After planting, master gardeners mulch and fertilize the
gardens, and volunteers maintain them while also monitoring
performance. In recent years, drip irrigation has been installed
to conserve water, lighten the workload for volunteers and allow
the plants to flourish through the dog days of summer. However,
the summer of 2013 saw heavy rains and thunderstorms that
delayed maintenance, made deer repellent ineffective, and washed
away mulch and compost. Fortunately, the use of raised beds kept
the plants from drowning.
Many annuals stood up to these adverse conditions and produced a
long-running show. If your garden receives six or more hours of
direct sunlight per day, any of these 2013 top performers can
provide a summer full of colorful flowers, foliage and fruit:
Salvias are always used in the demonstration garden because of
their deer resistance and outstanding performance. These
drought-tolerant, tall border plants are filled with flower
spikes attractive to pollinators and require minimal
'Summer Jewel Red' and 'Coral Nymph' salvia coccinea grow 18-20
inches tall and bloom from June to frost. They are easily grown
from seed sown indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost in
'Cherry Chief' salvia greggii has aromatic leaves and bright
cherry blooms, while the soft, fuzzy stalks of mealy-cup sages
'Evolution White' and 'Evolution Blue' (Salvia farinacea) add
texture and contrast to brighter colors.
'Black and Blue' salvia guaranitica is a robust plant with
bright green leaves. Its cobalt blue flowers are particularly
attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies and pollinators.
Finally, Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) grew into a
3-foot-tall shrub with narrow green leaves and violet flowers,
providing late summer food for pollinators.
Both perennial and annual milkweeds are deer-resistant and serve
as hosts for monarch butterflies. Orange-flowered butterfly weed
(Asclepias tuberosa) and pink-flowered swamp milkweed (Asclepias
incarnata) are perennials in the pollinator gardens.
The tropical milkweed 'Silky Mix' (Asclepias currasavica) has
yellow, orange and red flowers. Monarch larvae often feed on the
leaves. The unusual balloon plant milkweed (Asclepias physocarpa)
was a new addition last year. It grew over 5 feet tall and
started to bloom in mid-August with pendulous clusters of white
flowers touched with purple followed by curious, spiky,
Deer pressure has increased, and there are fewer choices of
deer-resistant annuals every year. Catharanthus, also known as
Madagascar periwinkle or vinca, has been reliable and nearly
maintenance-free. Last year's hybrids offered glossy foliage and
larger self-cleaning blooms, including Catharanthus roseus
'Pacifica XP Dark Red,' 'Polka Dot,' 'Burgundy Halo,' 'Magenta
Halo' and 'Punch.'
the corner of the North Park garden, a half-moon bed
demonstrates attractive plant combinations. 'Spirit Frost'
Cleome hassleriana, a 3- to 4-foot, deer-resistant plant, was
part of the black and white scheme and sparkled like a bright
white fountain for many weeks.
Coleus, zinnia, lantana
Modern coleus hybrids offer vivid foliage to match any color
scheme. All three varieties of coleus (Solenostemon
scutellarioides) were stand-outs: 'Roaring Fire,' 'Wizard
Sunset' and 'Under the Sea Bonefish.' Coleus are not
Zinnias, a regular feature, range from blends of the tall Zinnia
elegans to the short Zinnia marylandica. Start these butterfly
magnets from seed at the same time as tomatoes, and they will be
ready to plant outdoors in 4-6 weeks. Some of the best
performing tall zinnia mixes were 'State Fair,' 'Berry Basket,'
'Pixie Sunshine' and 'Cut and Come Again.' The bright orange
flowers of 'Zahara Double Fire' (Z.marylandica) earned the most
votes at Garden in the Parks field day in South Park in August.
Both 'Double Fire' and 'Starlight Rose' zinnias were full of
blooms and bumblebees and mildew-free all season. Deer will
Lantana is a tender perennial always present in the annual beds.
Once established, it will bloom non-stop until hard frost with
little maintenance and little deer damage. New hybrids appear
every year and 'Sunrise Rose' Lantana camara was voted most
popular by field day visitors in North Park.
Master gardener favorites
Rudbeckia hirta is a favorite of master gardeners, visitors and
wildlife. Only a few of these 2- to 3-foot tall sturdy plants
are needed for big impact. This year's best were 'Denver Daisy'
and 'Indian Summer.' 'Denver Daisy' has golden yellow petals
spotted with reddish brown near a dark brown central cone, while
the ray petals of 'Indian Summer' are bright yellow. The tiny
seeds are easy to germinate and grow quickly. The seed heads
provide food for songbirds into winter, and the plants will
The master gardeners have been growing 'Bergamo Bouquet'
butterfly Monarda from seed for three years. The unique
rose-purple flowers arranged in rows along 2-foot tall spikes
attract butterflies and pollinators, and they look exceptional
in bouquets. Mildew later in the season is almost guaranteed,
but the attractiveness of this uncommon annual will keep it on
the planting list.
The thimble-shaped flower heads of gomphrena add interest to the
garden and can be dried for winter arrangements. All varieties
performed well, including the dwarf 'Gnome Purple,' bright 'QIS
Red,' multi-colored 'Fireworks' and the orange and red blends in
'Mardi Gras Parade.'
Peppers aka 'juncus'
For those who grow peppers from seed for the vegetable garden,
why not start some ornamental peppers at the same time? While
you would not want to confuse edible and ornamental at the
dinner table, the ornamental peppers add excitement and
substance to the garden with flowers and then fruit changing
from green, purple or black to yellow, orange or red. Plantings
in 2013 included Capsicum annuum 'Chilly Chili,' 'Cappa Conic
F1,' 'Sangria' and 'Medusa.'
'Twisted Arrows' Juncus effuses is a rush with a combination of
green and blue-green, straight and twisted blades. It makes a
great linear accent in containers, along walkways and ponds.
These gardens could not exist without the support of our
partners from Allegheny County's Parks and Public Works
departments. The local garden centers that generously donated
seeds, plants, fertilizer and mulch are:
Bakerstown Feed & Garden Center, Bedner's Farm and Greenhouse,
Best Feeds Garden Centers, Eichner's Farm Market & Greenhouse,
Jesteadt's Greenhouse, Lenix Greenhouse, LMS Greenhouse &
Nursery, Michael Bros. Nursery, Pisarcik Greenhouse, Quality
Gardens, Renee's Garden, Reilly's Summer Seat Farm, Soergel's
Garden Center and Trax Farms.
Outstanding Garden Plants of 2012