Sunday, January 27, 2013

Eight Annuals That Deserve an Encore

As our gardens grow into their bones, it becomes more difficult to innovate their designs without major reconstruction and cost. I crave change and salivate over a blank canvas, living with a constant urge to makeover my maturing home garden. My gardens are far from finished, but there are major sections in patiently wait mode where an eager spade is no longer welcome.

I find that I can satisfy my lust for change in these areas with a few well-placed containers filled with annuals. I make an yearly (more aptly annual) trek to Woldhuis Farms Sunrise Greenhouse in Grant Park, IL each spring to purchase most of my container plants. On my visit this coming spring, I'll be looking for eight plants that were great performers in last year's garden.

Dorotheanthus Mezoo™ 'Trailing Red'

Dorotheanthus Mezoo™ 'Trailing Red' is a steadfast grower that provides succulent texture with it's grey-green, white-edged foliage. A single 4" plant quickly spreads over the edge of medium-sized containers, with minimum watering needs. Small burgundy red flowers form at the base of opposite leaves.

Alligator Tears™ Coleus

Alligator Tears™ is my favorite coleus with green and white variegation. A variety in the Proven Winners Colorblaze® series, it is a vigorous grower in both containers and flower beds. I find it looks best when massed. While no coleus can truly be called drought-tolerant, I don't consider Alligator Tears™ to have high-maintenance water needs.

Plectranthus 'Nico'

Plectranthus 'Nico' may have been my favorite annual in last year's garden. It's such a healthy grower that I'm not sure I'd let it out of a container, but it quickly spreads into a dense mass of green foliage on purple stems. It is a great plant for a single specimen container or as a base for a larger collection of plants. It only seems to flower (coleus-like racemes of white blooms) when stressed as fall encroaches. I grows extremely easily from cuttings and will overwinter as a houseplant in a sunny location.

Pelargonium 'Mrs. Pollack'

Pelargonium 'Mrs. Pollack' is a zonal geranium that I grow more for its ivory-edged foliage than coral red flowers that sparsely bloom throughout the summer. I've found that this geranium will tolerate some shade, making it a good companion to other foliage annuals such as coleus.

Pennisetum 'Fireworks'

Pennisetum 'Fireworks' has taken a place on the top of my list of annual ornamental grasses. While not the prolific bloomer of the more common Pennisetum rubrum, its striped foliage more than makes up for it. It combines well with red blooms or other red/purple-leaved plants.

Alpinia zerumbet 'Variegata'

Last summer was my first time growing Alpinia zerumbet 'Variegata', or shell ginger. Growing 4-5 feet tall, this plant is a vertical, tropical accent in larger containers. The bright variegation combines well with orange and purple companion plants. I'm attempting to overwinter one of these in my west-facing office window; so far, so good.

'Hurricane Jenni'  Coleus

'Hurricane Jenni' was my favorite new coleus in 2012. Viewed from above, the swirl of foliage outlined in chartreuse betrays its meteorological namesake. This is a very upright coleus that looks great as a container specimen and provides unique shape and texture in the garden.

'Liberty Classic Bronze' snapdragon

An annuals list without flowers? Last but not least on my encore list  is 'Liberty Classic Bronze' snapdragon. This plant bloomed constantly from April to November, after remaining evergreen over the mild winter. I'm not sure I have much choice in its reappearance, as it also seems to prolifically reseed. This isn't a problem, as I love the old-fashioned, cottage garden feel it gives the driveway border.

So there you have it, eight annuals that I'll be welcoming back to my garden this year. I'm always looking for new annuals to try; I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments below. Happy garden dreaming!


  1. Dorotheanthus Mezoo™ 'Trailing Red' is an awesome houseplant, too! I've overwintered mine for two winters now.

    1. Good to know. I'll have to try that next year.

  2. Nearly all foliage plants. I'm sensing a pattern here.....

    1. I didn't consciously choose them that way. Foliage variegation has been so improved that it's a more consistent source of color in the garden than flowers. Times they are a changin', Grump. :)

  3. Love love love Variegated Ginger! Every time we get a shipment up from the Greenleaf Texas division I'm envious! May just have to break down and take some home this year.

    1. It made a great container plant. May try massing it in the ground this coming season.

  4. Might recommend some vivid foliage/flower combos such as either the red or yellow/green variegated foliage of Iresine herbstii, Calandrinia grandiflora, Strobilanthes dyeranus and S. gossypinus, and tender succulents like Oxalis spiralis cultivars like Molten Lava.