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Meet two heroes of the plant world

Limelight hydrangea gets its name from the color of the bloom, which is white with a greenish tint.
Limelight hydrangea gets its name from the color of the bloom, which is white with a greenish tint. Proven Winners photo

Some real plant heroes emerged this summer in Piedmont landscapes, despite the heat.

The Natchez crape myrtles bloomed well and looked great for months. So did the various lantanas that brighten every sunny spot where they’re planted. But I think most of you know them pretty well.

Two others that showed stellar performance this summer in spite of it all are less well known and should be planted more often.

One is big, one is small. One is a permanent piece of the landscape, the second, a bedding plant for the warm months.

The big one is Limelight hydrangea, the small one is angelonia. What do they have in common? Stellar performance with excellent blooms through a very hot summer. Limelight, suited for light shade to full sun, has not been around long enough to gain the following of other garden hydrangeas.

It is not sold in full bloom with a ribbon and bow, the pot wrapped in pretty paper, as are the mop-head hydrangeas offered for Mother’s Day in May. Limelight is easy to overlook in spring because the flowers are still tiny buds.

But, come early summer, when those buds open into large blooms of white tinged with green, they are spectacular and long-lasting, fading somewhat in late summer, but still very attractive. The effect all summer is quite cooling.

This is not a plant for a tight corner or a small space. Given room, it can hit 8 feet or more in height and width. That’s pretty big for a shrub, but it is worth every inch. The blooms give a cooling effect that is hard to beat.

My second new hero is a little plant called angelonia. Sold widely as a bedding plant in spring, angelonia possesses a toughness you would not expect from such a delicately lovely annual. Color choices include blue, pink, mauve or white and plants rise to about 18 inches.

Often called summer snapdragons, angelonias bloom abundantly. I have been watching a bed of them all summer in a very hot and sunny spot. They look delicate but are actually quite tough. As a bonus, they do not require deadheading to keep blooming, though some gardeners might cut them back at midsummer to encourage fresh growth and bloom through the autumn. They require far less attention than marigolds and zinnias that need deadheading and possess a more elegant look.

They will take light shade, tolerate some drought once established and thrive in well-drained soil enriched with compost. They are not, however, permanent residents of a flower bed. Native of tropical and semi-tropical areas of the Americas, they will not survive freezing weather, but you will get your money’s worth during their long season of lovely bloom

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I have not started my fall vegetable garden yet. Is it too late?

A. Plenty of plants are in stores now. Try to get them in as soon as possible and keep them watered to encourage root development and good growth through the fall.