What’s Blooming Now: Golden Summer, Rain or Shine
What do Golden Rain Tree, Cone Flower, and Thyme have in common? They can all bring lovely golden colors to your landscape. Learn more about the virtues of these three plants and why you may find them to be the perfect addition in your garden.
July 30, 2019
Golden blooms for golden days.
With all the rain this July, you might be wondering if the golden days of Seattle summers will ever arrive! Never fear, regardless of the weather, these summer blooms will brighten up your day with striking hues of gold and unexpected attributes lasting through the season, rain or shine.
Golden Rain Tree
Somewhat unusual in our area, the golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) is increasing in popularity due to its attractive leaves and extreme hardiness to compaction, pollution, and other urban conditions. Introduced as a street tree for narrow parking strips in the last few years, the large panicles of tiny, bright yellow blossoms may catch your eye as you walk by. Get a little closer and you will notice a mild, sweet fragrance and the buzzing of happy bees as they collect nectar. A great resource for insect pollinators and an attractive street tree, Koelreuteria boasts both hardiness and beauty.
The leaves of this versatile specimen are also eye-catching. Emerging a pale bronze color in spring and aging to deep green in summer, the leaves are made up of many small leaflets that grow in pairs along gracefully arching stems. Each leaflet has a finely textured edge that creates gorgeous dappled shade and casts mesmerizing shadows. The habit of this tree is unique, too. While they may appear a bit lop-sided and awkward as young trees, the mature habit is graceful and irregular, with only a few large branches creating an open, domed canopy. The combination of long, graceful leaves made up of many smaller leaflets and a high rounded canopy make Koelreuteria an excellent shade tree, perfect for lawns or patios. As a bonus, the tree gets its common name from the phenomena created when the yellow petals begin to fall, creating the appearance of “golden rain” carpeting the ground below.
Typically in bloom throughout July, the flowers are not long-lasting but do give way to surprisingly shaped seed pods that develop through August and mature in autumn. Growing in hanging clusters, the seedpods become large, inflated bladders that turn golden yellow in September and age to golden brown throughout the autumn. Another common name for Koelreuteria is “Chinese Lantern Tree” due to the appearance of the festive seedpods that hang from its branches in fall. Plant in full sun as a street tree in narrow parking strips, or as a specimen to shade patios, lawns, and walkways. Koelreuteria is extremely adaptable to tough soil and climate conditions but will not flower well in shade.
While you might think cone flowers (Echinacea purpurea) are too similar to the common oxeye daisy to be an interesting garden plant, these flowering perennials come in a range of bright colors and offer some unexpected benefits that set them apart from familiar weedy daisies. Native to prairies in the eastern and mid-western United States, Echinacea is hardy and well-adapted to drought conditions and competition with grasses and other perennials. Often in flower from June through September, Echinacea has an exceptionally long bloom time that provides excellent forage for bees and butterflies throughout the summer.
A perennial, the whole plant dies back in winter, and remerges in spring with low clusters of leaves, followed by tall stems topped with flat green discs that resemble sea urchins. The flower buds expand quickly, developing into spiny yellow centers, 1-2” tall and round, surrounded by long, overlapping petals arrayed around the central “cone”. While the species usually presents as pale fuchsia, occasionally blooming white, modern horticulturalists have created cultivars spanning an incredible range of colors and textures. Widely available in retail nurseries, we love to use cultivars like ‘White Swan’, ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ to bring radiant color to containers, sunny border gardens, and wildflower meadows.
In addition to the range of colors available, double bloom hybrids with names like ‘Vanilla Cupcake’ and ‘Double Scoop Raspberry’ bring additional interest to the garden and break with the traditional daisy-like form. But Echinacea doesn’t just provide a beautiful flower, the whole plant is also thought to have medicinal qualities. Added to teas, tinctures, and homeopathic remedies, Echinacea is often used to treat colds and respiratory infections and is thought to be generally beneficial for the immune system. Thought to improve white blood cell count and cell resilience to infection, it is can also be used as a mild antibiotic. Not only beneficial to human health and a favorite of important insect pollinators, the seeds contained in leftover flower cones also provide vital food for goldfinches and other wildlife if left standing through the winter.
Typically considered a culinary herb today, thyme has a long history of symbolism and medicinal uses. As a key ingredient in ancient Egyptian embalming methods, an important symbol of bravery and resilience in ancient Rome, and a popular topical treatment for black plague in the middle ages, thyme has been a staple herb in human society throughout recorded history. While we still love to cook with thyme today, historical uses were not without merit — thyme contains an antiseptic compound known as thymol that is used in mouthwash and hand sanitizer. We love to plant thyme because it is hardy, fragrant, evergreen and edible! A very versatile plant, thyme ranges from woody varieties that grow into small shrubs to ground-hugging varieties that grow only 2” above the ground.
A great addition to raised beds, as a groundcover among veggies and other herbs, or as a filler between stepping stones, patios and the edges of walkways, thyme is hardy enough to suppress weeds but not so aggressive that it will take over your garden. We love the golden cultivar of lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorous ‘Aureus’) because it provides a bright pop of golden chartreuse color accented by small lavender to pink flower clusters that bloom throughout the summer. The lemony scent and sharp flavor of golden lemon thyme also makes it a great addition to areas where it can be easily trimmed for use in the kitchen or may get lightly crushed underfoot near a walkway. Not only beautiful, fragrant and hardy – lemon thyme is also great at suppressing weeds! Plant in sunny areas with bare ground where a robust groundcover is needed and water regularly to establish wide roots. Once established, lemon thyme is drought tolerant.