Get Your Garden Ready for Summer!

May 5, 2013 | By | Comments (3)
Grumpy's Garden

Elijah Blue’ blue fescue and Cool Wave pansies are looking good! Photo by Steve Bender.

It may be snowing in Duluth and wintry in Wisconsin, but here in the South, it’s spring! Don’t you love it? Now is a great time to enjoy your cool-weather flowers, while also setting out plants for summer. And that’s just what Grumpy has been doing.

It doesn’t look like a summer garden, does it? The blue fescue in front is perennial (and a great drought-tolerant, low-maintenance color accent), but most of the show is supplied by Cool Wave pansies I planted last fall. These are low, spreading pansies you can grow like a ground cover. Due to our usually cold and cloudy weather, they didn’t bloom much this winter, but now that it’s warmer and sunnier, they’re really kicking.

Grumpy's garden

Cool Wave pansies form spreading mats of flowers. Photo by Steve Bender.

When pansies look this good, I can’t bear to rip them out, even though it’ll be too hot for them in another month. It’s also important get your summer plants in now, so they’ll be well-rooted before it gets really hot. What to do? Grumpy tucks summer transplants between his pansies and violas. When it’s time to chuck the cool-weather plants, the warm-weather ones will be filled out, so the garden won’t have gaps.

Grumpy’s Summer Planting List
Now well into my twilight years, I’ve discovered that I like to cook with fresh produce. So rather than growing only flowers out front, I mix in veggies and herbs. Both can be ornamental and even if they get a few holes eaten in the leaves because this garden is organic, the flowers planted with them easily hide that.

In addition to chives, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and basil (planted later when it warms up), I’m growing four kinds of sweet peppers — ‘Giant Marconi,’ ‘Gypsy,’ ‘Cubanelle,’ and ‘Merlot’ purple bell. Peppers are highly productive for the space they use. You can stuff these babies, roast them, saute them, or add them to almost any ethnic dish. And they’re very good for containers.

Grumpy's garden

These peppers will pop once warm weather arrives. Photo by Steve Bender.

See that one weird, white-striped plant in the middle above? That’s bok choi or Chinese cabbage. I didn’t start it from seed or a transplant. I bought a single bunch at the grocery store. After I stripped off most of the outside leaves for cooking, I placed the cut end in water for a couple of weeks and it rooted. I’ll be interested to see if it grows a whole new plant.

Can’t Wait to See These In July
Here is a brief sampling of some of the colorful summer annuals planted this week.

Grumpy's garden

‘Zahara Sunburst’ zinnia. Every veggie garden should have some zinnias. Photo by Steve Bender.

‘Zahara Sunburst’ zinnia. Introduced in 2009, the Zahara series of zinnias offer eye-catching flowers 2-1/2 inches across in a myriad of warm colors atop powdery mildew-resistant foliage.  Plants grow 12-18 tall and wide, attract butterflies, and are great for cutting. Zowie!

Grumpy's garden

‘Kong Jr.’ scarlet coleus. It’s small now, but just wait. Photo by Steve Bender.

‘Kong Jr.’ scarlet coleus. ‘Kong Jr.’ is the little brother of king-sized ‘Kong,’ the coleus renowned for its huge leaves. The Jr. series grows only 2/3 as big, growing 18-24 inches tall and wide. You don’t have to pinch this one, because it’s bushy and seldom blooms.

Grumpy's garden

Divine Scarlet Bronze Leaf New Guinea impatiens. Photo; ugahort.

‘Divine’ scarlet New Guinea impatiens. New Guinea impatiens are destined to replace the traditional ones you’re used to, because a devastating disease called downy mildew threatens to wipe the old ones out. New Guineas are immune to downy mildew, however, boast colorful foliage, and take more sun than the other kind. What’s held them back is that earlier strains got too tall and leggy and often bloomed sparsely. The Divine Series (12 colors so far) smother themselves with large blossoms all summer and grow 12-16 inches tall and wide.

Grumpy's garden

‘Surdiva’ blue fanflower. Every garden needs blue. Photo: Suntory.

‘Surdiva’ blue fanflower (Scaevola). A blue annual that blooms all summer despite the South’s heat and humidity is hard to find. That’s why I love this one. Give it sun and moist, well-drained soil and watch it go to town. It’s a low spreader, growing 6-8 inches tall and 18-24 inches wide. Jimmy Turner, famous for his “Trial by Fire” summer plant evaluations at the Dallas Arboretum, gave ‘Surdiva’ his “Plant of the Month” award.  If Jimmy can’t kill it, you can’t either.

Grumpy's garden

‘Sungelonia Deep Pink’ angelonia. Angelonia rocks! Photo:

‘Sungelonia Deep Pink’ angelonia. I almost think a summer flower garden in the South without angelonia isn’t worth having. This plant loves heat and humidity, laughs at drought, and covers itself with snapdragon-like spikes of blue, purple, pink, red, or white flowers. But not all angelonias are created equal. Some I’ve tried get too tall and floppy. Others bloom on-and-off, not continuously. Sungelonias perform like troopers. On a scale  1-5 (5 being best), the University of Tennessee Trial Gardens rated them 4.9. These compact growers reach 12-15 inches tall and wide. They don’t need deadheading.

Well, that’s just a few things Grumpy is experimenting with. Look for these varieties now at your local independent garden center. This is the South and time’s a-wasting!


  1. Colonial House

    It is Spring here. And, we like the coila… Especially the mini size. Thanks, Grumpy!

    May 7, 2013 at 8:16 pm
  2. Carolyn Choi

    You forgot to mention that you also planted a garden gnome in your summer garden. Love the zinnia and coleus, two of my faves also. You could’ve had two messes of bok choi already had you not been so cheap. I’ve noted your great blue annual recommendations for my future garden. As for you being in your twilight years you’ve got a long way to go before the lights go out.

    May 5, 2013 at 3:49 pm
  3. Vikki

    I Like all your experiments! I totally agree with your assessment of Angelonia. What a fantastic annual for the hot and humid summer of my South East VA garden. I haven’t seen it at any of my plant haunts yet but I’m sure it will be arriving soon. Vikki in VA.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm

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