It must be the week for scarlet since I see that Kimberley, our host for the Thursday Feature, has also featured something equally bright this week from her garden. Her choice is bee balm (Monarda), but the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) also gives a bright punch of red to the late summer garden.
Cardinal flower is a native North American wildflower and its color and flower shape are tailored to attracting hummingbirds. Red is a color for bringing in these small winged pollinators, and one can see how its bee pollinated cousin, great lobelia (L. siphilicata), would have shorter blooms and a more bee-friendly blue coloring. Both are easy in the garden and thrive in a moist, fertile soil in either a sunny or part shade location. If your garden is well suited to these beauties, the blue version has even been known to border on weedy with its self-seeding ways, but to be honest I can’t imagine them being any trouble at all to just remove. Keep in mind though that the summers in my garden can usually fry and dry even some of the hardiest members of the plant kingdom so I might not be the best judge on if a moisture loving plant is weedy!
The straight species of L cardinalis is an excellent flower even straight out of the forest, but over the years hybrids and selections have broadened the range of cardinal flower available to gardeners. Darker foliage is always a popular look, as well as pink and purple hybrids with the great lobelia. They’re all equally easy to grow when given the moisture they need but in my experience the hybrids are no where near as hardy as the straight species(zone 7 versus zone 3). Still I showed no hesitation when I saw this maroon leaved plant for sale this spring. Even as a likely annual it’s worth the money I spent on it… although honestly I expected the flowers to be denser.
I’d love to have a bunch of these scattered throughout the garden but there are only a few spots where I can keep an eye on them often enough to keep them from drying out completely. That’s just me though, if you have a reliably damp spot or even poorly drained spot which kills off many other plants, I would jump on the chance to try out a few cardinal flowers. They may even self-seed and you can imagine the show if that happens.
Give them a try and also give Kimberley a visit to see what other late bloomers are featured this week. It’s the downside of the summer, and a fresh and new bloomer at this time of year is always welcome.