White Hot Hollowgarden

When the Verbesina blooms in August I feel like the denizens of Cold Comfort Farm when the infamous “sukevine” strew its lush flowers over that fraught landscape.

Verbesina alternifolila, a native to wooded slopes, open woodlands and riverbanks, is also called yellow ironweed and indeed is very similar in size and habit, but the former wields  a piercing lemon yellow cluster of rayed flowers rather than Vernonia’s dark purple-blue tufts. When yellow swallowtails fall upon the Verbesina, they disappear up to their black lace.

Here in the hollow we continue our surreal existence in Paradise. Somehow in our little fold of the hills, we have so far been sheltered from extreme weather and the ills that seem to beset the outside world.

During the day butterflies and hummingbirds waft through the garden in a Disneyesque fashion and bunnies nibble the green grass in the evening light after the old devil sun has gone down. Creeks and rivers remain low even after copious thunderstorms that accompany day after day of 90 plus degrees. The Earth wafts out her scent in humid breaths on the still air.

An unexpected success has been my random front cottage garden bed which has somehow morphed into a successful white garden – bright in the night with moths. It’s proved low-maintenance and, with a bit of extra care in the beginning, relatively drought resistant.

The star is an old sun-resistant Hosta ‘Royal Standard’ which I faithfully protect with organic deer repellent. It takes up a good 4-5 feet with pale yellowish green leaves and nine graceful wands of lavender-tinged white bells that bees, butterflies and hummingbirds disappear into on sunny afternoons. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (which also needs deer repellent) gives a silvery green substance, its broccoli-like florets turning hints of pink and burgundy into fall.

But it’s the annuals that really light up the bed and fortunately they’re both proving to be reliable re-seeders. White Cleome ‘Helen Campbell’  – 3-4’ pure white spider whiskers – and Nicotiana alata ‘Fragrant Cloud’ and N. sylvestris give a cool glow starting in early morning and into the late afternoon through evening. The old-fashioned flowering tobaccos have the added attraction of their heavy sweet scent.

Although not white, 4 O’Clocks, reseed readily into the classic magenta, spotted lavender and yellow hues, releasing their perfume only after sunset or on cloudy days. Perfect skirt for a porch.

I failed this year – I can’t bear to go into the details – at having a good swath of tall zinnias like Cut and Come Again, State Fair and the giant Dahlia types, but was able to manage the narrow leaved bushy Zinnia angustifolia ‘White Star’ which I have seen the butterflies visit. Its small daisy-like flowers give a clear bright white with yellow centers to the border edge.

The pollinators love the white garden and from morning into the soft dark night, bees, moths, butterflies, wasps, hummingbirds, flies, gold finches (they love the seed cones of the Black-eyed-Susans), dragonflies and myriad others make their way into the many-fashioned flowers. A deep purple blue Salvia has proved a hit with her tubular inflorescences.

To sit on the old glider, it’s cool white paint flaking on my arms, and watch the busy creatures zooming through the canyons of flowerscape is the high point of many a day and a blessing for which I am truly grateful.

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