Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
July, 2007
Regional Report

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This vibrant red salpiglossis is but one of the wonderful jewel-toned selections.

Annuals I Can't Live Without

Every year in middle of crazed May planting I vow to plant fewer annuals the next year and cut down on the number of pots on the patio and deck, so I can "kick back" a little more in early summer. That's an impossible promise, I know, but I still make it. But the next year there are always some new annuals to swoon over and with every trip to a greenhouse my resolve weakens. Truth be told, I love being surrounded by dozens and dozens of annuals, all waiting to be moved about and combined in different ways to take best advantage of their flowers and foliage, until they are finally assigned their places in containers or borders.

Some annuals come and go at my house; I've grown bored with impatiens and petunias and geraniums. But I have some old favorites that I've been planting for years and some new-ish ones that have proved themselves worthy. Here's what on the top of my list. (All are in sunny spots.)

Salpiglossis. With velvety petals in jewel-toned colors of deep purple, wine red, yellow, mahogany, among others, the flowers are borne on 1- to 2-foot stems. They are very floriferous and grow best for me in containers. The only drawback is the flowers become spotted by heavy rain, but I just pinch them off and there are plenty more to come. They are easy to start from seed.

Lisianthus. Also called Eustoma, these are sometimes likened to rose flowers with more of a chalice shape. There are several different blues, red, pink, white, and a stunning blue with a white picotee edge. I tried growing them from seed years ago and gave up because they are verrrry slow, so fortunately there's a local nursery that carries them now. You can also purchase seedlings by mail order. They grow about 18 inches to 2 feet tall and are quite upright and nonspreading. They hold up very well in a vase.

Snapdragons. I've loved these flowers since I was little and used to make them "snap" in my mother's garden. The tall white snaps look so regal no matter what they are paired with. And they reseed so I get some volunteers every year. A couple of years ago I discovered two wonderful varieties: 'Double Azalea Apricot', and 'Double Azalea Pink'. Knockout double flowers and non-stop blooming keep them on the top of my list.

Zinnias. For cutting, it's hard to beat zinnias. The chartreuse 'Envy' looks great with most any color. They are easy to grow from seed sown in the ground. I scatter seed in a bed and then move some of them around to fill in any blank spots.

Coleus. Now officially in the genus Solenostemon, coleus can add punch to any grouping of plants, and some of them grow large enough to be specimen plants by themselves, such as 'Alabama Sunset' and 'Sedona'. I like to combine varieties that have different leaf shapes yet similar colors.

Penstemon. Some are perennials and some are not reliably hardy here, but they are worth growing regardless. Their 2-foot-tall spikes are covered with tubular flowers that please the hummingbirds and bumblebees, the latter totally disappearing inside the flowers they visit. 'Apple Blossom' is white with shell pink edging that I like to keep in planters on my deck because they practically glow in the dark when we're sitting outside at night.

Plectranthus. With its attractive, scalloped foliage that's green with white margins, Plectranthus coleoides 'Variegata' makes a worthy filler plant in a container or in the garden. It grows about a foot tall and half again as wide. It's a Proven Winners selection so it's widely available.

Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost'. Another Proven Winners selection, this is a very different look for a Euphorbia. I first saw one in a large container by itself and it was lovely with masses of tiny, white flowers that create a baby's breath effect. I like it in a mixed planter where it makes a nice contrast with larger-leaved plants. It grows about 18 inches tall and a foot wide and blooms nonstop.

Fortunately, there's lots of summer left to enjoy all our favorite annuals, and with regular deadheading and fertilizing, they will grow exuberantly.

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