Here comes summer 10 ways

The longest day of this year will officially begin on June 21, at 5:13 a.m. here in the Northern Hemisphere. This means, of course, that June 22 marks the inexorable decline of daylight into another long winter. So I figure celebrating heat and happiness right now are in order. Here are 10 not-so-conventional ideas for getting the (garden) party started:

1. Celebrate seed-heads

So often a garden gets a brilliant flush of flowers in the spring and then summer-blooming plants take over. But there are loads of spring-flowering plants that can do double duty as summer eye-catchers with their amazing seed heads.

Clematis with seed heads
So many clematis offer seed heads that, I think, are just as fantastic as the blooms. I believe the clematis above is from the Clematis texensis family.

Allium seed heads look like small exploding stars or fireworks to me, especially in the late afternoon sun. If you can’t decide on which alliums to plant next spring, try taking a look at what they’re going to look like after they’ve bloomed. You might be on a path for making your own personal mini First (or Fourth) of July holiday fireworks display.

For more inspirations, here’s a great blog post on allium seedheads

2. Get cool

A border in blue tones

The Candian Garden Council is encouraging everyone to “plant red” this season as a way to honour frontline workers and those who have lost their lives during the pandemic. If you’re into this challenge, I have some inspirations on adding this sometimes tricky colour to your garden. But there are situations when you might want the opposite of what red can deliver. That’s where blue comes in–soothing and cooling yet just as eye-catching. Sure, there are plenty of blue flowers out there, I know. But I’m just saying don’t forget the gorgeous blue spruce. Picea pungens, also known as Colorado Blue Spruce, is a native to North America and offers birdlife food and shelter. Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’ is often considered the bluest of the blue spruces.

Blue flowering ground cover
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, also known as plumbago, (Zones 5 to 9), is another wonderful blue option (shown above) and unique in being a mat-forming perennial. Blooming from July to September, the flowers are a real Gentian blue and will make for a spectacular ground cover. Bonus: the leaves turn bronzy red in the fall.

3. Go for the gold

If you’ve got the room, adding a tree is always a good idea. And, to get briefly philosophical, trees can give you good advice, like always trying to share and give shelter.

So if cool and blue is not your thing, how about a tree that can capture and celebrate our wonderful summer sunlight. The tall, slender beauty shown above right, is a Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’. The new growth on this Lodgepole Pine will literally light up a dark corner in your garden for up to 4 months during the growing season. Once the leaves finally turn green, this tree continues to deliver stunning colour through the rest of the summer with its bright red cones and shaggy red bark.

The conifer(s) glowing in the two photos, stacked above left, is Tsuga canadensis “Golden Splendor‘, I think. The reason I’m pretty sure of their i.d. is because Canadian hemlock is a native pine here, thrives in part to full shade, has showy golden foliage and can be sheared to form a most wonderful hedge that will blaze when the slanting rays of afternoon sunlight brush their branches.

4. Let loose your sense of humour

bird feeder
You can always recycle an old toilet into a plant container for a chuckle or two but isn’t it more satisfying to find or craft subversively subtle ways of bringing fun into the garden, like this vintage bird feeder.

5. Embrace the weed

Huge thistle
When a weed grows into an awesome specimen, is it still a weed? I don’t think so.

If I haven’t convinced you, read my love letter to the Globe thistle (Echinops sphaerocephalus), which shares its name with a cuter-than-cute hedgehog from Madagascar (Echinops telfairi) 

6. Primp your garden shed

Garden shed
Once you’ve decided there’s no more you can do in the garden but you’re still itching for a project or two, let me suggest a little garden shed makeover. I love how two rakes, nailed to either side of the door in this photo of a garden shed, is an easy-peasy project with major style rewards.

7. Raid the kitchen

Garden decor is so personal. Some people go for fine art sculptures. Others prefer funky recycled stuff. I’m pretty much in the latter camp. Above are a couple of ideas for repurposing kitchenware. The colander makes a practical hanging strawberry pot. The cheese grater acting as a candle shield is mine. Now that it’s covered in rust, I think it looks even better. And it sure does work well protecting the flame from a summer breeze and splintering the light into dazzling shards. The muffin tin is a genius idea I stumbled on during a garden tour a few years back. What a great way to showcase your succulents or simply get them started.

8. Follow the light

irises in sunlight

Mid-summer presents a great opportunity to sit back (preferably with cocktail in hand) and simply watch those wonderful rays of sunlight slowly move across the garden. Colours and textures are suddenly brought into brilliance and then slowly recede back into the shade as the sun tracks across your garden. If, from your lounge’s vantage point just when the cocktail hour is in full swing, you start to see a wonderful curtain of darkness in the distance (tall conifers are standing in for said curtains in the photo above), and bright light hits the spot right between your lounge and that darkness, I encourage you to jump up immediately and plant something in that spotlight, erm, spot. Or make a mental note to do it later. It can be that easy to add fleeting drama to a garden, unfolding before your eyes from the comfort of your chair exactly when you want to appreciate it most.

9. Rethink succulents

Bolted succulents

You may have to enlarge the photo above to see that the long, pinky-orange stems with bell-shaped blooms in the centre of the photo are Echeveria. Yup, that’s right. You are witness to succulents going incognito, pretending to be mid-summer flowers. Just like any other flower. Albeit, extraordinary flowers on elegant, exotically coloured stems.

Busted. But beautiful.

10. And don’t forget the daisies…

Daisies in sunbeam
…just because. And you’d be surprised at the varieties of daisies these days.

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