Between the smoke from wildfires and relentless heat, I’ve almost had to give up being outside. But I came up with a plan that included a list of plants that take the blistering heat, survive handsomely with less than 12 inches of rain a year, and still come out looking good season after season.
Just when you are dog tired of the dog days, Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis, Zones 5–8), start waving their graceful blossoms, as if shouting, “Hey, you! Look at me!” They are 2 to 4 feet tall, with blooms that range from the whitest white to a rosy deep pink, some with double petals. Tight dainty buds reminiscent of dogwood blossoms open and sway, hovering over the other foliage in the garden with an ethereal presence. ‘Queen Charlotte’, ‘Honorine Jobert’, and ‘Pamina’ are my favorite Anemone hupehensis hybrids.
Autumn asters (Symphyotrichum spp. and cvs., Zones 4–8) will light up your late-season garden with little blossoms that almost glitter in the sunlight. You may want to give the plants a couple of haircuts throughout the summer to keep them tidy. Smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve, Zones 3–8) and calico aster (S. lateriflorum, Zones 4–8) are my new favorites. ‘Lady in Black’ and ‘Prince’ are calico aster cultivars with dark purple-tinged foliage. ‘Calliope’, a smooth blue aster selection, is a bit different: it still has the dark black stems and dark foliage, but with larger, lilac-blue flowers.
Lastly, no garden should be without what we used to call tall sedums (Hylotelephium spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9). I would venture to guess that many of us grew up with the old standby Autumn Joy (H. ‘Herbstfreude’, Zones 3–9). But now we can trade her in for a new model, specifically ‘Matrona’, ‘Neon’, ‘Bronze Orbit’, or ‘Frosty Morn’, which are all tall, handsome late bloomers that really rock the garden from late July into August. The pink cultivars develop rosy blooms, while ‘Frosty Morn’ has creamy seed heads.
When the smoke has cleared and the temperature drops, the garden is ready for me again. Consider these the long-lasting jewels of the late summer garden. Please don’t overwater them.
Mary Ann Newcomer is the author of two books: Rocky Mountain Gardener’s Handbook and Vegetable Gardening in the Mountain States.