I’ve been buying one or two stems of Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) at the Union Square Farmer’s Market for the last couple of years. I love its fragrance, very sweet and unique. The scent brought me back to my childhood when my grandmother grew them in her garden. The memory of walking in the garden when they were in full bloom will always stay with me. The long stems with pure white flowers that opened up, one or two at a time, like a small version of Gladiolus. I was allowed to cut them just to make an offering, nothing else. I guess it was because it was mainly used in a funeral arrangement over there at that time. The name in the local language means ‘to hide a smell’. The locals probably used the flowers in the temple during a funeral ceremony before embalming existed, hence the name. When you put a lot of Tuberose together, you won’t smell anything else but the sweetness of the flowers. It’s like being in a room full of Oriental Lilies or Hyacinths, if you’re not sure how strong Tuberose is.
Anyway, I was warned by the farmer who sold me the Tuberose flowers about the difficulty of growing it in this latitude. He said I can grow them but they won’t flower because the hot season is not long enough for the plant to develop flower buds. He added that in the Northern part of the US it’s grown successfully only in a greenhouse. His answer discouraged me from trying to grow them for a few years.
What have I got to loose? I can’t get Gardenia and Ginger Lily to flower but I still grow them. Hopefully one of these years they will give me a break and flower. I decided to try growing tuberose this year with three small bulbs. They have taken their sweet time to come up from under the soil but, to my surprise, one of them bloomed. There are just two flowers on the long stem but they are enough to give me hope.
Summer flowers in our garden are easy to grow and most of them are drought tolerant. Having a full time job I have to be practical about what I plant in the garden. I water the vegetable garden regularly since most of the vegetables don’t do well without constant care. The opposite goes for the rest of the garden. Most of them are doing fine being left alone. I weed, prune and feed them when I have time.
So, summer flowers for bees are the ones that will bloom even when neglected. Here’s some of what I grow..
Black-eyed susan ‘Gold Sturm’ (Rudbeckia fulgida var sullivantii ‘Gold sturm’) helps brighten up the garden even when everything else wilts. Bees and butterflies love them. The seed buds become finch food. It is also much more compact and mildew resistant than other varieties.
Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) lives up to its name; it draws butterflies in like moths to a light. It has a lovely sweet fragrance. The down side is that it’s very invasive if you let the flowers set seeds.
I should have classified Echinacea under herbs since it has herbal properties. This one is a native that will grow wherever the seeds drop. The birds also like the seeds.
Well, a lot of people see this Goldenrod (Solidago) as a weed but I found the bright yellow flowers really beautiful. It can take care of itself even along side the road where nothing else would grow.
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is another flower that lives up to its name. The fragrance is sweet to the point of intoxication when enough of them bloom at the same time. The white one above is called ‘Vanilla spice’ the pink one below is ‘ Ruby spice’.
I grouped a variety of zinnia together this year and they came out really nice. I also planted them where they can get full sun all day long. That helps the flowers to stay longer and suffer far less mildew on the leaves.
Aside from the Rugosa roses that bloom early, some of our climbing and rambling roses are also blooming. The sad part is most of them bloom only once a year. All of the ‘once blooming’ roses in the garden are ones that I planted very early on when I had no idea that some of the roses in this climate bloom only once a year (I grew up in the subtropics where they bloom all year round). I select more carefully now.
The once blooming rambling rose that’s worth growing is the ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk.’ When it’s in full bloom, aside from a sea of small pink flowers, the honey scent is lovely. It can grow around five to six feet a season and can grow more than thirty feet in length. This rose and it’s cousin – Himalayan Alba- are the ones that give me grief every spring. Pruning rambling rose is not an easy task. I gave both of them a crew cut this spring and they have already filled up the empty spaces.
Both of us attempted to dig out the Blaze many times because all of the leaves drop off after it finishes blooming, mostly from black spots and in some years, mildew as well. But it manages to change our mind every spring when its branches are cover with bright red flowers. It is another of the roses that I originally planted. One of these days, either I figure out how to deal with the black spots or I’ll just dig it out and plant a different rose that will bloom all season. It’s a heart wrenching decision.
Zephirine Drouhin is an Old Garden climbing rose that will bloom throughout the season and is highly fragrant as well. The deer ate most of its new shoots last year but this year I managed to discourage them so it bloomed profusely in gratitude.
I still remember the arresting scene of Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) that made me want to grow one. That was when I walked under the Wisteria Pergola in Central Park when it was in full bloom. A sea of lilac pealike flowers cascaded down over my head and a powerful sweet perfume filled the air. I promised myself then and there that I would grow one when next I have a garden.
When I moved from New York City to the current address, I was lucky enough to have a neighbor who had them growing on her property. She offered me a runner years ago and I promptly planted it by our pool fence. It proved to be a mistake since it grows several feet a season, too fast for such a small spot. I dug it up and replanted it by a dead tree stump and put up a supporting pole to keep it straight up. I also prune it every year to keep it in an umbrella shape. It’s still too low to walk or sit under but it’s a lovely shape and it will continue to grow upward. I think it loves where it is judging by the way it blooms so profusely and twice last year too. The second time didn’t produce that many flowers though. Aside from the lovely flowers, the fragrance perfumes our garden from morning to evening. I guess it’s eye catching enough when the handsome young man who supervised a crew of men topping our trees asked me what it was and commented that “it’s stunning”.
