Early summer annuals

Today is the official start of summer (Happy Solstice!) but we have been celebrating the season for weeks now. Everybody around here calls it summer when sailboats fill the harbor and beaches start charging for parking, but we gardeners are also tipped off by the summer annuals blooming their heads off. Some early annuals, like the oxeye daisies, have already started to go by but they’re really a transitional flower along with silene and Minoan lace (Orlaya grandiflora).The true summer daisies are chamomile, feverfew and tansy. (Don’t get me started on the differences between the different Tanacetums or my head might explode. I’m pretty sure the one in the picture – below, left- is feverfew or Tanacetum parthenium.)

Larkspur (Consolida ambigua) should be blooming out by now but ours are still only budded. If they get a chance to seed themselves around without us gardening them right back out of the soil, they’ll be more timely next year. Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), which started blooming weeks ago, never looks more fabulous than when its blooms arrive beneath thickets of seedheads. I can only hope they’ll keep on trucking into mid-summer but since they’ve just about completed their task of making seeds for next year’s show, the flowers will probably quit soon. At least we can keep their court-jester seedheads as reminders. 

We also know it’s truly summer when we plant the last of the dahlias and the large potted tender perennials we kept for cuttings all winter. Yesterday while I was wedging dahlia tubers into tight spaces in the Cutting Garden I was nearly knocked over by the scent of the sweet peas. Their moment starts now and for us only lasts a few weeks into summer.

The same is true of blue honeywort (Cerinthe major subsp. purpurescens). I’m not sure as many visitors will notice them — their shrimp-ish purple dangles are plenty weird but in a subtle sort of way. Like the sweet peas, they appreciate rich soil. In fact, the healthiest clump I’ve ever seen planted itself next to a compost pile. I’ve heard that in some gardens they’ll sow themselves into a summer-long succession of blooms. Fingers crossed.

We also call it summer when the first heatwave hits. It’s perfectly timed this year (today is already a sultry 91; tomorrow is forecast to be 99…) and might shatter our gorgeous stands of pink peony poppies. No matter. They’ll go to seed; we’ll save millions because we can’t help ourselves, and something else will take their place by mid-summer.

What annuals help you celebrate the start of summer?