- Have you been caught with areas of your garden not quite summer-ready?
- Not ready to commit to what you really want in that empty spot?
- Do you have shrubs that will eventually fill the space – but are still rather small?
- Don't have the budget yet for that specimen tree you've got your eye on?
- Just too busy to figure out what you want in an area right now – but you don't want to leave it empty either?
I can totally relate! For me it was finally deciding that a mature Black Lace elderberry had to go. I love this shrub and have another in a different area that is fine, but I was fighting cane borers every year on this one and the amount of effort and maintenance involved didn't make sense for this low-maintenance gardener. But we are already having days in the high 70's and I don't have an irrigation system so adding a long-term replacement of some sort is going to be tricky, especially as I'll be traveling a lot this summer. Plus I need time to consider what I want!
The solution is a short term fix – a fast growing annual that will grow vigorously to fill the gap but be easy care. There are many to choose from depending on your needs. Here are some of my favorites. Bear in mind, some of these may be perennial for you – bonus!
Similar in appearance to an artichoke, this dramatic, architectural plant makes quite the statement with its huge, serrated silver leaves and edible flowers. I buy it every year, envious of my Seattle neighbors who enjoy this as a perennial in their sandy soils, but accepting that in my sticky clay soil they always rot over the winter.
I've added two of these where my elderberry was, knowing that it will be deer resistant and drought tolerant and quickly fill the space behind a bench. Cardoon will grow to 6 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide in a single season.
There are several species of tobacco plant (Nicotiana) I use for this purpose: Nicotiana langsdorfii and the flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris). Both often set seed in my garden so I have free plants the following year which can be transplanted to more suitable spots when still small.
The large basal rosettes of soft green leaves are excellent weed-smotherers, yet the tall, slender stems of blooms are airy and mingle easily with other garden companions. N. langsdorfii has tubular lime green flowers while the night-scented flowering tobacco has white flowers clustered around a stem. Both grow 5-6 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide and are deer resistant. They have also proven drought tolerant in my garden but will struggle in hotter climates without supplemental water.
The first image in this post shows them as part of a summer vignette helping to amplify my young island border plantings.
Golden Delicious sage
If you don't need something quite that tall but would love to introduce golden foliage and attract hummingbirds, consider the new variety of pineapple sage called Golden Delicious from Proven Winners. This caught my eye at CAST recently so I was thrilled when I received a couple to try here!
Vivid red-flowers will ensure your garden is party central for all the neighborhood hummingbirds! Give this some elbow room as that little 4" plant will grow 3-4 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide over the summer. I've added two, together with Kudos Gold hyssop and orange hair sedge (Carex testacea) close to the porch of our little garden cabin so I can enjoy the sunset colors and bird activity from the comfort of my chair.
Another sage that caught my eye at CAST was Rockin' Fuchsia – and again I am thrilled that it has been included in my "trials" selection from Proven Winners so I can let you know how it really performs in my garden! Just look at those deep magenta flowers – really eye catching. This won't be available until 2019 so stay tuned. I'm testing it with the burgundy foliage of a Red Dragon corkscrew hazel as a backdrop, replacing Verbena 'Homestead Purple' that didn't make it through our winter (no surprise there).
In the meantime you may want to experiment with Love and Wishes sage from Sunset and Southern Living Plants collections. Or if you prefer blue over magenta, look for Amistad. All are annuals for me but perennial in warmer areas and grow to 3 feet tall and wide or so. All are drought tolerant and deer resistant.
Experience of this species makes me suggest you place them where a few fallen flowers don't matter i.e. NOT front and central on your main patio! They bloom so prolifically, and self-clean (i.e. drop their spent flowers) that fastidious gardeners may not like having to keep a broom handy. In the border it isn't an issue.
Senorita spider flowers
Another staple in my summer garden are the compact spider flowers by Proven Winners; the white flowering Senorita Blanca and the rose colored Senorita Rosalita. I'm a huge fan of these floriferous, sterile, multi-branched annuals and always find an excuse to add several groups of them. At 3-4 feet tall and 2 feet wide they are perfect for filling in between young shrubs and look especially pretty with grasses in a meadow-inspired design. Deer resistant and drought tolerant.
I had to call Proven Winners about this fast growing annual groundcover when it was first being introduced. It proved to be far more vigorous than they had originally anticipated, quickly spreading to 4 feet in diameter but just a few inches tall. That's great value from one little 4" plant!
I love Quicksilver as a filler between taller plants, and unlike evergreen groundcovers that cover the ground permanently, since this annual is removed at summer's end I can still plant bulbs and amend the soil in fall. I also prefer it over the perennial Silver Brocade that looks similar but insists on blooming with scruffy yellow flowers that I have to spend time removing. To me this groundcover is all about the felted silver foliage. It is also drought tolerant and deer resistant – yay!
With so many colorful varieties of coleus available that are both sun and shade tolerant, you are sure to find one to fill those summertime gaps in your garden. Check the tags to get an idea of size. Friends in North Carolina have reported these to be deer resistant but in my slug-infested Seattle garden I haven't tried them except in containers. Do tell me your experience with coleus and deer!
Or add a container!
Tucking a container into the border adds instant color, height and a focal point – the ideal solution if you're still deliberating which specimen tree or shrub to purchase.
And if you're struggling for ideas on what to plant in them I can help! Check out my online workshop: Designing Abundant Containers
All right – time for action! Have fun and tell me what YOU do to fill those "oops" gaps in your garden this year.