This first week of July is a cherished time for all of us, when we celebrate our independence from those scoundrels in England, consume mass quantities of barbecue and beer, and enjoy hilarious videos of idiots blowing their brains out by setting off fireworks from atop their heads, thus purifying the gene pool. In between, it is still prime time to garden. Give these summer sizzlers a try.
Sizzler #1 -- 'Lime Sizzler' Firebush (above) Don't stare too long at this new introduction to our Southern Living Plant Collection or you could sear your corneas. "Lime Sizzler' combines screaming yellow and green variegated foliage with tubular, reddish-orange flowers appearing spring through fall that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Firebush (Hamelia patens) grows 4 to 5 feet tall and wide and likes full sun and moist, well-drained soil. It's only winter-hardy to USDA Zone 9, so Grumpy suggests growing it in a container you can bring inside to a window in winter.
Sizzler #2 -- Gas Plant
It's hard to love a flower named gas plant (Dictamnus albus), until you discover what you can do with it. This old-fashioned, long-lived perennial grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Showy spires of pink or purple flowers appear atop the lemon-scented foliage in summer. On warm, sultry nights, volatile oils emitted by immature seed pods may ignite if you hold a lit match under the blooms. How cool is that? Put away the Beano.
Sizzler #3 -- Begonia 'Bonfire'
Normally, tuberous begonias fry like green tomatoes here in the South, but this selection of Begonia boliviensis takes more heat and humidity. Still, while it'll take sun and bloom continuously all summer in USDA Zones 4 to 7, in Zone 8, it needs light shade and may cease blooming during the dog days, resuming in early fall. (I wouldn't try it at all in Zones 9-11.) Cascading stems adorned with incandescent flowers and handsome leaves make it a great choice for hanging baskets, window boxes, and other containers. To save it over winter, bring it inside to a cool, dry place and let it go dormant. It will die down to the tuber, but then start growing again in spring.
Sizzler #4 -- 'Fireworks' Goldenrod
Okay, the first person who bawls, "Goldenrod causes hay fever!" shall be forever exiled from the Golden Hallowed Halls of Grumpiana. Goldenrod does not. It is pollinated by insects, as its pollen is too heavy to travel with the wind and thereafter into your nose. (Ragweed is the guilty party.) 'Fireworks,' a selection of our native roughleaf goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), makes a fine garden plant. It is well-behaved, forms a non-spreading clump about 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, tolerates drought, has no serious pests, isn't fussy about soil, and wants only sun. Sprays of bright yellow blooms like exploding fireworks appear for weeks in summer and make good cut flowers. 'Fireworks' is also a wonderful plant for butterflies.
Sizzler #5 -- 'Inferno' Gerbera Daisy
If you want a flower truly reminiscent of a Roman candle, try 'Inferno' gerbera daisy. The shape, size, and color of the bloom pack one hell of a punch. Plus, here in the South, a Roman candle and a gerbera daisy enjoy roughly the same lifespan. Don't blink or you'll have to plant another!