Brighten your day with versatile, easy-to-grow flowers
By Lori Rose
Annuals are plants that grow, flower, set seed and die all in one growing season. Here are some annuals that are versatile, easy-to-grow, and above all, breathtaking.
When I hear the word annual, impatiens always spring to mind. My mother grows monstrous impatiens. Walking from her elegant, austere front yard through the house and out into the back yard makes me feel like Dorothy opening the door to Munchkin Land. We’re talking voluptuous impatiens, curving around the edges of the borders in stunning shades of pale pink through deep maroon, white, purple, lavender and salmon. Mom has the right conditions for impatiens, nice soil, nice shade, and her magic potion: a dose of organic fertilizer every two weeks.
My mom’s garden is the perfect example of why impatiens have been, and still are, the most popular bedding plant in North America. They are constantly covered with happy five-petaled flowers from spring to fall, are self-cleaning, and need little more than some shade and sufficient water. Lively and eye-catching, the winsome impatiens live up to their nickname, Busy Lizzie.
Each year we grow our own living fence. Giant sunflowers grow to nearly 10 feet tall with heads the size of basketballs. We space them about three feet apart and plant a row of medium-sized (to seven feet) branching types in front of them. Ranging from lemon yellow to deep maroon, even a fluffy “teddy bear” type, they cover the long legs of the giants and fill in the “fence.” Deadheading these multi-stemmed types keep them flowering all season. The front row is the lowest, with short two-to-three foot tall sunflowers like Sun Spot, the perfect height for little ones to see and touch.
In “sunflower row,” I also sprinkle seeds of red, orange, and yellow mixed nasturtiums. They cover the ground and echo the colors of the bigheaded sunflowers with their little smiles. Nasturtium is a vine that works equally well hanging out of a basket or trailing along the ground. In the shade of sunflowers, the nasturtium will flourish to cover the ground with big leaves and bright flowers. Plant the big seeds either in the garden or in a container, and marvel at how quickly they go from seed to seedling to plant to flower. The lily pad leaves and colorful flowers are both edible and are lovely (and tangy) in salads or sandwiches.
Also known as the rose mallow or tree mallow, Lavatera is an old-fashioned cottage-garden flower that never needs deadheading. They love the sun, but will tolerate some light shade. Try them in containers with other sun-loving plants. Fertilize them lightly for abundant flowering, as too much fertilizer will give you beautiful leaves but not many flowers.
Lavatera does self-sow, and it does “come true” from seed, which is a nice thing because it is the color of the flower that stops the show. The color is a perfect clear pink that blends with any other color, rarely clashing with anything, with an unfurling trumpet shape. Lavatera is in the hollyhock family, and the flower looks just like a single hollyhock, but they only grow to about eight inches tall, making them lovely fillers for the front of the border.
The Hyacinth Bean vine is also called Lablab. I admired a long line of these vines smothering a fence with their oddly shaped purple-green leaves, bright purple stems, and white, pink and rose-colored flowers. Later in the season, they produced the prettiest satiny purple pods. You will find that each seed is a different color. The color of the seed forecasts the new vine’s flower color: white seeds give white flowers, buff seeds give pink flowers, and brown seeds give purple flowers. It will grow to 15 feet to quickly cover a trellis or fence, or let it trail for a unique ground cover or in a hanging basket. It is edible, although it does look better than it tastes. Hyacinth Bean loves sun, warm days, and cool mulched soil.
Try one or all of these spectacular annuals somewhere in your garden this season. They are all so easy to grow. They will delight you, and the compliments will be lavish.
Lori Rose, the Midnight Gardener, is a Temple University Certified Master Home Gardener and member of GardenComm: Garden Communicators International. She has gardened since childhood, and has been writing about gardening for over 20 years.