A Few Flowering Perennials for the June Garden

Between the two raspberry beds in Marjorie’s Garden, an old stump slowly rots.  It began rotting in this place long before the day 12 years ago when I first came to this garden.  Some portion of it will likely be there 12 years hence, if mostly underground.  Over the years, soil slowly sifted into the stump’s hollow center where fruiting raspberry suckers now grow.  In the shade of these raspberry canes, moss clings to what is left of the old stump’s wood and ferns grow along the border where decaying wood meets soil.

Cerastium tomentosum, snow-in-summer, is one of those white-flowering plants that seem to store sunlight in their petals, then release it at twilight. The flowers glow in the gloaming.

The shade ends within a foot or so of the old stump and there, many years ago, Marjorie transplanted a few Cerastium tomentosum, snow-in-summer, and now there is a colony of this herbaceous perennial covering the ground between the raspberry beds.  Through June, the six-inch-tall carpet gray-green tomentose foliage is covered with bright white flowers, each with five notched petals.

I was in this section of the garden this past week, working until twilight.  As the sun dropped behind the distant spruce trees, the snow-in-summer flowers glowed, returning the captured sunlight of afternoon.  Small solitary bees and hoverflies foraged the flowers as they swayed in the breeze while darkness settled over the rest of the garden.

Native to Europe and western Asia, non-invasive, and hardy in USDA Zones 3-7, C. tomentosum is a perfect groundcover for full sun sights where the soil is dry and rocky.  Deer and rabbits leave it alone.  It’s only bane is soggy soil and it is bound to die out in areas with poor drainage.

Colonies of snow-in-summer gradually increase in size by vegetative runners and self-sown seed.  When a colony starts to exceed its boundaries, the plants can be easily dug and divided in spring or fall.  To prevent self-sowing of seed, remove the spent flower stems by shearing or mowing.

Cultivar selection in C. tomentosum has been directed at reducing plant height, enhancing foliage color, and improving foliage color.  ‘Silver Carpet’, for example, has frosty white foliage, a compact habit, and less aggressive growth.  ‘Columnae’ is similar but with lower, four-inch mounds of foliage.  ‘Yoyo’ is also more compact and less aggressive.

Many gardeners are taking advantage of snow-in-summer’s aggressive growth habit and using it as a replacement for turf grass.  It has the necessary stress resistance and is tolerant of light foot traffic.

Meadow rue’s tall clusters of petalless flowers with many stamens resemble balls of pink fluff.

For much of June, the most conspicuous plant in our island perennial bed has been meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegifolium). The species name refers to foliage that resembles that of columbines (Aquilegia sp.).  Meadow rue’s tall clusters of petalless male flowers resemble balls of pink fluff, the color coming from the stamens.  Female flowers are far less showy.

The absence of petals does not deter pollinators from at least visiting this plant.  While watering a nearby plant in the same bed, I came face to face with a sphinx moth and was able to watch it as it foraged over the meadow rue’s ball of stamens.

Meadow rue is typically not bothered by deer.

While I was taking one last look at the day’s work in the vegetable garden, I met this orange-belted bumblebee on the chive blossoms. She was still working hard, taking advantage of the last few minutes of light.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) bloom in June, their balls of pale purple flowers swaying under the weight of bees gathering nectar.  I grow them as much for this ability to attract a host of different pollinators as for their tasty stems.

One of the earliest June-flower perennials in Marjorie’s Garden is the mountain bluet (or mountain coneflower), Centaurea montana. Native to central and southern Europe, it is a stoloniferous clump-forming plant noted for attracting bees and butterflies to its fringed, rich blue flowers, each with a reddish-blue center and black-edged bracts.

   C. montanais easy to grow in a full sun site with well-drained soil.  It is drought

One of the earliest perennials to flower in Marjorie’s Garden is the mountain bluet (or mountain coneflower), Centaurea montana. Native to central and southern Europe, it is a stoloniferous clump-forming plant noted for attracting bees and butterflies.

tolerant.  Over time it will spread to form colonies, particularly in cool northern gardens where it is more robust.

Volunteers in Marjorie’s Garden, johnny-jump-ups (Viola tricolor) add a touch of color to the June perennial bed as well as a mild wintergreen flavor to salads, soups, and desserts.

Finally, let’s not forget the self-sowing volunteer that flowers in June, johnny-jump-ups (Viola tricolor).  They add a touch of color to the perennial bed and vegetable garden, wherever they appear, as well as a mild wintergreen flavor to salads, soups, and desserts.

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About Reeser Manley

I was born in Laramie Wyoming but moved to the southeast at an early age. I was educated through my B.S. in Biology in the Columbus, Georgia area, then crossed the Chattahoochee River to earn my M.S. in Botany at Auburn University. For the next ten years, I worked as Horticultural Manager for the George W. Park Seed Co. in Greenwood, S.C. At 40 years of age, I decided to return to graduate school and in 1994, I earned a Ph.D. in Horticultural Science from Washington State University, Pullman, Washington. Fast forward through 10 years at university (7 at UMaine, Orono) and you find me teaching high school science in Eastport, Maine, the edge of the world, and writing a weekly garden column for the Bangor Daily News. My new book, The New England Gardener's Year, a Month-by-Month Guide for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Upstate New York”, will be published later this year by Cadent Publishing. You can learn more about the book by visiting its Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-New-England-Gardeners-Year/187285218055676.)