The native perennial Hibiscus moscheutos may be found ranging from Texas to the Atlantic coast and as far north as Ontario, Canada. Thriving along the edges of freshwater rivers, streams, bogs and wetlands in USDA zones five through nine, these cold-hardy sun lovers are just right for July into August here in the Lowcountry. They make a smashing display and no matter which one you choose, each adds drama as well as structural strength to borders over a six-week-to-two-month period (with deadheading).
Traditionally used in Native American medicine to treat dysentery, lung and urinary tract ailments, the perennial hibiscus is now primarily grown for its summertime display of dinner-plate-sized blossoms atop sturdy green woody stems with attractive foliage standing between three and five feet tall. They are attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies, resist pests and fungus and do not necessarily require enormous amounts of water when planted with a generous amount of organic compost.
Many outstanding cultivars have been introduced to the gardening world in recent years and they are well worth exploring. A simple Internet search will lead one to such lovelies as “100 Degrees” (I think we can all relate to that name with the recent heat wave) or “Disco Belle” which would liven up any garden party! My personal favorite though is named for a Neil Diamond song, which back in the day I loved and by which I was often plagued on the playground.
“Where it began, I can’t begin to knowin’ / But then I know it’s goin’ strong / Was in the spring and spring became the summer / Who’d have you believe you’d come along ... / Sweet Caroline / Good times never seemed so good”
The “Sweet Caroline,” a native cultivar introduced in 1991 by Harold F. Winters, swept onto the garden stage producing its lush, pink 8-to-10-inch blooms in profusion for about a month, continuing on at a diminishing rate until frost and offering an uplifting tone to the garden. Once you see them, there is no way you won’t fall in love.
I would also like to introduce to you a non-native and very much welcome come’yah native of the West Indies, Cestrum nocturnum. Its heady evening fragrance being its most outstanding feature, this small semi-woody shrub has spread in popularity to all continents of the planet (with the obvious exception of Antarctica) and has taken on such common names as Night Queen, Dama de Noche, Lady of the Night and Night Blooming Jasmine. I first encountered this lovely fountain-shaped shrub in Goa, India and it took me a while to find the source of that exotic and slightly intoxicating perfume. The flowers are diminutive and quite discreet creamy white and this Queen of the Night gives not a trace of her sensuous attributes until the sun is well and truly set!
Cestrum nocturnum enjoys average, well-drained garden soil and full sun. Light pruning in the spring and an annual application of a well-balanced organic fertilizer with regular water are its only requirements. I should also mention that the butterflies and hummingbirds love them!
Caroline W. Hutson has been involved in planting and maintaining gardens for many years; she would enjoy hearing from any readers on this or any other garden topic at email@example.com.