Celebrating Colorful Coleus

Coleus ‘Henna’ is a real color-filled beauty with shades of green, orange, and purple.

Long ago, Coleus had been considered a house plant. I can remember, my grandmother always had coleus growing in her house. It was a popular winter houseplant because the colorful leaves provided bright spots of color during the long Midwest winter months. Only occasionally were plants planted outdoors during the summer. My, how the times have changed!

Today, coleus varieties have been developed to be sun tolerant and the leaf colors, shapes, and plant habits are widely diverse. While coleus is technically a tender perennial down south, for most of us they are grown as summer annuals and provide wonderful leaf color throughout the season. The plants need warm weather to thrive and cannot withstand frost, but from late spring until the first frost of fall, they look lovely.

Selecting Coleus

The Proven Winner’s Coleus El Brighto glows in a porch garden filled with cannas, sunflowers, colocasias, and lantanas. The coleus flowers were pinched off after the photo was taken! (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

When selecting garden coleus, a good rule is to set them out at the same time tomatoes are planted. Both coleus and tomatoes need warm weather, and cold weather can stunt or kill plants if set out too early. Even though some new coleus selections have been developed as sun-loving coleus, I have found most perform better in my garden with some afternoon shade.

Coleus are ideal in both the garden and containers. More compact varieties make superb container plants with their colorful foliage throughout the summer season, such as the new compact, red, purple, and green Coleus ‘Spitfire’. Another I have grown both in a container and the garden is Proven Winner’s showy, ColorBlaze® El Brighto, with its brilliant fringed leaves of red, purple, and gold. (Click here to admire more of Proven Winner’s Colorblaze Coleus.)

Whatever coleus I choose, my potting mix of choice is Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. It holds moisture well and also provides for good drainage. I add an organic fertilizer at the time of planting and mix it well into the potting mix.

Planting Coleus

Coleus ‘Spitefire’ has a unique layering growth habit suited to containers and hanging baskets. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

When setting out and growing coleus plants, it is a good idea to pinch the tips of the stems often to encourage a compact growth habit and encourage branching. Sometimes plants will send up spikes of white or lavender flowers. Even though bees like them, coleus foliage looks best if you pinch off the buds before they bloom. Pinching will stop flowering and encourage the plant to produce new colorful growth rather than flowers and seeds.

Sometimes one color plant can create a nice ‘pop’ of color. Last year I planted Coleus ‘Campfire’ with its amber-orange foliage, and it stood out nicely against a background of green (image below). Another bold coleus with only one color is Proven Winner’s Lime Time, which provides a beautiful display of chartreuse leaf color and is especially nice in a shady area. It mixes well with ferns in a woodland setting,

El Brighto is equally suited to container plantings. The container shown has three plants planted in early June and the photo was taken in mid-August. One plant would have been enough. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

Last summer, I saw a pot of Coleus Spitfire in a garden and was impressed. The variety has a unique layering growth habit as well as brightly colored leaves. It looked beautiful in the container and would work equally well in a hanging basket or a garden edge.

Caring For Coleus at Season’s End

The warm, glowing leaves of ‘Campfire’ look attractive against bright greens and golds. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

As the summer season ends consider overwintering a coleus. You can either take a cutting to pot up or transplant the larger specimen. They root easily in water and once rooted, can be planted in a small pot and kept by a window for necessary light. (Click here for video details on how to take cuttings.) The plants will probably have to be pinched often as they reach for light, but they are easy to keep over and then planted outside in the spring.

The selection of color combinations is vast and every year there are new forms on the market. Some dwarf types have small leaves and only grow up to about 12 inches. Then there is the Kong series with leaves reaching up to 8 inches in length! If you have not checked out the coleus section at your local garden center, you will be surprised at the diversity of leaf colors and shapes that are available.

Lime Time will brighten up any bed or potted planting. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

Spring Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Spring is here! Officially it was March 20th, but I knew it was spring as soon as I saw the daffodils emerge. The hellebores have been glorious this year, but as their late-winter flowers slowly fade, new colors appear in the garden. The red stems of the peonies have started to peek out after being dormant all winter, the early magnolias are blooming, and the sweet fragrance of daphne lets my family know that spring has begun.

