A surprise success this summer has been the gaillardias, sown in spring. I was pretty sure they were supposed to be yellow, which is part of the surprise since every plant has red flowers. But the real surprise has been that they have grown. They were some of the last plants put in the ground, in rather awkward places that needed filling and, as a consequence, did not get much water after planting and none during the hot, dry weather. I am not usually cruel to my plants and I did feel guilty that these poor youngsters looked so awful at first. But they managed to extract some moisture from the seemingly dust dry soil, and actually increased in size. Although it looked as though they were putting all their efforts into growth above ground they must have been growing just as fast below ground because those roots must have been searching out water. The result is that they have knitted together and are producing lots of flowers.
Gaillardias are often called blanket flowers and I am not sure if this is because: the flower patterns, in yellow and red, resemble the patterns that feature in the weaving of Native American people, who live where these plants flower; or because the flowers ‘blanket’ great areas of land when in bloom or because of the fluffy centre to the ‘flowers’. There are many species and I think these are G. pulchella which is an annual. But the annuals can overwinter in well drained soil and the perennials can die in wet soils and are not longlived anyway. The annuals are often sold as doubles, which have pompon flowers in fiery shades but I like the singles far more.
Plant breeders have recognised the merits of these plants and there are lots of cultivars, often with tubular ray florets and most of compact habit. I think mine must be ‘Arizona Red Shades’ and they are rather loose and airy in habit, compared to the more usual dwarfed kinds, and much the better for that. Even when the ray florets wither, and the ‘flower is dead’ the central disc remains fluffy and attractive.
The species itself has a wide natural range from Nebraska in the north, west to Colorado and Arizona and south into Texas and Mexico. Gaillardia aristata is similar but perennial and G. x grandiflora is a hybrid of the two. I think the names are confused in cultivation.
While so many plants have been looking so awful in the heat, the fact that these actually established and grew is mightily impressive and the butterflies are very grateful. I have a real respect for these pretty plants.
Other plants are battling on but not as impressive as they should be. Amaranthus ‘Hot Biscuits’ is only half the height it should be, but is probably a better companion to this short kniphofia for that.
And the eucomis mentioned last week have finally bloomed. I popped in some pony tail grass around them this spring for contrast and they do soften the impact a little and help them fit into the planting.