By Connie Cottingham
At the end of a hot summer, when both the garden and the gardener feel wilted, the butterflies waft through with a carefree air. Actually, they do have one very important task – to find food. Some even are looking for enough energy to migrate hundreds of miles. Take a look outside. What does your garden have to offer the butterflies and bees? What bright blooms are there for you to enjoy? Well, I have a few perennials that can take care of two things at once: providing energy for your butterflies and beauty for you.
Oh my, this plant has so much going for it. As much as butterflies flock to it, the deer leave it alone. And it is a weed-choker, covering many square feet of garden without letting many competing weeds take root. It also doesn’t seem to care if the rains come or not in summer, it will be covered with many blooms through the hottest months. Just give it lots of sun and good drainage.
There are both annual and perennial lantana – look at the orange and yellow ‘Miss Huff’ or pink and yellow ‘Mozelle’ for perennials that come back year after year. One warning – perennial lantana is a very late sleeper. Every spring my garden comes to life with such a party of happy colors while my lantana is a bunch of sticks, just sitting there… and sitting there. Finally, lantana is the last thing in the garden to leaf out. I suspect many have been tossed by impatient gardeners who have just given up. My solution is to plant the bare ground around lantana in daffodils that fill indoor vases.
Asters are lovely, sprawling plants covered with blooms that are covered with bees and butterflies. There are many different varieties of asters, including native asters. And if you are looking for native asters (and about 100 other native plants), check out the native plant sale during the first two weekends in October at State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia in Athens (www.botgarden.uga.edu).
Mums are easy to find in any nursery and garden center, in numerous colors. I suggest you look beyond the cushion mums to seek out the more daisy-like cottage garden look of mums like ‘Ryan’s Pink’ or ‘Hillside Sheffield.’ These have a more relaxed, feminine feel. Both mums and asters will flop less and have more blooms if the plants are cut back about a third to a half in early June.
‘Rose Creek’ Abelia
Okay, this is a shrub, not a perennial, but it is the perfect shrub for fall. It is an evergreen, so it is pretty perfect year-round, but the blooms in fall are the best part. Every white bloom has a bract that turns pink, then the next bloom appears, and that bract turns pink, and well, it just goes on and on with each bloom adding more color to the stack of bracts. The result is stunning. Butterflies and bees just love it – you will too.
If you do have these plants, you and your bees and butterflies (oh-so-trendy pollinators) are both enjoying your garden. If not, fall is the best time to plant, and no matter how hot it may feel today, fall is on its way. Start planning your new plantings now!
Connie Cottingham is a staff member of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. She has been gardening for decades and is a lifetime master gardener, a garden writer, a garden club member and a landscape architect. You can subscribe to her weekly Love Notes from the Garden at conniecottingham.com.