This is a wonderful time of year in the garden, with lots to do but so much to be thankful for. Yes, there are many tasks required, but most of those tasks are not burdensome. Instead, they are rather enjoyable because as gardeners, we are getting ready for a new growing season with lots of promises in store.

Refreshing Garden Containers

By refreshing the potting soil in your spring and summer containers, you will find that they perform much better!

One of my early tasks is to freshen up my many containers, of which I have 100+ scattered throughout the garden. It is a chore, no question about that, but I always like to add new potting mix to containers as needed. In some of the large pots, instead of removing all of the older potting mix, I take out about half and add new and mix the two together. In most of the smaller pots, if the mix has not been changed for a couple of years, I empty the old and add new. With the old mix, I use it around established trees and shrubs in the garden as a mulch.

My planting mix of choice is Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Last year, we had some extremely hot days, and it was difficult to keep pots adequately watered. This year, I am going to add some Black Gold Just Coir to the mix because it should help with moisture retention when temperatures are high.

Click here for more spring-container reading:

Prune Early Spring-Blooming Shrubs

Prune spring-flowering shrubs, like this Viburnum, just after they flower to keep from removing next year’s flower buds.

As some of the early-blooming flowering shrubs, such as Forsythia, finish their blooming period, it is a good time to do some pruning if necessary. Remove any branches that tend to be older and weaker because this pruning will encourage new growth that will then bloom next year.

This has been a superb spring for Camellias, and I cannot remember a time when I have seen so many plants with so many flowers. As the flowers fade, they should be removed. Often plants grow much larger than we had intended when they were planted, and I think Camellias are a good example. After they bloom, it is an excellent time to do any necessary pruning.

Click here for more information about spring-bloomers:

Get Spring and Summer Vegetables Started

Now’s the time to plant spring herbs and vegetables, such as this dill, lettuce, and cilantro.

While it is too early to set out tomato plants and other summer vegetables, there are many cool-season vegetables that can be planted now. Vegetables, like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower can be planted now, and garden centers should have a good selection available. Tomato seeds can be started indoors, and the plants will then be ready to set outside in late May or early June. Peas can be sown outdoors, both edible peas and flowering sweet peas. Sweet pea seeds have a very hard coating, and I have found that soaking the seeds overnight in a bowl of water prior to planting, will speed up germination. (Click here to discover more seeds that appreciate soaking.)

Here are some more resources about planting vegetables in the spring:

Prune Roses

If you failed to prune your roses earlier in the season, there is still time.

Roses should have been pruned in late winter or earliest spring, but if not, it is better to do it now rather than not at all. Your flowers will probably appear later, but the bushes will be more compact, and the flowers will be within reach.

Click here for more rose pruning and selecting resources:

Don’t let the many tasks of the spring garden overwhelm you. A garden is meant to be enjoyed and to be a place of peace and tranquility. Take the time to enjoy it, most plants are resilient and can stand some neglect. The garden never has to be perfect. It is a growing entity that is constantly changing. Enjoy the changes with it.

Click here to see my Spring Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden from previous years. Happy spring!!!

Lovely Winter Jewels®Hellebores

Many new double-flowered Lenten roses have been developed by Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene, OR.

In mid-January, the Portland, Oregon metro area endured a horrid wind, ice, and snowstorm. Temperatures dipped below 15 degrees F and stayed below freezing for 4-5 days. The high winds caused many large Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) trees to come crashing down, sometimes on homes and cars, power lines snapped, and because of the ice, people could not leave their homes. Fortunately, within a week the weather changed, and temperatures went up into the 60’s. And with the milder weather, the cheerful hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus) have begun to defrost and bloom profusely.

Helleborus Withstand Winter!

Here is a hellebore photo taken in my yard on February 2, 2024 showing one of many flowers that have opened after the ice storm.

When I walked out into my garden during the cold snap, the ground was frozen and plants were covered in ice. The new growth and flower buds on the hellebores were frozen. I knew the plants would survive, but probably not the flowers. I was wrong, and I am glad I was! Just one week later, the Lenten roses looked as though nothing had happened. The new growth was emerging and flower buds are continuing to grow. Below photo taken on February 2, showing one of many flowers that have opened since the storm. Some of the foliage was damaged but new growth is emerging that looks just fine.

