by Dave Brigante, Tualatin, Oregon
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With some help from aquatic switch
hitters . . .
Click images to enlarge
With fall hitting its stride and winter pending, let's recall
how beautiful this past summer's flower displays were in our
watery wonderlands. When reflecting on what really happened in
our ponds last summer, we remember how magnificent the waterlilies
were. Few garden flowers rival the months of bloom time and diversity
of color that Nymphaeas bestow upon us each growing season.
Between the tropicals and the hardies, what can compare?
Being keen aquatic plant lovers, we know that warm summer
months can produce a huge otherworld of color. Most temperature
limitations (too hot or too cold) do not severely restrict us
here in the US Northwest, so we enjoy creating nearly any kind
of water garden display we desire. We indulge our senses with
a color pallet of flowers that would make any artist envious.
Water gardeners here are broadening their horizons by dabbling
in the marginally hardy aquatic plant spectrum. In recent years,
as the Hughes Water Gardens grower, I've been steadily increasing
production for all tropicals in general. Talk about special interest
groups! Our customers can't seem to acquire enough of them. Hardy
marginals have always been tried and true outdoor survivors.
However, the fleeting and enthralling exuberance that gardeners
experience from a season with tropicals opens many more doors
by unlocking their creative juices.
Two distinct and undeniable demands face the aquatic plant industry
-- increased plant production and greater plant selection. This
means that water gardeners are constantly seeking new and unusual
varieties. Taking into account the flexibility that tropical
aquatics offer, and then adding a few terrestrials that "switch
hit" as aquatic marginals, the plant selection and color
wheel possibilities increase dramatically.
A short list of "switch hitters" illustrates the
Lobelia -- Lobelia cardinalis, Lobelia fulgens
'Queen Victoria' and the Lobelia 'Compliment' series all
offer a vast selection of desirable colors and unique versatility.
Canna -- Once water gardeners realized that virtually
all cannas could tolerate some standing water throughout the
summer months, a color explosion hit us. A few of my favorites
include C. 'Black Knight'
(dark burgundy foliage with deep red flowers), C.
'China Doll' (dwarf-sized grower with light green leaves
and hot pink flowers), C. 'Davia'
(unusually narrow blue green leaves that set off its creamy yellow
blossoms), C. 'Australia'
(very dark wine-red foliage with crimson red blooms), C.
'Pretoria' (beautiful variegated cream, green, and yellow leaves
with pure orange flowers). My canna list could continue indefinitely
with so many cultivars available today.
Consider the following for in your water garden and out of it.
- All forget-me-nots self-sow, but they don't spread as rampantly
in the water garden as they do on the land. They come in three
flavors -- blue M. 'Mermaid', white M. 'Snowflake',
and pink, M. 'Pinkie'.
Asclepias incarnata rosea
Asclepias incarnata - Two butterfly weed varieties are
often available -- pink (incarnata) and white (incarnata
'Ice Ballet'). Both thrive equally well in and out of water.
I call them my butterfly magnets.
Mimulus guttatus - Monkey flowers typically produce yellow
flowers with red spots, but do vary considerably. M. 'Lothian
Fire' displays red blossoms with yellow spots and grows best
in moving water. It also tolerates simple moist soil conditions.
Whether you use any of my selections as terrestrials or as aquatics,
they greatly benefit from growing in mostly wet conditions. By
installing a water-saving drip system or creating a low maintenance
bog as an alternative, you can enjoy all of the colorful "switch
hitters" without having a pond.
Ahh tropicals! Just the word to us northerners conjures up feelings
of warmth and comfort. We have been seeing trendy tropicals flying
out of the nursery. Elephant ears (Colocasia) are always
in the forefront and we're not talking about Dumbo. Although
their flowers are of less interest, taros merit mentioning for
the splendid tropical color they add to the water garden. The
dark maroon leaves of C. 'Black Magic' along with purple
and green-blotched leaves of C. 'Imperial' are irresistible.
A category that receives a lot of interest includes surface-creeping
varieties. Bacopa caroliniana,
(lemon bacopa) features very fragrant dime-sized lime-green leaves
topped by petite sky-blue blooms. Another, Wedelia trilobata
(water zinnia), grows profusely covering the shoreline with its
sunshine-yellow zinnia-like blossoms if allowed free reign. Here,
old man winter pretty much controls its invasive tendencies.
The late-summer-blooming beauty Rotala rotundifolia
(pink sprite) continues blooming into fall. Showy pink spikes
adorn this surprisingly tough tropical; if kept warm, it may
continue to flower all winter long.
This last trendsetter, Ruellia (water bluebells), is
slowly catching on around here. The species Ruellia
brittoniana adds that always sought-after touch of
lavender to the floral mix. Meanwhile, as a bonus, the kissing
cousin Ruellia brittoniana
'Chi Chi' produces pink flowers. In warmer climates, they
can be invasive. However, the first hard freeze takes care of
Your use of any or all of these colorful varieties in your
garden setting will jazz up the overall scheme of things. Wherever
you live, extending the bloom season as long as you can is definitely
something to strive for. If the basic layout of your water garden
can carry color coming and going throughout the summer, then
you have reached that happy place we're all seeking.
Incorporating novel summer-fling flowers into your garden
design may well be just what the water garden doctor ordered.
When deciding how to enhance your color world using "switch
hitters" or new-to-you tropicals, some of these suggestions
may open new avenues to a continuously blooming summer water
garden in your own private oasis.
Gallery 1 | Gallery 2 | Gallery
The pictorial review of our northwest waterways in the galleries
that follow may give you room for further speculation. Enjoy!