Gardeners' Dirt: Celebrate Fourth of July - garden style
By Charla Borchers Leon - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
July 3, 2014 at 2:03 a.m.
Today is a firecracker day - July Fourth. It is a summer day originally intended to celebrate America's declaration of independence from Great Britain.
It is a red, white and blue day now associated with parades, barbecues and outdoor festivities with family and friends, fanfare with political speeches and ceremonies - and a good deal more. It is also a day with observances, fireworks and displays of patriotism in cities, towns, communities - and in gardens.
Let's envision the fireworks of tonight - but in a sunlit garden today.
In my landscape of traditional red, white and blue, there are intentional and various combinations of plants in the patriotic trio.
"Old glory" containers are filled with peppermint stripe and red frill caladiums mixed with blue torenia. A small trellis contains red mandevilla, silver falls dichondra and blue spike salvia.
Groupings consist of symbolic flag planters with diamond mist euphorbia positioned with blue pots of white fan flower and red salvia. A bed is planted with red ruellia, white angelonia and blue daze.
Significant in name, a firecracker fern explodes in red bloom. White penta blooms burst open like uplifted, shining stars. Victoria blue salvia shoots up like Roman candle fireworks. Red ruellia flowers, along with those of the blue torenia, resemble bugles that rise up and announce the occasion while the white fan flower reminisces hand-held sparklers closer to the ground. The garden symbolically displays the day's significance and the night's fireworks.
An evergreen, drought-tolerant perennial plant that is not a fern at all, the firecracker fern does arch and droop like a fern with a burst of delicate, tubular red blooms in the spring through late fall that pop out from its bract-like foliage to attract flittering butterflies and hummingbirds. Native to Mexico, it thrives in both full sun and partial shade and is basically maintenance-free in South Texas.
With trumpet-shaped bright red flowers that flare from late spring until frost, the blooms of the ruellia plant sound out on 2-foot arching stems in whimsical airy foliage. Native to Brazil and kin to the Mexican petunia, it works well as a border plant as ground cover and in massive planting and equally as well in containers and in xeriscape landscaping. At its best in full sun, it is a fast grower that blasts the call to pollinators.
Originally from Africa, pentas have been popular summer choices here for years. They exist in both regular and dwarf sizes and appear in white, red and lavender-pink. They are ideal for both flower beds and container planting and need regular watering with good drainage. Shiny, deep green foliage provides a distinct contrast to star-shaped tubular white clusters from late spring to fall, shooting up and out like stars that offer nectar.
The fan flower is a drought-tolerant, simple-to-grow tropical perennial with evergreen foliage and showy fan-shaped white (pink or blue-purple) flowers that bloom throughout spring and summer. The plant grows quickly, hugging the soil as ground cover as well as in containers. Native to the sand dunes of Australia, it prefers a sunny location and does well in window boxes and hanging baskets because its long tendrils cascade to make a full and showy display like a sparkler on a firecracker evening in July.
With a true blue fuzzy appearance, the Texas native commonly known as "mealy-cup sage," Victoria blue salvia, shoots up like a lit Roman candle firecracker with 8- to 10-inch flower spikes on 18- to 24-inch-tall and wide plants. Grown in sunny locations, this annual is drought-tolerant and can be massed together to form a sea of blue. Also attracting bees, butterflies and hummers, it is contrarily a deer-resistant plant.
The torenia, especially the blue Summer Wave series, prefers partial shade with scheduled watering in hot locations and can handle humidity better than its counterpart varieties. It is often planted in hanging baskets, containers and as an underplanting with a larger plant in a container. A profuse bloomer from early spring through fall, its bugle-shaped blooms stand up as if to call hummingbirds and turn away deer. Like the sound of brass reveling through the air announcing a declaration, the torenia independently requires little maintenance.
Each of these plants thrives in the current blast of heat and separate or together, can provide fireworks for your garden throughout the summer.
Friday may be a firecracker day, but make it a day to observe and remember the sacrifices made by our forefathers to declare our country free. Let us also not forget that freedom is never free.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.