My Favorite Winter Jewels®

Sparkling Diamond has white double petals and a chartreuse center. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Garden Nursery)

At one time, most hellebores in home gardens had single purple flowers, and the flowers themselves tended to nod downward. Newer selections are now available in lots of fun colors and the flowers are more upright and showy.

Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene, Oregon has been one of the leading breeders of hellebores and has even introduced the popular Winter Jewels® Series, which are widely available in northwest garden centers. Many of their new introductions are double-flowered and look nothing like an old-fashioned hellebore, and some of the singles are available in spectacular new colors. Here are some of the prettier new offerings.

The following photos are courtesy of Northwest Garden Nursery.

Black Diamond has a true black flower. Apricot Blush is a lovely new variety for gardens.
Picotee Pearl is a favorite! Amethyst Gem has upward-facing double blooms.
Double Painted has spectacular markings. Fire and Ice is clear white with a red edge.

Helleborus Care

Hellebores like well-drained soil amended with plenty of organic matter. Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend is an ideal soil amendment. The plants like some shade, especially in the summer. An area with morning sun would be ideal. They tend to naturalize and are often planted under shade trees. I think that they look their best when planted in large groupings. For comprehensive Helleborus care instructions, click here.

For those gardeners with limited space, try growing hellebores in containers using Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Growing hellebores in containers allows gardeners to move the container to an entryway during peak blooming season. Their flowers can provide a very cheery welcome on a winter day.

The photo below shows the wide range of colors that are now available in garden centers. Check out your local garden center now for blooming plants. This is an excellent time to plan, and selecting plants in flower can ensure your choice is the color and style of flower that you want.

Here is a selection of Winter Jewels in the Northwest Garden Nursery test gardens. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Garden Nursery)

I can think of few plants that give gardeners such a variety of early spring colors that hellebores do. They are so easy to grow with minimal care. February is a good month to remove the old leaves, being very careful not to cut any new growth or flower buds. Flowering begins in February, sometimes earlier, and often continues through April.

Winter 2024 In My Pacific Northwest Garden

If you are like me in January, your e-mail inbox looks like mine with winter warning messages from the city, county, and state. The headings read: “Emergency Alert!” or “Storm Update!” The cold and snow are here, and many homes in the Portland, Oregon metro (where I live) have gone without power for four days or more and temperatures have been in the teens. It seems like a long time since we’ve had warm sunny fall days, and the garden is showing signs of stress.

Many tree branches are scattered throughout the yard, and the leaves of evergreen shrubs are shriveled. It will probably not be until spring before I will know just how much damage has been done. Many of my new specialty plants introduced to my garden recently may have suffered, but here, and there I see signs of life.

Specialty Trees with Winter Interest

My Daphniphyllum has shown some winter stress, but plants are quite resilient and often ‘spring’ back to life. Time will tell. (Image courtesy of Mike Darcy)

One of the specimen trees that I bought from a specialty nursery several years ago is a Daphniphyllum macropodum (USDA Hardiness Zones 7-9). The East Asian native is not commonly planted in the United States, but the tree has proven to be hardy here. The vulnerable leaves are large and look somewhat like those of a rhododendron. I think the harshness of the 2024 winter will be a good test. The photo below is how my tree looks now.

Another plant for winter color that should be mentioned is Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’, also known as Coral Bark Maple. With cold temperatures, the stems turn red and can provide some outstanding color. This tree is winter hardy, it has never had any insect or disease issues, and I do not expect it to be damaged by the current weather.

Lenten and Christmas Roses

Christmas roses are blooming in Mike’s garden through the cold winter weather. (Image care of Mike Darcy)

I always look for something positive in the garden, and the Christmas roses (Helleborus niger) are sending up new growth and buds. Thus far, they are doing alright. The photo above was taken by a gardening friend several days before our worst winter weather. The plant has quite a few flower buds showing through the leaf mulch. I hope they survive the winter blast. Christmas roses are tough, hardy plants, and I’ve had groupings of them in the garden for many years. I have never lost any, even in very cold temperatures, so they should survive.

Seed Catalogs

Seed catalogs are one of the greatest gardening joys of winter, and most companies offer them for free.

