Garden Fireworks

Helictotrichon sempervirens - Blue Oat GrassWith the Black Forest fire fresh in my mind, I’ve been wondering, how could we celebrate Independence Day without any sparks or explosions? I’m just not in the mood for fireworks! Well, being a gardener, I started thinking of all the plants that could be part of a 4th of July garden. What plants remind me of fireworks? What blooms now? Here are my suggestions—what can you add to my list?

Allium_HAS-CoSpgsCO_LAH_0310If asked to pick a flower that reminds me of aerial fireworks, I’d immediately think of alliums. The flowers range from miniatures under a foot tall to huge “drumsticks” rising several feet. They consist of numerous florets on thin stems arising from a central point—just like an explosion! And like fireworks, they come in an assortment of colors including yellow, purple, pink, red, and white.

Allium - yellow DBG 1Members of the onion family, alliums are easy to grow and are well adapted to Colorado. We even have wild alliums growing under our pines. They prefer full sun, ordinary soil, and are drought tolerant. No diseases or insects bother them, and even deer, rabbits, and other browsing animals dislike their oniony taste. Pick a spot where the bulbs can stay undisturbed for years, then plant in fall at the same time as tulips and daffodils.

Jerusalem Sage
Phlomis - Jerusalem Sage @DBG 2008jun26 LAH 002If alliums resemble fireworks, then Jerusalem Sage reminds me of sparklers. The flowers are arranged in a series of fringe-like circles along long stems, as you can see in the photo. A yellow version in the same genus (Phlomis) is called Lampwick Plant.

Jerusalem Sage is only hardy to about zero degrees, and other Phlomis species are even more tender, so provide a deep mulch for winter protection or consider the plants annuals. Phlomis prefers full sun, well-drained soil and is drought tolerant. Overfeeding results in weak, floppy foliage.

Ornamental Grasses
Exploding shells, sparklers… what are we missing? How about fountains? I remember those tall cardboard tubes packed with mysterious chemicals that would shoot out sparks when lit. We can recreate that effect in our garden with the large ornamental grasses.

Calamagrostis brachytricha - Feather Reed Grass_LAH_0439 There are so many grasses to choose from! You could try the Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) at left, or perhaps some Fountain Grass (Pennisetum sp.) If you want more color, Fountain Grass also comes in shades of pink to maroon. As their names imply, Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), shown at the top of the page, and Blue Fescue (Festuca ovine) have distinct silver-blue tints to their foliage.

Grasses vary in hardiness according to their species. All the plants mentioned here are hardy to at least zone 5, with one exception—sadly, the beautiful red Fountain Grasses can’t take freezing. All these grasses tend to be somewhat drought tolerant, and prefer full sun. The dried flower heads provide winter interest. Then cut them to the ground in early March to make room for spring’s new growth.

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