By Master Gardener Christa Watters for the Simpson Crew
Each of Simpson’s many and various garden beds has its special time for looking wonderful. One of my favorite plants this time of year is a smallish tree that grows near the western walkway about halfway through the gardens. Our specimen of the sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana, is thriving, although it bloomed less prolifically this year than in some years. The creamy white flowers framed by glossy green leaves are elegant – a bit formal, their color darkening as they mature. The fruits are forming too, each just tiny for now. Later the complex finial shapes enlarge and turn pink, eventually opening to red seeds loved by birds.
Early in the month, plains prickly pear, Opuntia polyacantha, bloomed in the Waterwise Garden, beautifully contrasting with the blue-purple larkspur that grew up through the prickly paddles of the cactus. In that same bed, the five-stamen tamarisk (saltcedar) has been in bloom all month, a lovely cloud of pink. Nearby, the tall spikes of old-fashioned hollyhocks, Alcea rosea, bloom in white and red. Low to the ground at the front, several deep pink ice plants color the border. And just up the slope, a clump of butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is putting out its orange flowers.
Masses of common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, are blooming in the main Butterfly Garden, along with large clumps of purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, yellow fennel flowers
and several large clusters of mint family plants — Nepeta or catmint varieties not generally used in teas or to flavor food: a variety with tiny, pink-spotted white flowers and a tall, gangly version with purple umbels.
Back in the large Tufa Garden, balloon flowers, Platycodon grandiflorus, a showy member of the Campanulaceae family, are in their purple glory.
And near the east-side path, a shrub-sized Chitalpa tashkentensis is reaching skyward, covered in ruffled white orchid-like blossoms with purple striping. Described as a small tree, it is said not to do well in the Southeast, but we have a couple of specimens, one close to 20-feet tall. These odd plants are an inter-generic hybrid of desert willow, Chilopsis linearis, and southern catalpa, Catalpa bignonoides, developed in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1964.
The many silphiums or cup plants growing in the Big Berm bed are not yet in bloom, having reached only about 3 feet in height so far, but the leaves of Silphium perfoliatum (meaning the stem appears to pierce the joined, opposite leaves of the foliage to form cups), serve to hold tiny amounts of water for insects and small birds.
We have been fortunate to enjoy the help of numerous interns and MGs this season. Thank you, all, and please keep coming. There’s much to learn from our large variety of garden spaces and plants.