10 uncommon annuals worth another look
by Dorothy Dobbie
There are gardeners who would rather die than be seen with common annuals like impatiens or petunias in their yards, but what else provides so much colour and versatility?
Of course there are the even more common geraniums, pansies, snapdragons and cosmos – “granny flowers”, my forty-something daughter Lori calls them.
If you’re tired of the tradition, you need only head to the garden centers. They’re offering enough knock-your-socks-off plants to have the Neighbours oooh-ing and aaah-ing in a chorus of congratulations.
1. A number-one choice is lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflorum), a biennial or short-lived perennial member of the gentian family that is mostly grown as an annual here. If you want a showy, rose-like blossom on a herbaceous plant, then you can’t go wrong with this beauty. It blooms best later in the season and will keep it up until frost with several blossoms on each blue-green stem decorated with well behaved leaves. There are both long-stemmed and dwarf varieties and they grow well in the garden and in containers.
2. Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’ is a perennial in Zones 7 to 8, but can be used as an annual. Also called mealy cup sage, its stems and leaves are a lovely grey-blue that support spires of pale to dark blue all summer. It particularly loves the later months from August and onwards. Its tall form makes an ideal centre in a mixed container.
3. Brachycome or Swan River daisy puts out masses of delicate, daisy-like flowers in blues, mauves and whites from ferny foliage. Growing to a height of only 10 inches, this pretty plant loves well drained soil in direct sunlight. It does very well in containers.
4. Go bananas for a tropical look. Ornamental bananas (Musa enseta) are fabulously easy to grow large-leafed plants that add a special zing to a sophisticated patio. Really a perennial that will grow to 20 feet in a solarium, this banana plant will reach two to three feet in one season to make an exotic statement in a planter. It’s happy in sun to light shade and will easily overwinter in a bright room.
5. Osteospermum or Cape daisy, has come a long way in the last few years. Originally introduced as white daisy-like flowers with an unusual blue centre starred by drops of golden pollen, the blossoms now come in a range of colour from orange and gold to buttery cream to purples to pinks and reds. Some introductions have stunning, spoon-shaped petals. This plant likes cool weather and does best toward fall.
6. Thunbergia is one of the best annual vines with its cheery yellow, gold or pink-tinged, black-eyed flowers. This is a very tough plant that blooms well all summer long and can take a touch of frost or almost anything else you care to throw at it, including punishing winds and drought.
7. & 8. Brugmansia and Datura, two kinds of angel’s trumpet, produce stunning flowers on shrubby plants. Brugmansia, (sometimes called angels’ tears) whose trumpet-shaped flowers point downwards, is a half-hardy perennial that can be overwintered indoors. Datura is a wide spreading plant suited to a large space in the garden. It produces upright trumpet-shaped blossoms in white to purple.
9. Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ is a fairly new introduction that is rapidly gaining fans for its airy clouds of tiny white flowers on clear green stems. This plant just gets better all season long and the word is out that it overwinters well indoors.
10. Rex begonias have a new life as fabulous foliage plants. They come in a dozen different shapes, sizes, textures and leaf colours that erupt into anything from contrasting shades of purple and silver to round shiny green tops with hairy red stems and undersides – the possibilities are endless. These fantastic plants easily outshine and outclass the giant-leafed ‘Kong’ coleus, albeit by a small margin only.
So Lori can pitch the petunias, shun the impatiens and leave the granny plants to grannies. There’s a whole new world of garden adventure to explore and the wow factor has never been more in reach.
(Of course, you don’t have to be an old fussbudget to love the old-fashioned annuals. I’ve got plenty of petunias and I wouldn’t have a summer without snapdragons. And I’m no fussbudget.)