Summer Round-Up/Fall Favorites: A few favorites from 2011 ::PART TWO::

Origanum rotundifolium 'Kent's Beauty'
(Photo: © AJP 2011)
1.  Origanum rotundifolium 'Kent's Beauty', "Kent's Beauty Oregano".

Edible and beautiful, this newer variety of oregano is an excellent addition to the container garden.  It is great at playing the part of "spiller" in the proverbial pot combination recipe.  Like most oreganos it is strongly scented and spicy in taste.  It's also very drought tolerant, but can tolerate regular watering better than many of its cousins. 

The leaves are small, round, and rather grayish like a dwarf, weeping Eucalyptus in a way.  It cascades down the side of a pot or along the ground as a groundcover and is covered all summer from spring until frost in the most unique pendant flowers that remind of light fixtures in high-end furniture design shops.  The showy, large bracts house the tiny lavender flowers that add just the right amount of color to an already dramatic plant.  It's hardy from zone 7 south so can be grown as a perennial ground cover in the Washington area, but I think it's true value lies in its use a summer container combo plant.

Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies'
(Photo: © AJP 2011)
2Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies' 
(syn.: Symphotrichum oblongifolius 'October Skies), "October Skies Aromatic Aster".

I will admit first that I am not the biggest fan of asters.  I appreciate the usefulness of a drought-tolerant perennials that bursts into full bloom when most other flowering plants are slowing down for the growing season.  They're also great plants for attracting pollinators, butterflies, and other beneficial insects to your garden.  Yet many seem either weedy-looking, have gaudy, unattractive flowers, run uncontrolled or just flop over and look messy just when they should be putting on a show.

'October Skies' is a great selection of one of our native asters (to the east coast and midwestern prairires).  It's low-growing habit and compact size make it very easy to use in a mixed perennial border or on its own.  It forms a dome of flowers and foliage about two feet high which hides many of the unsightly, leggy stems associated with many taller asters and eliminates the need for staking.  In October, just as the name implies, it bursts forth with literally hundreds of lavender-blue flowers about an inch in width and seems to reflect the cool fall skies.  It's a truly tough-as-nails perennial that adds a lot of "oompf" to the garden without a lot of fuss.

Salvia guaranitica 'Argentine Skies'
(Photo: © AJP 2011)
3.  Salvia guaranitica 'Argentine Skies',
"Argentine Skies Anise Sage".

Two words.  Hummingbird Magnet.  This easy-to-grow Salvia of the same genus as the famous 'Black and Blue' is the more demure and significantly hardier cousin.  'Argentine Skies' truly is that magical sky blue color that is often so elusive in flowers.  Plant it with some dark contrast and watch how it just reflects the sunny blue skies above.  Though I am a big fan of 'Black and Blue', I think 'Argentine Skies' has a slight more refined effect in the garden.  It's just so dang pleasant.  And did I mention that the hummingbirds flock to it? 

It survives our winters in Washington easily with little protection and grows exuberantly in the heat of summer.  It can easily reach six feet tall by the beginning of July and will bloom nonstop from June until Frost.  If this rambunctious sage gets too big for its own good or starts to flop over in that most disagreeable way, you can always shear it down to a few nodes from the ground.  In my experience, if you cut it down to within about a foot of the ground in July it will quickly rebound and still ready about three feet and continue blooming barely missing a beat.  It forms a large clump that can be dug up and shared or divided if you want more of them.  It seems to be pretty easily hardy in zone 7 in a protected sunny location and is extremely drought tolerant.  It's not as common as 'Black and Blue', but it's worth the hunt!

Look for Salvia guaranitica 'Argentine Skies' among the annuals at your local specialty garden center and if you're willing to pay a little more for it, you can also order it from Plant Delights Nursery.