Return of the Patriotic Garden
I’ve never been one to fly a flag on my porch or in my garden. However, living through the New Hope that was 2008 and struggling to survive while the Empire Struck Back in 2016, we can all be joyful in the coming year with the Return of the Garden. My hope is so renewed in the ideals and principles that bind us together as a nation, that I may just fly Old Glory 1-20-21 (OMG it’s a palindrome too!)
Or at the very least, I will plan a garden full of red, white, and blue. My mother always planted a palette of patriotic colors in her flowerboxes on the front porch. By July 4th, they spilled over the edge and filled the space with color, proudly framing the flag that waved from the porch column. In addition, dad built the flower boxes crafted in his workshop. I still have his patterns for the boxes which will hopefully be adorning a porch of my own someday.
Mom usually went with vibrant red geraniums, soft blue paint brushes (ageratum), and white cascading petunias. Some years were different though. Since the front porch faced east and only received morning sun, it could also be a host for impatiens or other part-sun loving flowers. Ivy or another cascading plant usually joined the mix.
I think I prefer perennials and shrubs for my patriotic garden. It will take some proper planning to have all three colors blooming around the same time. Make sure to check the dates and growing conditions—do your research! For spring, try red azaleas for a background shrub. These can be coupled with the white bottlebrush flowers of dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenia). Add in Baptisia ‘Midnight Prairieblues’™ and you may have to sing “America the Beautiful.”
For summer it may be a bit harder since cooler colors like blue are not as ubiquitous. However, some plants have bluish shades in their leaves. Blue Mist, a variety of the fothergilla previously mentioned, has slightly bluish leaves. It also turns brilliant shades of red and orange in autumn. A three-season shrub? Yes, please. Other plants with bluish tints can be found in the juniper family which are evergreen, as well as hostas, which are perfect for the shady garden.
Beebalm has gorgeous reds in its repertoire, as does cardinal flower. However, both these flowers can easily self-seed so give them space. The leaves of photinia emerge as red and then turn green. Even grasses can play the game. Some varieties of switch grass (Panicum virgatum) have reddish tips.
If you are looking for a white-blooming shrub for summer, look no further than oak-leaf hydrangea. Its white spikes appear above the large leaves and look good all summer. They will fade to pink as the season lingers. The leaves will turn shades of red and purple in October and November. If herbaceous flowers are more your desire, try ‘David’ Phlox. This phlox grows on single stems and is a crisp white.
And don’t forget the winter! The red berries of winterberry and American holly will contrast well with a fresh coat of powdery snow or morning frost. Junipers can lend a hand again in the blues department. Or stick with the berries theme and plant a native bayberry, viburnum, or Eastern red cedar for their blue fruits.
So many choices; I have my work cut out for me. I hope you do as well, because now is the perfect time to start planning your garden for next year. And as you sit in that garden enjoying the fruits of your labor, we can all take a collective sigh and look to the future for better times—truly realizing that hindsight is indeed 2020.
Stay safe and let’s garden together.
Eric W. Wahl is a landscape architect, artist, and president of the Delaware Native Plant Society.