See what else Dave Brigante grows by clicking here.

With some help from aquatic switch hitters . . .

Color Me Summer!

by Dave Brigante, Tualatin, Oregon USA
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?

Hedychium 'Elizabeth'

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.

Lobelia ''Compliment' series

A short list of "switch hitters" illustrates the term.

Lobelia -- Lobelia cardinalis, Lobelia fulgens 'Queen Victoria' and the Lobelia 'Compliment' series all offer a vast selection of desirable colors and unique versatility.   


Canna 'Cleopatra' 
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.
Myosotis scorpioides - 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'. 

Myosotis '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
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.   

Wedelia trilobata

Rotala rotundifolia

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 that problem. 

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.

The pictorial review of our northwest waterways in the galleries that follow may give you room for further speculation. Enjoy!

Gallery 1 | Gallery 2 | Gallery 3

WGI ONLINE Journal Table of Contents

Water Gardeners International
Home | Join WGI | Members' Exclusive | Gateway to Water Gardening