George Washington delighted in all the flowers and plants that grew in his gardens. Take a look at some of the remarkable plants and flowers in bloom here in the summer at Mount Vernon.
These plants are North American native wildflowers. Some are annual or biennials while others are dependable perennials. They can reach a height of 3 feet and produce bright yellow flowers from summer into fall.
By 1732, Black-eyed Susan was being cultivated in Britain by James Sherard. The common name may originate from an old English poem by John Gay about ‘Black-eyed Susan’ searching for her sweet William.
A native to central and southeastern United States, this perennial grows three to four feet tall and spreads two feet across. Many Native American tribes used it medicinally, as a painkiller, as dressing for burns and to treat coughs and sore throats.
It was first sent to Europe by Reverend John Banister in 1678.
Their long lasting flowers brighten the summer garden and provide seed for the birds in the fall.
This herbaceous perennial is native to eastern Asia.
The plants are two to three feet tall and produce a long succession of striking orange flowers starting in July and continuing until September. After flowering, it will set seed pods that open to display black seed clusters reminiscent of blackberries, hence the common name, though the seeds are not edible.
Jesuit missionaries in China sent seeds to Europe in the 1730’s and it was growing in English gardens by 1759.
This herbaceous perennial is native to East Asia. It grows 2’ tall and 1’ wide. The flower buds open in succession for many weeks. They produce blue or sometimes white flowers, with balloon-shaped flower buds that open up to wide bell or star shaped flowers. In the fall, the foliage of the balloon flower turns a beautiful shade of gold. The name Platycodon comes from two Greek words, Platys (broad) and Kodon (bell) referring to the shape of the opened flower.
This perennial is native to North America. It grows 2-3’ tall and wide and produces bright orange flowers in early summer. It is toxic to both humans and animals but not to monarch butterflies. Their larva can eat the leaves, accumulate those toxins in their bodies, and use it as protection from its predators. Despite its toxicity, both the Native Americans and the early settlers used this plant as medicine. Its tough root was used as a cure for pleurisy and other pulmonary ailments.
Four o’clocks are native to South America. This annual grows 2 to 3’ tall and wide. It produces trumpet-shaped flowers starting in June and will bloom until frost. They were given the common name “Four O’Clocks” because the flowers open in late afternoon.
The Spaniards introduced these plants to Europe in 1596. Thomas Jefferson grew these plants in Monticello, and in 1767 he noted, "Mirabilis just opened, very clever."
Love-lies-bleeding originated in the Andes of South America. This annual grows 2 to 3’ tall. It begins to flower in the summer and continues until frost. Its name comes from the long, tassel-like, panicles of red flowers hanging straight down from the plant. These tassels can get 2’ long. The high-protein seeds are used as a grain in many areas of the world.
It was introduced to Europe in 1596 and grown as an ornamental in gardens by the 1700’s.
This evergreen shrub is believed to be native to an area from the Mediterranean through to Asia. Oleanders grow 6 to 12 feet tall and wide.
It is a subtropical shrub that produces fragrant flowers from spring until fall. In our area, it needs to winter over indoors. In February of 1792, General Moultrie of South Carolina, a soldier-in-arms from the American Revolution, sent two oleanders to General Washington.
Joseph’s coat is native to South America. It grows 2 to 4 feet tall.
This hardy annual has vibrant red, yellow, and green foliage that provide a tropical effect to the garden. The flowers are very small and inconspicuous compared to the foliage. In 1786, when Thomas Jefferson was ambassador to France, Joseph’s Coat seeds were included in a shipment to his brother-in-law, Francis Eppes, in Virginia.
Hollyhocks are native to China. They are biennial or short-lived perennials about 4 to 8 feet tall. Flowers are produced from the center stem and the plant flowers throughout the summer. Hollyhocks are often referred to as an old cottage garden plant. Their roots were used medicinally and the stems’ tough fiber was used for making both paper and cloth; the flower petals were used as dyes.
The Black Hollyhock was described as early as 1629 by John Parkinson, as being 'of a darke red like black blood'.
False sunflowers are native to North America. This herbaceous plant grows upright and gets 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Its yellow flowers begin to bloom in mid to late June and blooming can be extended by removing spent flowers. The nectar of the false sunflowers attracts butterflies and other pollinators and birds use the seed as a food source. The genus Heliopsis is two words in Greek, helios meaning sun and opsis meaning appearance.