Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
February, 2012
Regional Report

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Whether familiar or unusual, plant annuals flowers in your garden for the great color they add.

Make It a Colorful Year

As you dream about and plan your garden this year, no doubt there are many ways to make the garden beautiful, but few things give your garden more impact that including lots of color. And there's no better way to add color to the garden than with annuals. Yes, you have to plant them every year, but for anyone who has grown perennials, you know that they're quite a bit of work, too. And no perennial can compete with the long period of bloom of many annuals.

Adding annuals to the garden generates a certain sense of adventure. It's as if I've been given a new box of crayons or watercolors. What kind of landscape can I "paint" this year? Will it be delicate pastels or bright and bold? Do I want something that hugs the ground or clambers up a trellis? How about attracting hummingbirds or butterflies? Something tall and lacy or graceful and compact? Sun or shade? Clay soil or sand? For pots, whole beds, or filling in gaps? There's an annual for just about any situation or preference.

Of course, we most often turn to the tried-and-true, the petunias, fibrous begonias, marigolds, or impatiens, and with good reason. They're widely available and adaptable. I'm no garden snob when it comes to annuals, and I turn to these with frequency. Still, I know that there are a lot more possibilities, especially when you include what are also known as tender perennials among the choices. Every year, garden centers are offering more and more of these lesser-known plants; plus, garden catalogs offer seeds for starting now.

When recently sorting through some magazines, I came across an article by a Belgian annuals specialist in the January 2011 edition of the British magazineGardens Illustrated. A portion of the article was devoted to a list of ten of the best long-flowering annuals. Some of these were familiar to me, but others were not. With a little research, I learned that they're not limited to the climates of Britain or Europe and that I should be able to find them locally this spring. Perhaps some of these will intrigue and inspire you this winter as you dream of gardens filled with colorful flowers.

Ten Long-Flowering Annual Flowers
Ageratum houstonianum -- Floss Flower. This familiar, old-fashioned flower is well-loved for its use as a low-growing edging plant. Allan Armitage writes about seeing it effectively used lining stone steps. Besides the commonly seen lavender flowers, there are also varieties with blue, rose, pink, or white flowers. In addition, there are taller-growing varieties, such as 'Blue Horizon', that make excellent cut flowers.

Anagallis monellii -- Blue Pimpernel. Bright, gentian-blue flowers to 1-inch across with a bright pink eye are the calling card of this Mediterranean native that grows to 10 inches tall and 20 inches across. Although it thrives with little water once established, it grows best in areas with cooler summers. Try it in containers or hanging baskets.

Cuphea llavea -- Bat-Face Cuphea. I first met the genus Cuphea as the houseplant known as Mexican heather, Cuphea hyssopifolia. More recently, this cuphea has become widely available sold as an annual, especially for containers. There are a number of other members of the Cupheagenus that make great garden plants, with bat-face cuphea among the most interesting. It produces masses of 1-inch, purple-and-red flowers that attract hummingbirds. Native to Mexico, it thrives in heat and is drought tolerant.

Rhodochiton atrosanguineus -- Purple Bell Vine. Wanting a change from morning glories? Purple bell vine offers strange, dark-purple blooms dangling from an umbrella-shaped calyx in bright fuchsia, which remains after the center fades and falls. Plants grow rapidly to 7 feet, with heart-shaped leaves

Salvia -- Sage. With hundreds of species, selections, and hybrids, sages can become an obsession. Of the annual sages, the most familiar is scarlet sage, but there are a great many other options of either true annuals or tender perennials. Among the options, look for Salvia coccinea 'Lady in Red', Salvia viridis var. comata, or Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue'.

Zinnia angustifolia -- Creeping Zinnia. Zinnia is best known as a cut flower, but the creeping zinnia is a great choice as a brightly colored, low-growing plant, reaching 6 to 12 inches tall and wide in shades of orange, gold, or white. Drought tolerant, creeping zinnia is great in containers or trailing over low walls.

Mecardonia hybrid -- GoldDust™. With excellent heat tolerance, GoldDust™ is covered with yellow nemesia-like flowers above small green leaves. A ground-hugging plant, GoldDust™ will spread to 18 inches and can be used as a trailing plant or spilling over the edges of containers.

Nemesia Sunsatia Series -- Sunsatia Nemesia. The showy, multicolored flowers of this nemesia series set it apart. Very cold tolerant, use it in the garden for spring or fall color, similar to the way we use pansies. Some varieties have a trailing habit, while others are more upright. These upright varieties are more heat tolerant.

Scaevola aemula - Blue Fan Flower. This Australian native may be familiar to you for its popular use in hanging baskets. Able to survive heat and drought, blue fan flower grows about a foot tall with a trailing growth habit. Look for the variety 'New Wonder'.

Torenia Summer Wave® Blue--Summer Wave® Blue Wishbone Flower. Popular for hanging baskets, window boxes, and containers, the low trailing growth of wishbone flower can also be used in beds and borders. The Summer Wave®series thrives in high humidity and is heat and drought tolerant. Grow in filtered sun.

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