A January gardening tradition for many gardeners, including myself, is looking at seed catalogs. Not just seed catalogs but any garden catalog. A delightful way to spend an evening on a cold night is to look through garden catalogs and dream of spring! Many companies have their catalogs on the internet and this can be an ideal way to find new companies. Most seed companies continue to print a paper version and one of my favorites for vegetables is High Mowing Organic Seeds in Vermont. It is like a garden book! Another is Baker Creek Rare Seeds. Their catalogs are beautiful and laden with impressive plants and photography.

Flower aficionados should look to Select Seeds, with their fine selection of heirloom garden flowers, or mainstay seed catalogs, such as Burpee’s, Park Seed, and Jung Seed. These are just a handful of the better seed catalogs available.

With the start of this new year, I wish you all success in your garden. May your flowers be beautiful and your vegetable harvest bountiful. I look at my garden as a place to go for calmness in this busy, hectic world we live in. May you find peace and calmness in your garden.

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

January is a good time to remove old Helleborus leaves, just be sure not to accidentally snip flower stems.

December was a month of trying to get my winter garden tasks all done before the end of the year. Here it is January, and I have not completed all my December tasks. Getting everything done is something that I have never been able to do because a garden is constantly changing and evolving. With the unpredictability of weather, it seems as though there is always a new task, and I often get distracted on starting on another before completing what I am working on. So, the tasks get moved deeper into winter.

Winter Garden Tasks

Move Hardy Perennials: I have heard some gardeners say that they can relax in January, but that is not the case with me. I consider January a good month to do some final ‘editing’ in the garden because there are always some very hardy plants that need to be moved or, in some cases, removed. This can be done in January as long as the soil can be worked and I only move very hardy perennials.

Move hardy perennials if the soil can be worked.

Divert Water: During this winter season, and this is just early January, we have had strong winds, some snow, freezing temperatures, and rain, lots and lots of rain. The rain was much needed, and so there are no complaints from me about it. Walking through the garden after a rain, there are some areas that have accumulated pools of water, and there are very few plants in my garden that have roots that will thrive in standing water. This is a perfect opportunity to create some diversion paths for the water and also an ideal time to add Black Gold Soil Conditioner (only available in the West) or Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend to help improve the drainage in low garden areas. By doing this now, I can observe what is working and what is not because we will soon have more rain, and I can see if there is still a collection of water.

Trim Back Helleborus Foliage: I spent several hours one morning cutting off the old leaves of the Hellebores. I was surprised to see new growth and flower stems beginning to break through the soil. A word of caution here, be very careful when cutting off the stems of the old leaves because it is very easy to snip off a new leaf or flower stem. Beware of early slug damage on newly emerging bulbs and on the new growth on Hellebores and treat accordingly.

Check Outdoor Garden Pots: My garden has many pots, and I have looked at every one to make sure that the water drains through and there is no standing water. Several of my pots did have standing water, and I was able to turn the pots on their sides and poke a metal rod into the drainage holes to un-plug them. This helps heavy, ceramic pots resist cracking in the winter.

Check outdoor pots to see if they are still draining.

Treat Moss: Moss in the lawn can be treated now, unless you love the look of natural moss. It is a good idea to check if it is a re-occurring issue. Usually, it can mean there is too much shade, poor drainage, or both. There are lawn moss control products available at garden centers, and this is a good time to apply them. Many of moss control products contain ferrous sulfate monohydrate, (iron), and iron will stain shoes, cement, decks, etc., so use it with caution and follow all of the manufacturer’s warnings. These products will turn the moss black in a couple of days, and then it can be raked out. If there are large areas that have dead moss, re-seeding might be necessary but wait until spring for that.

Enjoy what still looks beautiful and do any early pruning as needed.

Do Early Pruning: Winter garden tasks always seem to involve some pruning and on deciduous shrubs, it is often easier to prune and shape the plant before new leaves appear. While the major pruning on roses is usually mid-February, I like to do some pruning now and cut the hybrid teas and grandifloras to 3-4 feet.

Enjoy What Looks Nice: I find that the garden is enjoyable in the winter, although the expectations are different than they are in the spring and summer. My dogwood Midwinter Fire is a bright spot with its stems of red, orange, and yellow. The twigs are also a nice addition to indoor winter arrangements. My variegated evergreen shrubs also provide winter color to dark areas in the garden and are a welcome addition to what otherwise are bare garden stems.

