In the Pink at Summer’s Peak

This time of year, many gardens in my region can look a little tired. Still, if you look hard enough, there are bright spots of color to be found. And, interestingly enough, at least three that come to mind are various shades of pink. Last week I wrote about one of them, the lotus flower. This week’s examples are slightly less ethereal but no less useful (and perhaps more commonly found) in residential gardens: Hibiscus and Joe Pye weed.

I first became entranced with the intense color of pink hibiscus right after acquiring my Nikon macro lens (AF-S Micro Nikkor 105 mm/f 2.8) several years ago. On one of my first outings with it, on a hot early August crack-of-dawn trip to Brookside Gardens, I captured this photo.

Hibiscus flower, Brookside Gardens

Hibiscus 'Copper King'? Whatever the name of this hibiscus cultivar, it's gorgeous.

Meet Hibiscus moscheutos, or swamp mallow. The intensity of the flower’s hot pink eye, combined with the pink and white petals and the dark green leaves, was a revelation to me. The blooms, which are quite large, last only for a day, but the shrub (which is what it is, not a perennial), can grow to sizable proportions in the right site. Since then, I have used Hibiscus ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Copper King’ in clients’ gardens where late-summer color is called for. (‘Caroline’ is all pink; check out red ‘Lord Baltimore,’ as well). ‘Copper King,’ which I’ve planted on streambanks of a Bethesda client’s garden, may be the same as the variety pictured above. These plants like moist sunny sites and some of its varieties are hardy as far north as Ontario. Cut them down to about a foot high when you’re putting your garden to bed for the winter and they will come back strong again the following year.

Another late-summer favorite is Eupatorium purpureum, or Joe Pye weed. For years, this American native was neglected in our landscapes, although Europeans discovered it and prized it highly. It will grow in either sun or filtered shade (and flower in both), although it prefers sun (and also, like the hibiscus, moist sites). In August its broad flower heads open up, their scent attracting bees and butterflies.

Eupatorium 'Gateway'

Joe Pye weed in bloom in August

Combine it with a bright stand of Rudbeckia for a nice effect in your late-summer perennial border.

Eupatorum, rudbeckia, Green Springs Garden

Eupatorium and Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm', a tried-and-true combination, at Green Springs Garden in Virginia.

I’ve also seen it grown in a median strip with purple coneflowers, doing remarkably well with no supplemental water.

Eupatorium and coneflowers sandwiched between a sidewalk and the curb in Washington DC

There are many, many more terrific late summer plants, including other pink choices: reblooming roses, Rose of Sharon varieties, dahlias, the coneflowers shown just above, phlox, and even late-summer poppies. I’ll leave it to my readers to suggest others, but for now I will stop with these imposing additions to the garden. Hope you are all “in the pink” as summer peaks this month!

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7 Comments on “In the Pink at Summer’s Peak”

  1. Jean Says:

    Melissa, I long to have Joe Pye Weed in my garden, and I plan to make a space for it when I create new front gardens. At Butchart Gardens in British Columbia, they have Joe Pye Weed growing with a very tall goldrenrod, and the combination is stunning.

    • Melissa Says:

      The color combination will be like the Rudbeckias but the solidago will be taller – I’m sure it’s a knockout. I saw more Joe Pye Friday afternoon when I was visiting the Morris Aboretum briefly – planted in front of a stand of some kind of gold-tipped conifer. Yellow and strong pink are a great combination!


  2. Melissa, What a beautiful Hibiscus… I keep meaning to plant these again … not so hardy here but worth the effort anyway as you photo clearly shows. I do have and love the Joe Pye weed… it has that great height and butterflies and bees love it too.

    • Melissa Says:

      Carol, thanks for making that point about the butterflies and bees loving Joe Pye weed. I often see Monarchs on the Eupatorium in my client’s garden and anything that attracts bees is another winner in my book.

  3. Edith Hope Says:

    Dear Melissa, I do think that the Eupatorium is a wonderful and often underrated plant. For me it works best in a semi-wild situation where it can roam freely and create plumes of purple frothiness. However, not for me a combination with bright yellow…..I much prefer it with either deeper plum shades or with lilac/ dusky pink hues.

    • Melissa Says:

      Edith, I would love to see the Eupatorium planted with something in those shades, especially the lilac. I am trying to remember if there are late-blooming purple salvias, agastaches or something similar (tallish) here. What would you suggest?

  4. John Says:

    Melissa, that’s a great shot of the Hibiscus flower detail. The image is arresting. I’ve never been fond of the overall plant. They always seem out of scale to me, like someone couldn’t get the proportions between flower and plant right. On the other hand I’m very fond of Joe Pye Weed now. My son grows some beautiful giants up on Boston, and while ours are not that big we do enjoy them here too.


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