For many, this was the summer from hell. The hottest August on record – ever – and all that sun. It was a staggering sight: Plants frying before your eyes even if you watered diligently. Many plants can't take the intensity of what might become the new normal in gardening, not a lot of rain and a great deal of sun.
I worry about our city trees. No one was watering them through the drought. Next time, don't leave it to the city works department. Get out there and water them twice a week. It's all we've got between us and the sweltering sky.
When planning for next year it's best to look at some of the plants that weathered this difficult year with few problems, ones that didn't succumb to diseases and could be cut back and return to life in days if they got frazzled. When doing plant research, look for those with a hairy texture (coneflowers), thick luscious water-retaining stems (sedums) and fine foliage (asters). You'll see some plants fold up their leaves to protect themselves but that's about all they can do – the rest is up to us.
These plants, some of which I've planted in my own garden, performed magnificently this year according to two of our very best nursery people, John Statham and Larry Davidson.
Calamintha nepeta This form of catmint is one of my favourite scented plants. It should be placed near any seating area; the hotter it gets, the more intense the refreshing minty aroma. Plants will flop over a bit, but in a most fetching manner. A great filler plant, you can move it in a heat wave and it will bounce back. It needs a bit of shade and grows up to 45-plus centimetres.
Caryopteris 'Snow Fairy' (pictured above) This plan dies right back to the ground each year and then turns into a glorious display by autumn. A good tough plant for areas with unpredictable winters, it's a shrub but herbaceous. Make sure you have it in the perfect spot, though – good drainage, full sun, lots of organic matter in the soil – as it shouldn't be moved. Snow Fairy grows 1 to 2 metres high.
Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' Not for the faint of heart, but if you have an area where benign neglect reigns, this is the right plant. My friend Monique gave me a wee piece this spring. I plunked in a spot that got little or no water and had sun every day for months, and it's now 2 metres tall and over a metre wide. Whack it back once it starts to fall apart with frost or otherwise watch out – it can become a brute.
Oenothera 'Lemon Drop' I wouldn't normally recommend evening primrose because it can go rampant, but this self-cleaning beauty works perfectly in a dry border or container. It's not particular about what kind of soil is available but the drainage has to be good. Plan for it to get to 30 cm high and wide.
Artemisia 'Canescens' This may be a little obscure because you don't see it in a lot of nurseries, but when you need a strong hit of silver, a touch of softness and a plant that won't run all over the place, this one is ideal.
To plant for the future is part of the stewardship of gardeners these days. It might take a little more thought, but it still means marvelous plants.
For more plant information, go to www.marjorieharris.com.