Georgia Department of Agriculture

Summer Soldiers

     Thomas Paine wrote many stirring words in support of American independence. In December 1776 he penned the famous lines: These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
    
Paine was a student of human nature and knew that many people support a cause in good times but when the going gets tough, fair-weather supporters fall by the wayside.
     I was thinking about those words this Independence Day. It is impossible to read them without remembering George Washington and his troops freezing at Valley Forge. With the days leading up to July 4th this year bringing us some of the highest temperatures ever recorded in the state, Paine’s words also made me think of our soldiers suffering in the temperature extremes of deserts overseas.
     In Georgia it is often heat and the blaring summer sun, rather than winter’s cold, that are the limiting, discouraging factors in our lives and in our gardens. It certainly has been the case this year. The heat brought me down after I did not follow my own advice about drinking plenty of water when I was outside for an extended period. Even though I wilted and retreated to my sickbed with a cold cloth on my forehead, my garden did not fail. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the flowers in it and other gardens in the neighborhood battled the heat. Many were true warriors; “summer soldiers” in a positive sense.
     One of the best performers in my summer garden this year is our native gaillardia (Gaillardia pulchella). Its red and yellow boldly patterned flowers give it the common names “Indian blanket” and “firewheel.” No pyrotechnic display is brighter.
     Clasping heliotrope (Heliotropium amplexicaule) is neither showy nor bold with its lavender flowers that smell faintly and refreshingly of grapefruit. It is, however, tough as nails and blooms all summer. It even thrives in the sidewalk planting strip, spilling over and blooming into the street. Clasping heliotrope is also known as “trailing heliotrope” and “summer heliotrope.” The Athens Select™ program of the University of Georgia has one selection of clasping heliotrope they have named ‘Azure Skies’ you may find at nurseries and garden centers. I hope that their promotional activities will help this durable and versatile perennial find its way into more gardens.
     There should have been no doubt that a Texas native such as anisacanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) could stand up to the heat. It bloomed its head off through the hottest days fanned only by the wings of the numerous hummingbirds that came to visit it.
     Sunflowers, tithonia, cuphea, lantana, calibrachoa, butterflyweed, zinnias and portulaca also kept my garden and neighborhood fiesta bright during the heat wave, as did numerous flowering woody plants including crepe myrtle, dwarf pomegranate, abelia and althea. No shrinking violets, these!
     While proper planting and mulching are important to helping plants survive heat and drought, selecting the right plant is even more important. Visit Georgia gardens and see how the plants have held up to this summer’s heat wave. Talk with horticulturists at garden centers and nurseries, many of which now have display gardens so you can see their offerings in a landscape setting. It doesn’t take much time or energy to make a few observations and take some notes. Come next summer you’ll be thankful you did.

 

                                                                                                                     -- Arty Schronce

Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He and the Georgia Department of Agriculture encourage all Georgians to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.

 

 

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