Winding DOWN

TITHONIAIn the garden and elsewhere, so goes the season.

Winding down to the end of another gardening year, we simultaneously near the end of our alphabetical trip, passing signposts S, T, U and V.

‘S’ is rich with possibilities, starting with salvia, scaevola, stokesia and spiraea, not necessarily newcomers to the garden although perhaps assuming a less familiar form. Two new cultivars of Salvia nemerosa, or Meadow Sage, sound promising and worth trying. ‘Caradonna’ has a very upright form, 1-2 feet, with dark purple stems which contrast effectively with bright violet-blue flowers. S. nemorosa ‘Sensation Rose’ is dwarf and compact, an unusual form for salvia, with bright rose-pink flowers rising from mounded foliage on 10-12 inch upright stems. Plant in sunshine and try to cut back at mid-summer for re-bloom.

Scaevola or Fan Flower is a favorite for low spreading groundcover, and is very effective in hanging baskets where its springy habit animates it as it drapes informally over the edge. Originally in lavender blue, it can be white where its cheerful form is extremely attractive.

Spiraea does not here refer to the large, sometimes weeping white-flowered shrub that was a feature of traditional Southern gardens, but to the smaller and compact form known as Japanese spiraea. Foliage and form are its biggest pluses. Deciduous and taking up little space in the winter garden, the foliage emerges in spring in shades of green, gold or chartreuse.

SCAEVOLA‘T’ brings to mind tricyrtis, tibouchina and tithonia. Tricyrtis or Toad Lily is a fall blooming lily for woodland or a light shade garden. The arching foliage may be green, golden or variegated, but the blooms in the fall are unique, as many one to two inch speckled, or otherwise variegated and colorful flowers, rise from the leaf axils in a vertical column forming an exotic display.

Tibouchina, ‘Glory Bush,’ ‘Princess Flower,’ is a native shrub of South America which is not reliably perennial in zone 8 but that does not stop local gardeners from planting it for the spectacular violet-blue blooms in the fall and the attractive velvety foliage. It prefers full sun and may be propagated by terminal cuttings.

Tithonia or Mexican sunflower is a large annual shrub, five to eight feet, sporting bright orange flowers which attract butterflies in droves from mid to late summer. Its large size may be a problem for the smaller garden but a dwarf size exists, from two to three feet tall, called ‘Fiesta del Sol,’ an All America selection in 2000.

‘Goldfinger,’ the most common cultivar, bears orange-scarlet flowers on four to five foot stems. ‘U’ has fallen off the horticultural map with nothing to recommend it, but ‘V’ picks up the trail with verbena, verbascum and veronica. Verbena, a sun-loving bedding plant, is well known for its jewel-like colors. Generally an annual but sometimes a short-lived perennial, it prefers sun and welldrained soil.

SALVIAVerbascum or Mullein, formerly confined to roadside ditches, has been hybridized to new heights. Its pink, peach and rose blooms cluster densely, climbing the stem in the way of hollyhocks. Heights range from 1½ to four feet, depending on variety. Deer, drought and heat resistant, it seems a good bet for Lowcountry gardens.

Veronica, Speedwell, a seldom seen perennial hereabouts, is recommended in Jim Wilson’s Bulletproof Flowers for the South for its ease of cultivation in a sunny location with moist, welldrained soil. Spikes rise from 8 inches to 3+ feet with a range of colors, mostly purple. Recommended are ‘Sunny Border Blue,’ ‘Goodness Grows’ and ‘Icicle,’ a white form. Although the season is winding down, the gardener knows that creating surroundings that dazzle is a full-time endeavor.