can reach 6 - 8’ in height, with rich pink flowers, while the dwarf ‘Sixteen Candles’ forms a demure 2 - 3’ mound and its upright spikes of white flowers look for all the world like - you guessed it – sixteen birthday candles and then some! The sweet fragrance of both can go along way to revive the flagging energy and noses of summer weary gardeners. Chelones, fondly known as Turtleheads, are another wonderful perennial native to moist soils along streams and lakes. If you look closely, the tubular flowers look like rosy turtle heads.  Two other wonderful perennials native to wet soils along rivers and swamps are Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) with tall spires of brilliant red flowers and Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) with rich blue flowers.  Both are virtual hummingbird magnets and will happily seed themselves around in moist soils near the lake. All are also easy to grow in regular garden soils, with a bit of afternoon shade. On a much flashier note, Rose-mallows, Hibiscus moscheutos, unfurl enormous white to rose colored flowers in late summer atop 3 – 5’ plants, and are as much at home along the shores of Lake Barcroft and other inland watersheds as along the coast of Chincoteague Island where they dazzle late summer visitors.  The huge flowers can reach up to 8” in diameter and bloom for weeks on end in late summer. Many popular hibiscus cultivars have been selected from this showy, native species.

Other plants blooming in August and September are commonly found in our fields and meadows, and even along roadsides.  The popular Purple Coneflowers have been putting on a bold show since late June, and a couple of species of Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida (the typical one seen in gardens) and Three-leaved Coneflower, (Rudbeckia triloba) with divided, fuzzy leaves and smaller flowers, bloom from mid July through August. As their flowers begin to fade, bright yellow goldfinches flock to feed on the rich seedheads and are as colorful as the flowers.  The familiar purples and golds of several species of goldenrods and early blooming asters also grace the gardens in August and September. Most asters thrive in moist soils in full sun, but the White Wood Aster, Aster divaricatus, with small white flowers is happiest in shady woodland gardens where it adds welcome blooms in late summer. The huge dusky pink flowerheads of the tall Joe-Pye Weed and the clouds of white daisy-like flowers of Boltonia complement the familiar asters and goldenrods.  Blue Mist Flower, is related to Joe-Pye weed, but looks for all the world like the annual, blue ageratum, with its fuzzy, sky blue flowers.  But beware, its good lucks belie a tenacious personality and wandering ways!  This tough perennial spreads by rhizomes and can quickly take over a small garden space, especially in rich, damp soils.  This will be a good thing in holding the loose soil behind the bio-logs at Beach 5, while adding late summer blooms along the shoreline. 

All of these perennials and shrubs provide nectar for butterflies as well as seeds and insects for migrating songbirds.  So when the heat and dog days of late summer have you down, come on down to the RPA garden at Beach 5 and enjoy clouds of blooms and refreshing fragrance.  And while you’re at it, bring along your binoculars and enjoy the profusion of birds and butterflies that are also flocking to the garden! And for those of you eager to add some of these plants to your own gardens, the new plant markers should be in place clearly labeling all of these plants.