Blooming Stars of High Summer

With high summer comes a new cast of players in the front garden’s Driveway Border. There are many stars in the border, and it is gratifying to see them strut their stuff.

Blue spikes of anise hyssop, yellow coneflowers, Tithonia and annual sunflowers. The 'Eye-yi-yi' daylilies bloom from mid to late summer.
Blue spikes of anise hyssop, along with yellow coneflowers, orange Tithonia and annual sunflowers. The ‘Eye-yi-yi’ daylily blooms from mid to late summer.

At the far end, anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) comes to center stage.

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I’ve already written about the virtues of this plant, but let me add now that it’s blue-lavender flower spikes beautifully complement the yellow and orange daisies of summer.

'Adonis Blue' butterfly bush.
‘Adonis Blue’ butterfly bush.

My new ‘Adonis Blue’ butterflybush (Buddleia) is more of a supporting player now, though it provides a sweet scent that for passersby on the sidewalk. This is its second summer and it is flowering nicely. ‘Adonis Blue’ is a compact variety that is supposed to grow to no more than 4-5′, though I think it is less than 3′ in my garden this year. In this region it dies to the ground every winter, which is fine with me. I just wish they had picked a cultivar name that wasn’t so suggestive.

Yellow coneflower with 'Gateway' joe pye weed in the background.
Yellow coneflower with ‘Gateway’ joe pye weed in the background.

That’s yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) right next to the anise hyssop. I like the bright clear yellow of the flowers. The endearingly droopy petals remind me of floppy dog’s ears.

Yellow coneflower, a closer look.
Yellow coneflower, a closer look.

Though flowering abundantly, the Ratibida stems are  way too floppy this year. This is not so endearing, and it has been a struggle to keep them minimally upright without creating the “perennials wearing a corset” look. I may try cutting them back next year and see what happens.


Last year I planted one Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) in the Cuttings and Edibles Bed. I loved it so much that this year I added four to the Driveway Border. I am now crazy for this plant. Mexican sunflower could in the future be the signature summer flower of the Driveway Border.

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Next year I think I will plant just two or three Tithonia instead of four. Just one of these plants provides a big presence. I will also avoid placing them east of other tall plants, which forces the Tithonia to grow as tall as 7-8′. Also, I’ll try to place one so that it holds up the ‘Gateway’ joe pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum ssp. maculatum).

'Italian White' sunflower
‘Italian White’ sunflower

The annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) have also contributed drama and color to this year’s Driveway Border. However, the only one to keep putting out new flowers over a long period is ‘Italian White’, whose copious black-eyed flowers range from sunny to very pale yellow.

Tall Ironweed
Tall Ironweed. In the background the wild bergamot keeps up its long bloom period.

Tall ironweed (Vernonia altissima) is a member of the cast who has not had as much impact as I had expected. This is partly because it is overshadowed by the Tithonia.

'Gateway' joe pye weed with Tithonia.
‘Gateway’ joe pye weed with Tithonia. The flower clusters are almost ready to bloom.

The ‘Gateway’ joe pye weed is not really exerting a lot star power just yet either. That may change when it is in full bloom. I am wondering: could there be so many bold, dramatic plants at the same time that some of them are losing their impact? But then I conclude: Nah. I reject the concept of too much of a good thing.

Who are the blooming stars of your beds and borders right now?

39 Comments on “Blooming Stars of High Summer”

  1. I’m enjoying Anise Hyssop this year, too. I never thought I could grow it because of the shade. But when one of the plant experts at the Arboretum mentioned it can grow in partial shade, I thought I’d try it. It’s doing well and is so lovely. It’s also growing incredibly well in two sunny pollinator gardens I helped establish for a food pantry garden. Beautiful plant. Your garden looks great, Jason!

  2. Your front beds are so lovely – what a great pleasure your garden must give you! I have just had a look for Mexican Sunflower seeds. Did you grow them from seed yourself or buy small plants? I’ve never seen plants here, but must ask at my nearest nursery.

  3. Last year when I saw your front driveway I thought it looked a little ordinary (sorry )..but this year I have had a big change of heart…I absolutely love the planting, the colourway and the total exuberance of it all …you have given me serious food for thought about my hot/dryish area…..and Tithonia is right up there at the top of the list… Thanks. 🙂

  4. You’re right to reject the “too much of a good thing” concept, that’s not something to even consider in “high summer”.
    I like that term. People here have been moaning about how quickly summer will end and I’m starting to fall into their faulty reasoning. Thanks for reminding me summer is still in full force 🙂
    Where did you get the tithonia seed? I always seem stuck finding the more dwarf variety.

  5. Lovely — Right now I have rosinweed, wild bergamot and northern sea oats in one of my backyard mini prairies – i love the yellow and soft purple colors and textures. Ironweed will be blooming soon in the same spot and elsewhere, where cup plant has reached to the sky and yielded lots of yellow blooms.

    Although black-eyed Susan is common and easy to plant, I still love when it fills my yard for at least a month with blooms here and there in big and small patches. I’m thinking of trying hyssop next year.

  6. Your Agastache is quite nice. I used to have it and should look for it again. Native plants tend to do better. I grow Agastache rupestris which is not as spectacular as foeniculum. It has a marvellous fragrance though.

  7. Your garden is just stunning! I had no idea tithonia was so tall! I don’t think I room for it. I like plants with sassy names. It beats all the names that sound like they cater to a deranged 5 year old like my Pink a Boo deutzia. Seriously? Who came up with a name that stupid? Sheesh!

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