For summer color, try coreopsis

By Tom Seymour | Aug 03, 2018
Photo by: Tom Seymour Coreopsis adds dazzling color to dreary days.

In summer we think of sunny, hot days. But we as often as not experience cloudy, drizzly and overcast times, too. During such times, the flowers in our gardens don’t stand out, but rather, blend in with the background.

But one plant appears almost to shine, despite dark, gloomy days. Coreopsis, which comes in a number of varieties, has a near-luminous display. And fortunately, other than demanding full sun, coreopsis has few requirements, thriving in the poorest soil, and, once firmly established, has incredible drought resistance.

The coreopsis in my garden came as a gift and I never determined the exact species, nor does it really matter. That said, I think my brilliant-yellow coreopsis is C.Grandiflora. But it is the plant’s tough resistance to conditions that would kill other perennials that impresses me so. It grows in poor soil and yet expands its area of coverage each year. The other reason for my fondness for this common perennial is its standout, dazzling color.

Gardeners can acquire coreopsis by several means. First, garden centers and greenhouses offer various varieties of coreopsis, ready-to-plant. Planting seed also stands as a viable means to get coreopsis in your garden. When planted indoors and given warm, humid conditions, the seed will germinate in two to four weeks.

But that’s not all. It is possible to increase existing plots or start new ones by taking stem cuttings and placing them in wet sand, where they will quickly produce roots. If done in early summer, the rooted cuttings can be set out that same season.

Planting coreopsis in your garden makes all kinds of sense. It’s a no-maintenance plant that grows full and lush under harsh conditions, and the various species offer outstanding, bright color for the summer garden.

Finally, deadheading, or removing spent flowers, increases flowering time. But even without deadheading, coreopsis gives us several weeks of unsurpassed beauty.

Mixed bouquets

Mixing cultivated flowers with their wild counterparts in formal bouquets increases in popularity with each passing year.

I began seeing this at the local florist shop, where pre-made bouquets included tall sprigs of Canada goldenrod. At first this seemed a mistake, since why would anyone place such common fare as goldenrod in an otherwise attractive bouquet? The answer is, of course, that florists have finally begun to appreciate the rich colors and forms available from common wildflowers.

The practice of using goldenrod in bouquets began in, of all places, Europe. There, introduced goldenrod from North America has become a favorite with flower arrangers. And once the trend became well established across the sea, American flower arrangers took the lead and began using goldenrod in their arrangements.

But goldenrod is only one of the various wildflowers that fit well into floral arrangements. Another formerly neglected flower, Queen Anne’s lace, now appears in bouquets. The flat, white umbel (seed head) pairs nicely with everything from sunflowers to coneflowers.

Queen Anne’s lace, really nothing but a wild carrot, has frilly leaves, a hairy stem and an attractive seedhead. The edible root lacks carotene, which accounts for its being white, rather than orange. Looking at a tastefully designed arrangement that includes Queen Anne’s lace, no one would think that they were seeing carrot flowers. But looks are everything in this case, and Queen Anne’s lace has a graceful appearance, making it well-suited for inclusion in almost any flower arrangement.

Here’s another wildflower that sits well in flower arrangements. Steeplebush, a wild form of spirea, has a growth habit more in keeping with a shrub than a wildflower. Steeplebush grows up to 4 feet tall, but most are somewhat shorter than that.

But it’s the steeple, or spire-shaped flower cluster, with its pinkish blooms, that endears this wild member of the rose family to modern gardeners. Steeplebush grows primarily in sunny locations and is at home in overgrown fields and meadows.

Steeplebush, goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace, along with lots of other common wildflowers, have finally made the cut and are recognized for what they are: beautiful wildflowers that work well in standalone or mixed bouquets. I’d say it’s about time.

Dill time

Did you grow dill this year? If so, why not consider drying some for winter use? Additionally, it’s not just the mature seedheads that have culinary value, but also the feathery green foliage, also called “dill weed.”

I grow dill mostly for the foliage. This I love chopped and sprinkled on trout, salmon and even mackerel, prior to broiling. Dill weed also adds lots of flavor when liberally sprinkled inside the body cavity of fatty fish.

But dill weed also excels on vegetables, too. Saute some winter squash and just before the squash is fully cooked, add dill weed. Or add some chopped dill to new potatoes for a super taste treat.

Dill weed can be dried and used in winter. I also place fresh-picked foliage in a plastic freezer bag and freeze, as-is, for like-fresh dill later on, any time a recipe calls for it.

Regarding the seedheads, their primary use is to flavor dill pickles. And for homemade dill pickles, dill seed is a mandatory ingredient. But what about those of us who don’t make pickles? The answer is to pick the flat, round seedheads before the seeds develop, since at that stage the young seedheads can be used the same way as dill weed.

Garden dill has a stately appearance and can enhance the looks of any garden. I consider it a must-have garden plant and wouldn’t want to go without that fresh dill growing just steps away from my kitchen.

In addition to dill, that same garden bed currently hosts two types of lettuce, as well as a row of Thai basil. So for me, all the ingredients for a simple salad are available anytime, just by walking outside and harvesting whatever I need. A kitchen garden featuring lettuce and herbs makes it easy to eat fresh salads every day. Those who don’t have such a garden might consider setting up just a small one. It’s not too late for many of the lettuce varieties, and if you make your kitchen salad garden now, it will be ready for next year and some more extensive planting.

Harvest garlic

The time has come to harvest garlic. This seems a bit late, but the cold, wet spring has set most everything back. Usually, garlic becomes ready for harvest in late July and I’m sure that in some places, that was the case this year. But in other areas the crop runs a bit behind.

But no matter. When garlic leaves turn brown and begin to wither, that’s our signal that the time has come to pull the bulbs. I enjoy this task immensely, since garlic always rewards me well for my efforts. The Russian Red variety of cold-hardy garlic has a pungent aroma and has become my favorite garlic type of all.

Pick garlic by pulling out the whole plant, being careful not to break the stem. If the soil has compacted and the bulbs seem reluctant to come out of the ground, then add a little leverage by the use of a hand trowel. Once all the garlic has been lifted, spread it out on the ground and let it cure in the sun for a few hours. Then bring the garlic, stems and all, into a shady, protected area and spread them evenly, allowing lots of room for air circulation and let dry until the stem is totally dried inside when cut. This may take weeks, but don’t try to hasten the process. Instead, let the bulbs dry naturally.

Then, when fully dried, it’s time to either braid the dried stems (something I find taxing, since my braids never stay tightly packed) or cut the now-dried stem as close to the head of the garlic bulb as possible. As for storing, I place my bulbs in a nylon-mesh bag like those used to store onions.

The ground freed up by lifting the garlic is now available for a second planting of either lettuce or snap peas, both of which should have plenty of time to mature before the first frost puts an end to another gardening year. And by the time this second planting has come and gone, don’t forget to add fertilizer to the plot so that by late October, when it’s time to plant garlic again, the ground will be all prepped.

Tom’s tips

The time has come to assess your garden and by doing so, plan for next year. First on the list is to rate any new plants you may have tried this season. Some will fall short, while others may have done so well you’ll want to plant them again next year.

The second thing to do is to measure the distance between rows. Did you plant far enough apart to allow for cultivating between rows without damaging plant roots? Could your rows be a bit wider? If so, make notes and refer to them next spring. I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.

It's time to pull garlic when leaves turn brown. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
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