Tuesday, February 2, 2010

10 annuals for flowers and foliage

Each catalog gets a list and then we make final decisions based on price, variety and shipping costs.
 Required reading this time of year includes a stack of seed catalogs. We get lots of them at sillydoggarden and, over the years, have come to rely heavily on a few favorites. For annual flowers, it's hard to go wrong with Select Seeds. This place just seems to be in tune with my taste, stocking lovely old-fashioned blooms that are fragrant, too. Other favorite seed sources include Baker Creek, Johnny's, Territorial and Stokes. Stokes is an especially good source for alyssum and lobelia, two plants that we grow by the flat to edge paths and fill containers. 

Some annuals are no-brainers that I grow year in and year out, no matter what. Others shift in and out of each year's palette; if I don't have the time (or money!) to grow them one year, they'll more than likely get another turn down the road. And, of course, there's always room for an experiment or two. This year I'm trying Schizopetalon walkeri 'Star Band'. It's described in Select Seeds as having petite feathery flowers with an almond fragrance. Anybody out there have any experience with it?

Here, then, are 10 annuals that are on my list for growing this year. The list isn't all-inclusive (what about heliotrope?), but it's a start.
1. Night phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis 'Midnight Candy'): The delicate white flowers open in the evening, releasing a sweet fragrance that you can almost taste. During the day the flowers curl up into balls, revealing the violet backside of the petals. A great pot plant to grow near where you sit in the evening.
2. Castor bean (Ricinus communis 'Carmencita'): By the end of the summer this tropical baby is 5 feet or taller. The red stems and chocolaty leaves are gorgeous backlit by the sun. Castor bean seeds also are the source for the poison ricin; it's a plant that takes a leading role in my fantasy "bitter border."

3. Red Malabar spinach (Basella rubra): It's not really spinach although it is edible. First saw this at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum several years ago and was smitten. Love how its red stems wrap around the deck railing.

4. Datura: My grandmother grew datura in her garden, and I remember being fascinated by how it opened in the evening and closed during the day. I've grown white varieties in the past; this year I'm trying a pale lilac.
5. Gentian sage (Salvia patens): It's all about the blue. One of the best blues out there and the flowers are good-sized compared to other sages (but there aren't as many of them per stem). 

6. Cramer's Amazon celosia: I couldn't get mine to bloom last summer, but who cares! The foliage is the real show -- a stunning mottled green and maroon. Here its with white cosmos and snapdragons.

7. Honeywort (Cerinthe major): The roundish leaves are green-gray or bluish; the bell-shaped flowers are surrounded by purplish bracts. This one does self-sow, but I like to start some myself just to have a little control over where they grow. This one plopped itself into an edging of lobelia.

8. Lobelia: This is one of the workhorses of the garden. We grow several varieties including Rosamond (a lavender-purple), white cascade, blue cascade and Crystal Palace (above), which has a bronzy tint to the foliage.

9. Alyssum: Another one of the garden workhorses. Snow Crystals has nice big, white blossoms (here next to wooly thyme). I also like Wine Red Basket which has smaller flowers and delicate red color. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as vigorous as others.

10. Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus): I'm not nearly as successful at growing these guys as is fellow sweet pea fan Connie, but I still try every year. There's a bunch of varieties; last year 'Painted Lady' (on the trellis above) put on a decent show for me. For sweet dreams, pluck a few stems for a small vase beside the bed. 

So, what do you think? What other annuals should I think about growing this year?

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