One problem with growing Wisteria is that it produces a lot of runners. I have to cut them off every year. I also had to dig another one out from the original planting spot. This year I have to dig one more out from the same spot and I hope it’s the last. This one will be relocated to the front lawn. It’s almost like the Day Lily, if you leave even a just a small section underground it will grow back. But it’s still worth growing.
Yes, someone named this jasmine ‘Poet’ or ‘French Perfume’ (Jasminum grandiflorum). I’m not sure I like the name or the scent best. I can see why it get this name. One whiff of its scent and you can write a few lovely lines of poetry. If you keep sniffing it, you may be able to pull a Robert Frost act.
It’s a lovely vine with very dark green leaves and 1.5 inch white flowers. Its fragrance is a little bit sweeter than the Jasminumsambac and seems to do well when the weather gets a little colder. The temperature has been hovering around 50 degrees or lower at night and gone up to 60 or 70 during the day here. It started to bloom as soon as the temperature dropped and blooms profusely now while the Jasminum sambac like Maid of Orleans and Grand Duke of Tuscany areproducing less and smaller flowers than in the heat of summer. The Poet flowers also last longer than a day, but are not as fragrant when picked and taken into the house. So, using it as an air-freshener like the Jasminum sambac is out. Well, at this time of year we can sit and enjoy it outside longer since it is too cold for mosquitoes to fly around. Maybe that was nature’s intent.
This year is a great year for Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia). They cover three quarters of the vegetable garden fence. The thickness of the leaves and the bright yellow flowers spotted among them look very pleasant. The sweet scent of the flowers is a plus, especially in the morning when it seems to be strongest. Cutting leaves and fruits for friends and neighbors has been a pleasure as well. One good thing about cutting the leaves more often is that the plants will sprout more side shoots which is great for stir-fry or blanching and topping with coconut milk. More new shoots also mean more flowers and fruits, if I let the shoots grow.
The only down side for the Bitter Melon this year are the Stink bugs. We have more Stink Bugs this year than any past year. A lot of the young melons turn yellow prematurely because the bugs feed on them. There is no other pest in this area that is destructive for Bitter Melon, as far as I know. The deer haven’t touched them. The chipmunks have chewed one or two of them at the base but mostly left them alone. I guess the bitterness in every part of the plants provides a good defense.
In the tropics, it grows as a short lived vegetable that provides fruit for a year or two. It’s grown as an annual in the Northern hemisphere. I’ve been growing it every summer because I love the distinctive bitter taste and the fragrant flowers. It grows pretty much the same way as beans do. I usually start the seedlings inside near the end of March and plant them when the weather is warm enough, but the seeds can be planted directly in the soil. Soaking the seeds for a couple of hours before planting helps soften the hard shell, making it easier for them to germinate.
It is one vegetable that has great medicinal benefits. For those who are diabetic, it helps to regulate blood sugar since it promotes insulin production in the body. Eat the fruit, cooked of course. Drink the tea made from its leaves or fruit. Or, if you’re tough, have a shot of fresh juice extracted from the fruit and leaves with a juicer. Those who have no problem with blood sugar levels and consume too much of this melon may have a problem with their sugar level dropping too low. I’m living proof. I love eating it but have to remind myself to stop if I don’t want to faint.
Don’t eat the ripe one either. It’s a beautiful bright yellow with bright red seeds and has a vicious laxative propensity.
It’s an ‘acquired taste’ as my neighbor put it. She loves it now and grew it this year for the first time. If not for the fruit, the fragrance alone makes it worth growing. Well, according to the book ‘Flowers and Herbs of Early America‘ by Lawrence D. Griffith, the plant came to Europe from the tropics in the 1500’s and later to the US in the early years of the Republic. Nothing new.
I’ve been doing my best to create a garden that have flowers from early spring to late fall, both day and night. It’s getting there but I don’t know when I’ll finish. I’m not going to beat myself up for it since a true garden will never be done anyway; it just evolves. I don’t remember who proclaimed that but it’s a comfort to know that someone out there has the same mentality.
Flowering plants for late spring to early summer are the easiest to find, but there are not that many choices for early spring and late fall. There are even less selections when it comes to vines. A few years ago I looked for vines or rambling roses to cover our less than attractive, chain link pool fence, hoping to give us some privacy. I found Clematis ‘Sweet Autumn’ (Clematis turniflora) in one of the catalogues and ordered two of them. One of them turned out to be something that I didn’t expect…a Clematis ‘Montana’ (Clematismontana var. rubens). This is one rare moment I don’t regret getting the wrong merchandise in the mail.
The Clematis ‘Sweet Autumn’ really lives up to its name. When it blooms it is flooded with small, lightly fragrant white flowers as soon as the temperature drops in September. We have it climbing up to the patio roof so it looks like there is snow covering that corner of the roof. It can grow to 30 feet in a season. I prune it down to the main branch every spring but it grows right back up the roof by mid summer. Here how it looks by early September…..