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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Awesome annuals

If you have a flower garden, chances are you grow a few annuals. For a while, perennials were the fashionable family and annuals were almost forgotten. At least they were forgotten in conversation and garden articles, but to keep a garden in bloom from spring into fall, annuals are essential. Each perennial will bloom for its three- or four-week period, but an annual will bloom all summer.

It is no wonder that some of our favorite plants are annuals: marigolds, zinnias, nasturtiums, cosmos, lobelia, lantana and verbena and calendula, as well as vining plants like sweet peas and morning glories. These plants are all familiar and yet there are new forms and colors almost every year.

Recently, I visited LaSalle’s Florist in Whately and saw that the beautiful bright blue lobelia that I love is also available in a raspberry pink, white, and a pale, delicate blue. How to choose?

Renee’s Garden Seeds are sold locally and this company is especially known for its sweet peas. April in Paris is a modern sweet pea but an old-fashioned fragrance has been wed to the large creamy yellow flowers, while Color Palette Cupid is a mixture of pale pastel flowers borne on short vining stems that make it perfect for a container. Among the 27 varieties are Royal Wedding, an antique white sweet pea, and the pink and red Painted Lady.

I love zinnias. There are short Tom Thumb zinnias with neat little blossoms and tall shaggy Raggedy Ann zinnias, both in a paintbox full of colors. There are also two unique zinnias: Green Envy, which provides the pale green flower that flower arrangers love, and Polar Bear, a white zinnia. White is a very unusual color for zinnias and marigolds.

Three of the newer annuals, at least new to me, are the calibrachoa or million bells, angelonias and gomphrenas. Most familiar may be the calibrachoas, which have been very popular for hanging baskets and containers because of the interesting colors of the flowers and their graceful habit. Proven Winners has a whole garden full of color in their Superbells series. Among others there is a trailing white, trailing deep blue and a trailing rose. I particularly like Blackberry Punch with its rich purple/magenta petals around a golden heart. You will find a large array of Superbells and millions bells plants in local garden centers and they are great container plants.

Last year, I grew angelonia for the first time, but it will not be the last time. I grew a fragrant purple variety, but it also comes in pink and white. It is sometimes called a summer snapdragon, but the flowers are smaller, a 1-to-2-foot spire, and the bloom period is much longer. No deadheading required. It looks delicate, but loves hot sunny locations, attracts butterflies and is drought tolerant.

I also grew gomphrena or globe amaranth last year. This is another easy annual with clover-like flowers — actually bracts surrounding insignificant flowers — that attract butterflies and is also drought tolerant once it is established. It can grow to 24 inches and is available in pink, purple and a bright red. It blooms all summer and then dries well for autumnal flower arrangements.

Petunias are a standard summer annual that have been hybridized in wonderful new ways. There are double flowers, and stripey flowers and flowers that are self-cleaning, which means they don’t have to be deadheaded to remain in bloom. Wave and Supertunia are petunias that are also self-cleaning, which makes them especially useful for locations where they can’t easily be deadheaded, or for gardeners who really don’t understand deadheading

All blooming annuals need full sun. I find I am paying attention to whether a plant is drought tolerant because I cannot water my ornamental gardens. Since I have a well, the water is too precious during a dry period to spend it on flowers, although I water my vegetables as well as I can.

If you use containers for your annual plantings, as many do, you must remember to water them regularly. Containers dry out very quickly. Terra cotta pots dry out most quickly, but even plastic and resin containers dry out because the plants are always breathing and lose moisture through their respiration, not to mention hot summer breezes blowing across the container. Don’t forget a regular fertilizing schedule to keep them nourished.

As suitable as they are for containers, alone or in combination with other plants, annuals also have an important place in the flower border. They can even be used as a border. Low growing zinnias, marigolds, gomphrena or petunias can provide a wonderfully floriferous edging.

Annuals can also be used among perennials and shrubs for color. Tall cosmos are really wonderful in the garden and have plenty of blossoms to spare for cutting.

Some people have room to plant a couple of rows of annuals to be used specifically for cutting and bouquet making. This way they don’t have to worry about denuding the garden in order to have flowers for the house, or to for gifts.

As many of you know, impatiens plants have been struck by a persistent downy mildew fungus and will be hard to find at garden centers. Other annuals that can take their place in the shade include New Guinea impatiens, Sunpatiens, torenia, angelonia, and ivy geraniums,

For sources and information, visit your local garden center. Online resources include Annie’s Annuals, www.anniesannuals.com; Renee’s Garden, www.reneesgarden.com; Proven Winners, www.provenwinners.com.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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