Summertime in Northern California brings longer days, hotter temperatures, minimal rainfall, and with any luck, a great vacation or two. We’re lazier gardeners now that the spring rush is over, yet we still want our gardens to delight us with a variety of colors, scents, and textures. And of course, we want a profusion of gorgeous flowers. At their very best during summer’s warmest days, these reliable, easy-care, hot-hued perennials are guaranteed to effortlessly brighten up your summer borders and to reward you year after year with their abundance of eye-catching, colorful blooms.
‘Magenta’ Cape fuchsia
Phygelius capensis ‘Magenta’, Zones 7–9
Big, loose clusters of vibrant, bell-like blooms are carried high on burgundy stems of ‘Magenta’ Cape fuchsia. Flowering from summer until fall’s first frost, this South African native is adored by hummingbirds and works beautifully in containers or in the border combined with other sun-loving summer bloomers. Deer resistant and drought tolerant, this beauty requires very little care once established, yet it adds stunning, vivid bursts of color to the landscape all season long. Plant this long-lived, semi-evergreen perennial in well-drained, enriched soil in a full-sun location, and water lightly but regularly during the summer months. Cut to 6 inches high in late winter to refresh and tidy.
Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’, Zones 3–9
Fine-textured, fragrant, and fernlike, ‘Paprika’ yarrow’s gray-green foliage makes a lovely backdrop for a generous summertime display of flat, 3-inch-wide blossom heads that mature through shades of coral, ruby, and rose as they age. Hardy and easy to grow, ‘Paprika’ mixes well with other heat lovers and is an excellent habitat plant that attracts birds, bees, and butterflies to your sunny border. Vigorous, drought tolerant, and blooming all summer long, this outstanding easy-care perennial is not fussy about soil and grows 3 feet high and 2 feet wide with only occasional summer water. It looks lovely in fresh or dried arrangements. Be sure to cut back faded flowers to refresh, renew, and encourage even more blooms.
‘Mystic Sparkler’ dahlia
Dahlia ‘Mystic Sparkler’, Zones 7–11
There is nothing subtle about this dahlia! Masses of hot-pink, star-shaped flowers with brilliant yellow halos of color sit above dark chocolate centers. These flowers bloom nonstop from summer through fall on this compact bushy perennial. The blooms contrast beautifully with the mass of glossy black, fine-cut foliage below. This dahlia is loved by butterflies, honeybees, and native bees alike and makes a truly delightful cut flower. Growing to 30 inches high (in bloom) and 20 inches wide, sun-loving ‘Mystic Sparkler’ works as well in a container as it does in the perennial border. It needs no staking and will reward you with a long, bloom-filled season when planted in rich, well-drained soil. Be sure to give it regular water plus a springtime side-dressing with organic compost. There’s no need to lift this herbaceous, perennial tuber except in the chilliest of NorCal zones.
‘Tangerine Dream’ coneflower
Echinacea ‘Tangerine Dream’, Zones 4–9
This heat- and sun-loving perennial is a knockout in any summer border or container, with multiple strong, branching stems carrying glowing, bouquet-worthy blooms above lush green foliage. The flower’s color is truly intense, with bright tangerine-colored, slightly overlapping petals radiating out from dark central cones. Delicately fragrant with a sweet honey scent, ‘Tangerine Dream’ reaches 30 inches tall when flowering and 24 inches wide and will attract bees, birds, and butterflies to your garden. Stunning when mass-planted and almost as lovely in mixed combinations, this bright and colorful herbaceous perennial does best in full sun and rich, well-drained soil and with regular moisture. For optimal results, side-dress in spring with organic compost.
—Fionuala Campion is the owner and manager of Cottage Gardens of Petaluma in Petaluma, California.