Even though I enjoy the winter garden, I am eagerly awaiting spring!

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden – 2021

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden – 2020

My Midwinter Fire dogwood is adding lovely color to my winter garden.

Mulching Frost Tender Plants


It seems as though many gardeners, including myself, are always on the lookout for a new and/or unusual plant. Even plants that might be known as not being winter-hardy are often worth a try. Gardeners living in the Pacific Northwest, and probably elsewhere as well, often use the phrase, ‘zonal denial’. This simply means that a gardener does not always have to strictly adhere to the hardiness zone on a plant label. It can be very satisfying to be able to grow a plant that is “not supposed to grow here.” For example, on the label below, the plant hardiness zone is between 8 and 11. But what if I lived in zone 7. Would the plant survive? It might survive quite well with some mulching and a little extra care.

Mulching Tips for Tender Plants

Will a plant on the edge of hardiness in your zone survive the winter?

Most gardens have micro-climates which indicates that winter temperatures around plants can vary depending on the surroundings. Perhaps being up against a house would provide some protection, or a garden mulch around the base of the plant might protect the roots during the winter. Black Gold Natural & Organic Compost Blend can be used as a mulch.

The following photo shows Salvia darcyi in my garden. This is not always winter hardy and I like to give it some protection. While it bloomed most of the summer and into the fall, I knew that it needed some protection. In late November, I cut the stems to the ground and added Black Gold Perlite into the soil around the base to improve the drainage, and then added several inches of Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend. Hopefully, this will allow it to survive the winter.

I have mulched this Salvia for the past two years, and despite some temperatures dipping into the mid-20s, the roots have survived and new growth appears from the base each spring.

Salvia darcyi in my garden. (Image by Mike Darcy)

Leave the Leaves for Winter Mulch

There is a popular garden campaign to “Leave the Leaves”. We have many deciduous trees and each autumn; many homeowners hire a landscape firm to come and take the leaves away. Research has long shown that leaves can provide a huge benefit to the soil and the plants growing in it. Leaves also provide a winter home for many native insects which in the spring can provide many benefits not only to our gardens but to the environment as well. Many native bees and other insects have had difficulty surviving in barren landscapes and by leaving the leaves, we can all help to reduce this trend. In my garden, I do rake the leaves from garden pathways but have been leaving them around trees and shrubs.

It is usually wise to remove leaves from a lawn and run a lawn mower over them, it will speed up the process of them decomposing.

My neighbor has a large dahlia bed and he did not want to dig all the tubers and decided that he would leave them in the ground and mulch the bed with maple leaves. Maple leaves can be large and their leaf drop can be huge. Rather than having the leaves removed, he gathered the leaves in small piles and ran his lawn mower over them twice. Then, after cutting the dahlias back to the ground level, he mulched the entire bed with leaves. This should provide adequate winter protection for the dahlia tubers and also provide a winter home for many native insects. I told him that he took the “leave the leaves’ campaign to a higher level!

Musa basjoo is a hardy banana that will grow in our climate. It is not leaf hardy, but rather is root hardy. With a frost, the leaves will die, but the roots survive and will begin sending up new growth when warm weather returns in the spring. When the banana plant sends up new leaves, they come from the top of the stem. By wrapping the stems before a frost, the stems will be protected and, in the spring, the new growth will appear at the top of the stems and the plant will begin growing at that height. Some gardeners like to have the plants start from a 6-7 ft height and by wrapping stems, this can easily be done. This gardener used bubble wrap and then covered the bubble wrap with burlap. Some kind of wrap needs to be put over the bubble wrap because the winter sun can burn the stems through the bubble wrap, It is also important to cover the top of the stem so water cannot penetrate. The leaves will be used as a winter mulch.

There are many ways we can give our tender plants some winter protection. If plants are in pots, they can be brought indoors on nights when a freeze is anticipated. It is fun trying new plants and having some ‘zonal denial’.

Fall Rose Care

Here it is in mid-October and many roses are still blooming. There are few shrubs, if we can call roses ‘shrubs’, that have such a long blooming season. For us, (in the Pacific Northwest), they usually begin to bloom in May and most modern roses, hybrid teas, grandifloras, and floribundas will continue to flower until a frost or cold weather arrives.

