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If I could Have Only 4 Summer Stars

Horticulture’s Nan Sinton, director of programs, reminisces about her summer favorites.

1. Welcome breezes on summer evenings carry the intoxicating fragrance of tuberoses. While better known as a cut flower, Polianthes tuberosa, a tropical bulb native to Mexico, has been used by gardeners for centuries. If you live north of USDA Zone 8, order the largest bulbs you can find and start them indoors in early spring, setting them out when night-time temperatures remain over 60°F.

2. The narrow pleated ribbing on the broad leaves of palm grass, Setaria palmata, make this tender plant from Malaysia a dramatic accent in shade containers. Red bamboo-like stems in the selection ‘Rubra’ support a two- to three-foot-high fountain of swaying green mystery. Afternoon shade and moist, fertile soil produce the most beautiful leaves. Tender except in Zones 9 and 10, where reseeding could be a problem.

3. Five delicate sky blue petals and long-arching purple stamens give the impression of tiny butterflies hovering over the deep green leaves of Clerodendrum ugandense ‘Blue Wings’. Tender, but growing as a small shrub even the first year, this treasure is well worth trying as a container plant. Provide a rich potting mixture, keep it moist and place it in high shade. It’s hardy in Zones 10 and 11.

A long way from those familiar six packs of stubby red salvias, elegant Salvia splendens ‘Van Houttei’ produces rich scarlet blossoms on a three-foot-tall plant. This tender tropical does best with afternoon shade. Feed it with fish emulsion every two weeks and sit back to watch the hummingbirds cavort on the abundant flowers from mid-August right into cool autumn weather.

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