By MARY FRAN McQUADE
Once upon a time, gardens were filled with bright flowering plants that bloomed their pretty heads off all summer long.
Impatiens, tiny fibrous begonias, marigolds, geraniums, snapdragons and more covered garden beds, public and private. Then people caught on to the idea of perennials, and annuals were left behind in the compost pile.
But commercial growers are now introducing new varieties of those pretty flowering annuals, and I think they’re worth a place in your garden. Here’s why:
• Annuals bloom all season long. Perennials tend to have a few weeks of bloom, then they’re done for the year. In a small city garden, it’s hard to have flowers all summer long if you stick to perennials.
• They’re relatively cheap. One ‘Calliope’ geranium (from Loblaw garden centres) can fill a two-foot/60 cm space for $4. Plant a similar grouping of heucheras, at $12 a plant, and you’re talking a lot more money.
• They’re perfect for containers. Little calibrochoas (like mini petunias) spill happily over the edges and you can tuck a tall blue salvia in the middle and stick in some fluffy greenery or other shorties like sweet alyssum. If you want to be daring, use parsley or other herbs and combine use and beauty.
• Best of all – breeders are bringing us a whole bouquet of easy-care annuals.You don’t have to run out and trim them back periodically to keep them from looking tacky. You no longer have to pick off faded flowers to keep them blooming – many are now “self-cleaning.” And with the environment in mind, you now have dozens of heat- and drought-tolerant varieties to choose from.
Garden merchandisers Proven Winners launch several new eye-grabbing annuals every spring. I previewed several of these last summer and can highly recommend the following ones. They should be available in independent garden centres this year.
1.) Superbells Doublette Love Swept (Calibrochoa). Charming, smallish double blooms in pink with lacy white edges are constant delight. Mounding, heat-tolerant, no deadheading, no diseases (none that I noticed) – what more could you ask for?
2.) Angelface Steel Blue (Angelonia angustofolia). A tall plant with long stems of wonderful steel blue florets. Profuse blooming, not affected by heat/humidity/drought, no deadheading. You can pretty much plant it and forget it.
3.) Tangerine Slice A-Peel (Thunbergia). I have never before grown this fast climber, also called black-eyed Susan vine, and I was enchanted by the way it twined up its stick trellis to about 6 feet high. Cheerful round orange and yellow flowers with a black centre lend a tropical touch to sunny areas. Several would make a striking display on an obelisk or chain link fence.
4.) Lemon Coral (Sedum mexicanum). This beauty is a real shocker. It looks like a spreading tuft of succulent grass in bright yellow-green. Tough as nails, easy-care drought-tolerant, it’s a great low “filler” in a mixed container and fun to use as an edging for sunny beds.
With our spring likely to continue wet and cool for a while, you can plant summer annuals (sometimes called “bedding plants”) now, and they won’t fry in sun and hot weather. There should still be a good supply in garden centres, too.