Weather and Fall Roses

Generally, in the Willamette Valley and areas on the western slope of the Cascades, we do not have to worry about temperatures in the winter that will kill roses. However, there are certain tasks we can do to offer them some protection and a little help through the winter months. My gardening philosophy is to try to keep gardening simple and here are some tips and ideas for winter care and preparation.

After a heavy rain, walk around your garden look at your rose bed, and notice if there is standing water. If there is, that is a signal that there is a drainage problem and fall is a good time to get it fixed. If the bed is on a slope, perhaps a small channel can be made to whisk the water away. While this is not always applicable, cultivating pumice or Black Gold® Perlite into the soil can be helpful. Roses need good drainage and standing water can do serious damage to roses, especially if a hard freeze is predicted. By eliminating this problem now, your roses next spring and summer will ‘thank you’. There is a saying that I’ve often heard that goes “more plants are damaged from winter wet than winter cold”.


Add Mulch

A mulch around roses in the fall can also be helpful. Adding 2-3 inches around the plants can offer some root protection from the cold. Almost any compost product will work, it could be a general garden compost, fir boughs, straw, or leaves. I especially like maple leaves because they decompose fairly quickly, provide winter cover, and are an excellent addition to the soil.

Prune Fall Roses

Fall pruning is also a task that can be helpful to both the plant and the gardener! A general rule that rose gardeners often use about pruning modern roses is “prune to waist high in the fall and knee-high in mid-February.” Of course, this is somewhat vague because waist heights vary greatly and this statement should be used as a guide. Many rose bushes are quite tall by the end of the season, often 6 feet or more. In areas where there are high winds, the wind could rock the plant back and forth and loosen the roots. Pruning the bush lower will help eliminate this.

The bonus of fall pruning for the gardener is that with several rose plants, getting rid of some of the debris, canes, and leaves, will make less debris for spring pruning.

When cutting rose canes, I suggest removing them as well as old diseased leaves from the garden. After fall pruning is completed and the debris has been taken away, then add a mulch. A mulch can give a garden a finishing ‘touch’ and your garden has gone to bed for the winter!

The one thing that you do not want to do is to fertilize your roses now. Their primary growing season is over and applying fertilizer now is of little value.

If your roses are still blooming, enjoy them! That is the reason we plant them. My floribunda rose ‘Doris Day’ has many flowers on it now, (late October), and bringing flowers indoors at this time of year is a delight. Just giving your rose plants some extra care in the fall season can be helpful for them when spring arrives.

Fall Bulbs by Mike Darcy

I think that it is fun to deviate and plant some bulbs that, perhaps, are new to you. Here are a few suggestions.

Relatives of the edible onion, Ornamental Alliums can make a beautiful showing in the early to mid-summer garden. The flowers usually appear in clusters on bare stems. There are many different sizes to choose from with some only getting 6 inches in height with others reaching 5 feet or more. Usually, the flowers are shades of blue but there are some pink and white forms. ‘Lavender Bubbles’ is a small compact type that would fit into most garden settings.

Ornamental alliums are colorful and beautiful.

Galanthus (Snowdrops) are among the first of spring bulbs to bloom. Their nodding, white, bell-shaped flowers are a signal that spring will soon be here. These are ideal for planting in rock gardens, under flowering shrubs, or to grow in pots. I have found that they like a little bit of shade or filtered sunlight. Galanthus ‘Flora Pleno’ has a double layer of white flower petals that are tipped green.

Snowdrops are a delicate flowering bulb for late winter.

When we think of daffodils, we usually think of the yellow flowering trumpet type. The trumpet types are very easy to grow and tend to naturalize much more so than tulips. Technically all daffodils are Narcissus’, but we usually refer to the trumpet type as daffodil. The selection ‘Julie Jane’ has a very unique flower form and is ideal in a pot.

Tulipa Julie Jane’ looks great when planted together in pots.

If you don’t mind waiting a few years, and your garden has the space and the right conditions, and if you want to make a spectacular statement with summer flowering bulbs, giant lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum), might be the plant for you. This is sometimes referred to as the Giant Himalayan Lily, and with good reason. Even though it might take it 5+ years to bloom, depending on the size of the bulb, it is well worth the wait. The flowering stem can reach 8 feet or more in height with 20+ fragrant flowers on a single stem. This bulb prefers a light shady location, a woodland setting could be ideal, and a soil rich in humus. Black Gold® Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend would be a good addition at planting time.

