Have I mentioned that I'm a lazy gardener? I want to do the least amount of work for the most beautiful garden possible … so sue me! I look to annuals for prolific bloom and outstanding summer color both in the ground and in containers. Annuals are beautiful and inexpensive, and they work so darned hard, flowering for months on end. Sometimes I can't bring myself to pull out the summer annuals and plant mums … the annuals look that good.
But good looks alone aren't quite enough to win this gardener's heart. I want a low-maintenance, natural beauty. No blow-drying in front of the mirror or every-other-day deadheading for me. When I go shopping for low-maintenance annuals, these six plants are at the top of my list.
Angelonia. This full-sun annual produces flowers in pink, white, purple or lavender. Bloom spikes are self-branching and each flower pretty much dries up and shrivels into nothing when it's finished, which makes deadheading a ″do it when you feel like it″ task. It gets to be 12-15 inches high and about 8 inches wide. Its upright growth habit is great in a mixed container or the middle of a sunny border.
Scaevola. Also known as blue fan flower, this is another self-deadheading annual. (You're going to notice a pattern here.) Scaevola flowers are shaped like perfect fans, and the most popular color is a cool periwinkle blue. It has a trailing growth habit that can be used as a groundcover or to soften the edge of a container or hanging basket. Sure, you can cut back the stems if they get too long for your liking, but you don't have to. This year I've found a pale, butter-yellow scaevola that complements maroon foliage more perfectly than I could have dreamed.
Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost'. This ethereal cloud of tiny white flowers is a perfect accent plant. It adds poofs of brightness to a mixed border and links contrasting textures and colors, weaving them together into a tapestry of loveliness. It's a full-sun annual but also grows well in part sun. You'll get slightly longer stems and slightly fewer flowers but it's still totally worth growing. Depending on your growing conditions, 'Diamond Frost' may get 12-18 inches tall and about 12 inches wide.
Solonostemon. You probably know this familiar plant as coleus. With variegated foliage that stays colorful throughout the growing season, it doesn't rely on the transient beauty of flowers to light up the garden. Coleus foliage may be large (like the Kong series), small, scalloped, toothed, upright, creeping, swirled, spotted, solid -- basically there's a coleus for every taste. Flowers pale in comparison to the surrounding leaves, so I pinch them off, directing the plant's energy to producing more foliage. Originally considered shade plants, new hybrids are also perfectly happy in full sun.
Browallia. An old-fashioned shade plant, browallia is modest in spring, sporting only a few blooms. But as the season warms up, so does the browallia, filling in and producing lots of flowers in pure, bright white or soft blue. The tubular blooms are just over an inch in diameter, and when they've finished flowering, they close up and drop off, requiring no deadheading. These are the perfect filler for a shady container or the middle of a shady border. Browallia gets to be 15-18 inches tall and about 8 inches wide.
Caladium. Once again I look to foliage for season-long interest. Caladiums are colorful and easy to care for as long as you give them adequate moisture, shade, and protection from harsh winds that might tear their large, delicate leaves. These plants are perennials in their native habitat but aren't winter-hardy where temperatures get below freezing. Leaves come with pink, white, and red variegations, but my favorite is chartreuse with white and red spots. Size varies, depending on the cultivar, but most are between 12-24 inches tall.
So there you have it, three for sun and three for shade. Grow these annuals and you'll have lots of color to admire as you sit back with your feet up sipping a cool beverage. Doesn't that sound like more fun than deadheading?
Ellen Zachos is the owner of Acme Plant Stuff (www.acmeplant.com), a garden design, installation, and maintenance company in NYC specializing in rooftop gardens and indoor plants. She is the author of numerous magazine articles and six books and also blogs at www.downanddirtygardening.com Ellen is a Harvard graduate and an instructor at the New York Botanical Garden; she lectures at garden shows and events across the country.