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A bounty of midsummer blooms


July has always been a welcome month in my garden. Despite heat waves that briefly descend on us nearly every midsummer, these weeks bring a quiet period after stretches of planting and fertilizing, trimming and mulching. At last there's ample time for sitting in the shade and enjoying the burst of blooms all around.

The pace has been leisurely with more waiting than harvesting as summer crops begin to drift in. It takes just a few minutes to make the rounds checking on this year's new dwarf zucchinis and first tomatoes and cucumbers. And it doesn't take much effort to clip off faded blooms on dahlias and roses to keep them coming along.

It's always seemed a little odd to read or hear laments over the end of May and June's blossoms. July has plenty.

Flowers on Luma apiculata, a myrtle relative, popped open a few weeks ago and will go on for another month or so. This small, multi-trunked tree is highly recommended for Northern California gardeners not only for its delightful half-inch, puffy white flowers but also for its small, shiny evergreen foliage and flaky, cinnamon bark.

As expected, its evergreen leaves drop continuously, which is troublesome near a patio but beneficial when mulch covers the ground beneath.

With little summer water, height stays between 10 and 20 feet, width about 6 feet. Luma, native to the Chilean Mediterranean climate similar to ours, thrives in either sun or shade and in nearly any soil as long as it has good drainage.

A few local nurseries stock Luma — ask if you don't see it. It's also offered at plant sales at the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum. (Consult sfbotanicalgarden.org for sale dates and times.)

Delicate and bold

In all seasons, foliage hues and texture appeal to me nearly as much as floral color. The July garden has both, a wonderful bridge between exuberant spring blooms and fiery fall leaves.

Shrubby summer spireas are in their prime in midsummer. Spiraea japonica Limemound brightens partial shade with pale lime leaves and pink flower clusters. Sun-loving Anthony Waterer blooms in deep reddish pink, a telling background for paler hues of delicate, dangling trumpets on a wiry Clematis Hendryetta scrambling up a spiral trellis.

In stark contrast, oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) asserts itself in bold strokes. Strong stems rising from the ground arch gracefully under the weight of rather coarse, distinctive leaves, soon to be the center of attention in a blaze of fall color.

Now, fawn-hued stems carry long white clusters like conical antique lace caps, opening creamy white and slowly aging to lavender pink.

Lingering blooms

Most flowering shrubs require little if any deadheading of faded blossoms, one reason they play a central role in my summer garden. Cinquefoil (Potentilla) is one of the most reliable for its good looks over a long bloom period.

Primrose beauty, for example, is completely trouble-free in both sun and part shade, putting out 1- to 2-inch flat, creamy yellow flowers along stems on a 2- to 3-foot open-branched shrub. When given the opportunity, thin stems reach out and intermingle with nearby plants such as roses to establish a charming partnership.

Ground morning glory (Convolvulus sabatius), another long bloomer nearly covered with pale lavender flowers, tumbles over walls or sprawls non-invasively across a 2- to 3-foot space.

Mexican or Santa Barbara daisies (Erigeron karvinskianus) self-seed so willingly that they can become a nuisance, especially when garden beds are watered overhead, but they keep on blooming for months on end, interrupted only by pruning shears when trimmed once or twice a year. A deep mulch controls their spread.

Fast and floriforus

Several small shrubs and subshrubs — perennials that develop woody lower stems — are easy-care stalwarts in the summer garden, blooming their heads off and asking only for light irrigation in return.

In microclimates that stay above freezing in winter, hebes quickly grow from 2 to 4 feet and fill their stem tips with 4-inch conical blossoms in lavender, pink, or white. Shiny evergreen leaves fill borders in other seasons.

Lantanas, autumn sage (Salvia greggii) and similar Salvia microphylla and their hybrids are nearly a must in any summer garden, blooming non-stop for months with only light irrigation.

And, of course, a myriad of summer annuals grace gardens for cutting and color, indispensable as edgings and for indoor bouquets.

(Rosemary McCreary, a Sonoma County gardener, gardening teacher and author, writes the monthly Homegrown column for The Press Democrat. Write to her at P.O. Box 910, Santa Rosa, 95402; or send fax to 664-9476.)