Giant lily is a spectacular, tall lily for gardens in milder climates.

It seems as though the selection of fall bulbs expands every year and garden centers are offering more choices. That is good news for gardeners. If you have a special bulb you are looking for, buy early. With supply and transportation issues, garden centers do not always have an option to reorder. Think ‘out of the box’ when planting and don’t limit yourself to only planting in rows. Plant bulbs in mass plantings or groups. The reward in the spring will be worth it!

My giant lilies in full bloom.

Plants That Perform In the Hot Summer Sun

We have had some very hot weather here in the Pacific Northwest and in some cases, previous high temperature records have been broken. Not only have we had very hot and sunny days, but there has been no recent rain and the ground is very dry. It is not unusual for us not to have rain in the summer months, but with no rain and high heat, plants can suffer. The diversity of plants always continues to amaze me with some being able to thrive in the hot sun, while others wilt, and the leaves burn.

Most gardeners have their favorite plants for sunny locations and much of the information on these plants is probably trial and error. I have certainly had my share of plants that I thought would perform well in a sunny location, only to find out that I was mistaken and they either died or the leaves became scorched. A helpful hint, that I have mentioned in previous articles, is adding Black Gold® Natural & Organic Just Coir over the soil surface. Coir has high water-holding capacity which is a helpful addition to summer plants growing in containers.

The following is a listing of plants that seem to thrive in the sun and provide summer color with flowers and/or foliage,

Raspberry Ice Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea ‘Raspberry Ice’ is a tender flowering shrub that grows well as a tender perennial or perennial where hardy.

One of my favorites is Bougainvillea ‘Raspberry Ice’. While Bougainvillea is mostly known as a tall and fast-growing vine, ‘Raspberry Ice’ has a low-mounded spreading form which makes it ideal for pots and hanging baskets. With variegated foliage, this plant is attractive even when not in flower with the typical purple flowers, actually bracts. Bougainvillea is a tropical plant and will not survive our winters and I treat it as a summer annual.

Tall Zinnias

What’s not to like about Zinnias (Zinnia elegans hybrids). An old-fashioned flower that continues to be popular in gardens of today. The color range is vast with colors of red, yellow, cream, white, pink, purple, and shades of all of these. The plants have a wide range of height, some are low growing, others tall, and many in-between. They bloom all summer, and the flowers are excellent for cutting.

Tall zinnias are easy to grow and beautiful.

Perennial Coreopsis

There are two new Coreopsis in my garden this year and both have been blooming since I bought them in early June. This easy-to-grow member of the sunflower family has flowers and foliage that are quite diverse. Coreopsis ‘Lightning Bug’ has fern-like foliage and small flowers that cover the plant. Coreopsis ‘SuperStar’ has larger flowers and foliage. With their vibrant flowers, a grouping of either provides a bright spot of color in the garden.

Coreopsis ‘Superstar’ is a favorite of mine. (Image by Mike Darcy)

Cigar Plant

With hundreds of small flowers on a single plant, cigar plant (Cuphea ignea) is known not only for the prolific flowers it provides all summer, but the flowers are also known as a hummingbird magnet. Sometimes call the cigar plant because the flowers are orange-red with a white tip and a dark rink at the end. For a plant that gives continuous color, it’s hard to beat Cuphea!


The large bold leaves of a Canna can give a garden a tropical look. With the leaves varying from solid green to different variegations, they can provide color when the plant is not in bloom. Two that I particularly like are ‘Striata’ and ‘Cleopatra’, both of which have outstanding foliage. The impressive Canna ‘Striata’ (syn. ‘Bengal Tiger’) has yellow-striped variegated leaves with a narrow maroon margin and bright orange flowers. ‘Cleopatra’ has leaves that may be partially a dark chocolate color and green or all green or almost all dark chocolate. The flowers are equally variable and can be red, yellow, and often of combination of both colors. It is a very eye-catching plant in the garden.

Canna ‘Striata’ has impressive stripes leaves and colorful flowers.

