In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
April, 2004
Regional Report

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'Gartenmeister' Fuchsia -- a contrast in flower and foliage colors -- thrives in full sunshine and attracts hummingbirds to my garden.

Annual Adventures

I think annuals are a delight. They are quick, easy, colorful, and dynamic. While perennials can require two or more years to reach their potential, annual flowers give quick satisfaction by providing rich floral displays within weeks of planting. I like the short-term commitment of annuals. They allow me to reconfigure my garden every year and choose colors according to my current mood.

Breaking with Tradition
For years I planted the same reliable annuals; begonias and impatiens for a shady spot, marigolds and sweet peas for a sunny site. But then I discovered some out-of-the-ordinary annuals and began experimenting with them. These unusual choices bring a whole new dimension to my garden, and they're quite different from anything my neighbors and friends are growing.

A Selection of Favorites
The wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri) is a real gem for a sheltered spot. Its flowers -- held high above the foliage -- look like open-mouthed snapdragons with a cluster of yellow stamens, which resemble a wishbone. I've planted the colorful mix called 'Clown', but I'm trying the newer 'Summer Wave Blue' in my garden this year.

Okra, a vegetable grown for its tasty seedpods, has a stunning ornamental sibling called ornamental okra (Abelmoschus manihot, sometimes sold under the name Hibiscus manihot). This plant is big, bold, and dramatic, growing up to 6 feet tall in a warm, sunny bed. The flower buds form in cob-like clusters along slender stems above large, dark green, palm-shaped leaves. The enormous dinner-plate-sized sulfur yellow flowers with dark eyes open for only a day, unfolding slowly in the morning and closing gradually in the evening. But the abundance of flowers that are open on any one day conceals their short life span.

Unlike the trailing fuchsia you see in hanging pots, honeysuckle fuchsia (Fuchsia 'Gartenmeister Bohnstedt') has an upright growth habit, reaching 24 inches tall and wide. Clusters of salmon-orange flowers go beautifully with its burgundy foliage, and it combines well with other plants. Best of all, the flowers attract hummingbirds. The honeysuckle fuchsia takes hot sunshine well, but also will tolerate some shade.

Most gardeners grow annuals for their flowers, but there also are annuals worth growing just for their beautiful foliage. One of the most distinctive foliage plants is the polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya), named for the pink, white, or red flecks of color that dot its green leaves. The polka-dot plant does bloom, but the tiny flowers are insignificant compared to the remarkable foliage. The polka-dot plant tolerates part shade, but I find it grows best in full sun, in fairly dry soil.

You may have to hunt a bit to find uncommon plants, but I think the quest is part of the fun. If the selection is limited at your local garden center, you can always order from seed catalogs. Most catalogs are informative and colorful, so decision-making is easy and enjoyable. The real reward comes when visitors stop to admire the unusual annuals you've planted in a bed that traditionally held the same old marigolds or begonias.


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