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Saugus Gardens in the Summer

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Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable


By Laura Eisener


Mary Kinsell has flowers everyone can look up to in the Cliftondale neighborhood this summer. One of the most charming annual flowers for bouquets is tithonia, also known as Mexican sunflower or tree marigold (Tithonia rotundifolia). It can grow as tall as 8 feet, and while yellow and nearly red petals do occur on some species, most tithonias grown in the United States are orange, a variety known as ‘Torch,’ which has been planted in gardens for about 70 years. Like actual sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) and marigolds (Tagetes spp.), they are members of the large composite or aster family (Asteraceae), whose members often have daisy-like flower heads.

Mary, an enthusiastic gardener and very active in Saugus Action Volunteers for the Environment (SAVE), said she enjoys the “Saugus Gardens” column in the Advocate every week and wanted to share a photo of the crazy tithonia flowers she started from seed this year. “I had no idea they would get so tall!” she said, as they are towering over the surrounding zinnias. “The resulting effect is not what I planned but it is eye-catching!” One of the things that keep gardening interesting is that you can never be entirely sure how things will turn out. Mary has been gardening here for about 35 years, but this is the first time she has grown tithonia.

Another charming floral display can be seen just a few streets away at Angelo’s Oil on Lincoln Avenue. Owner Dina Marchetti says they plant an assortment of new flowers around the station every year. This year the pink mandevilla (Mandevilla sanderi) has grown up the wires and is making quite a show for anyone filling up their tank! Those driving up Lincoln Avenue will surely notice the mandevilla, sweet potato vine, marigolds and petunias in bloom near the telephone pole. Quite a few other flowers are blooming in containers elsewhere on the property and can be appreciated by anyone taking a leisurely stroll. Mandevilla is a tender twining vine and cannot survive our winters but does grow tall and bloom profusely in containers and gardens most of the summer. Originally from tropical parts of the Americas, the flowers may be pink, as in this garden, white or red. It is also known as Brazilian jasmine for its fragrant flowers, or rocktrumpet for its ability to grow in mountainous terrain and the trumpet shapes of the flowers. The gardeners at Angelo’s use annual flowers which continue blooming into fall, but which need to be replaced each year because they will not survive our winter climate. Also conspicuous in the front planting is another vine, sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), which is grown more for its colorful foliage than its flowers – the variety in the telephone pole garden has chartreuse foliage. While closely related to morning glory, this species is best known for its sweet edible tubers, and certain varieties for decorative foliage.

The cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is the only perennial being featured this week – unlike the annuals, this plant will return year after year. While it does not begin to bloom until the end of July, it will likely continue through the end of August. It is a native plant that may be found wild in the woods, but I planted a few in my Lynnhurst backyard which have now self-sowed to make a small meadow. They are especially appreciated by the ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), which count these red blossoms among their favorites.

If you walk up Main Street, you may see a white flowering vine climbing the front porch at number 30, the home of Saugus Historical Society and Saugus Cable Television. An accidental addition to the garden is a climbing plant some might call a weed, but others have admired, with snowy white trumpet-shaped blossoms. Three closely related species, difficult to distinguish, have naturalized here. This one is probably giant bindweed (Calystegia sylvatica), which is sometimes known as heavenly trumpets, bellbind or the more fanciful granny-pop-out-of-bed, old man’s nightcap or devil’s guts. It is sometimes also confused with other vines in the same family, such as morning glory (Conolvulus spp. and Ipomoea spp.).


  Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.


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