These are just some sun-loving plants that perform well in Pacific Northwest gardens. All will grow beautifully in garden soil fortified with Black Gold Garden Soil.  The natural and organic amendment adds needed organic matter to enrich soils and encourage strong root growth and plant development.

I find it interesting to try some new plants every year to test their summer sunworthiness. Many of these plants are available at garden centers and can still be planted. The plants will probably be larger than they would have been in the spring and can provide some instant color in the garden. Try one that is new to you!


Happy Gardening!

Summer Color by Mike Darcy

With the cool and rainy wet spring that we had here in the Pacific Northwest, most plants seemed to be about two weeks behind what would have been their ‘normal’ schedule. The weather delayed many gardeners from doing what would be some of their early spring chores. Not only was the weather not conducive for working in the garden, but the soil was too wet and muddy from all the rain.  Then in May, spring arrived with warm sunny days, and it was as if plants exploded with growth and bloom. Suddenly plants were no longer two weeks behind schedule but were on schedule.

As I walk around my own garden, as well as other gardens that I have recently visited, I am in awe of all the color that I see. Most gardeners always have room for another plant and the following are some of my favorites for summer color. Many of the plants that I use for color are in containers and I have found that adding a mulch across the top of the soil is a benefit to helping the plants thrive. Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend is an ideal mulch to help retain moisture. Another option is Black Gold Natural & Organic Just Coir which has excellent water holding capacity.

Hardy fuchsias would have to be near the top of the list for summer color. There is such a wide variety to choose from with size and color of the flower and the growth habit of the plant. Some will get quite tall, often up to six feet or more in one season, while the height of many stays in a three-foot range. Some varieties will even hug the ground and grow as a ground cover. Plant tags will often say sun to shade exposure, I have found they do best with some protection from the hot afternoon sun. One of my favorites is Fuchsia ‘Debron’s Smokey Blues’.

The flowers on Abutilon ‘Red Tiger’ do not look real but look like a fine stained glass art piece. This is a shrub and in a mild northwest winter, it will survive. A large plant in full bloom is stunning.

If there was ever a plant that was a work horse for blooming, I think it would have to be the dahlia. Most dahlias will begin flowering in June and there will be non-stop bloom until frost. The color range is vast and there is almost every color except blue. The flowers are also variable in their shape as is evident by the photos. These pictures were taken last summer in the trial garden of the Portland, (OR), Dahlia Society which is located on the ground of Swan Island Dahlias in Canby, OR. These photos give a good example of the wide range of color and shape of flowers. Dahlias also make excellent cut flowers.

Our summer deck would not be complete without several containers of Salvia. Keep the flower stems picked when the blooms are gone, and many will bloom throughout the summer. Two of my favorites are Salvia ‘Black & Blue’ and Salvia ‘Amistad’. The flowers on ‘Black & Blue’ tend to be cobalt blue and ‘Amistad’ has flowers that are deep purple. Both are magnets for butterflies and hummingbirds,

Sometimes, I think it is fun to grow plants that are known not to be winter hardy, but nevertheless will perform well during the summer. The Princess Flower, (Tibouchina), is one such flower. It will bloom with purple flowers all summer and into the fall. It will not survive our winters outside and so mentally; I consider it an annual. It is fast growing and flowering can be profuse. Excellent for growing in a container.

I realize that I have barely touched the list of plants for summer color, but the above-mentioned ones should all be readily available and easy to grow. Perhaps one is new to you, and you will give it a try. Most gardeners are always trying something new. Who knows, it might just become a favorite!

About Mike Darcy

Mike lives and gardens in a suburb of Portland, Oregon where he has resided since 1969. He grew in up Tucson, Arizona where he worked at a small retail nursery during his high school and college years. He received his formal education at the University of Arizona where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture, and though he values his formal education, he values his field-experience more. It is hard to beat the ‘hands on’ experience of actually gardening, visiting gardens, and sharing information with other gardeners. Mike has been involved with gardening communications throughout his adult life. In addition to garden writing, he has done television gardening shows in Portland, and for over 30 years he hosted a Saturday radio talk show in Portland. Now he writes, speaks, gardens and continues to share his love of gardening. To be connected to the gardening industry is a bonus in life for Mike. He has found gardeners to be among the friendliest and most caring, generous people. Consequently, many of his friends he has met through gardening.