In the Garden:
Upper South
July, 2006
Regional Report

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'Devotion Purple' trachelium and 'Molten Lava' coleus create a dramatic effect in a container.

Playing With Annual Combinations

People who think perennials are easier to grow than annuals haven't faced a weed-ridden bed with mismatched flower colors and plants desperately in need of dividing. How I would love to till it all up and start over, except for the time, effort, and expense invested. With annuals, it's easy to make a clean start every year, experimenting with entirely different plants of every possible size, shape, and color. It's sort of like that thrill you used to get with the new box of crayons at the start of school.

Best of all, garden centers are continually offering a wider and wider range of annuals from which to choose. Not that we should ignore the standbys. Impatiens remain the colorful star of the shade garden, and what would sunny areas be without petunias and geraniums? This year I've added old-fashioned dwarf marigolds to my potager, and their golden color really brightens it. Still, it's fun to try new plants, and one of the best ways is in container plantings. Any plant that survives a summer in a pot should certainly do well in the garden.

The following annuals are just the tip of the iceberg. Next spring, be bold and grow some of your old favorites as well as some of the many new ones.

This Year's Experiments
In a dark brown-purple pot, I've combined Trachelium caeruleum 'Devotion Purple', with brownish purple foliage and large rounded clusters of tiny purple flowers; a creeping form of red-leaved iresine; Salvia coccinea 'Forest Fire' with tiny, tubular red flowers; and a red-and brown-leaved coleus called 'Molten Lava'. Except for the iresine, all of these plants grow about 2 feet tall, which goes against the usual theory for combining various sizes of plants in containers, but I like the large, full effect.

Nearby, in a deep purple pot is Acalypha wilkesiana, commonly called copperleaf plant, with its multicolored leaves of creamy yellow, green, pink-orange, and brown-purple; yellow-flowered 4-o'clock; dwarf yellow marigold; purple-flowered trailing verbena; and Calibrachoa 'Superbells Tequila Sunrise', with its abundance of yellow-pink-red-orange flowers, just as its name implies. Calibrachoa has taken the gardening world by storm over the last decade or so for its weather tolerance and abundant petunia-like flowers.

Another container designed in this same color spectrum has not been very successful so far, but I'll hold judgment until later in the summer. The pot has one plant of 'Mystic Spires Blue' salvia, which looks like a 'Victoria' mealycup sage on steroids. In fact, it is a hybrid between mealycup sage and another species. So far, it has not grown or bloomed as much as expected, but I still have high hopes. I've also planted it directly into the garden, so that will be a good comparison. Surrounding it are trailing plants, including an orange anagallis, lavender verbena, and a light purple, daisy-like flower with finely cut foliage (no name on the tag).

While I was still on the purple theme, I created another planter that combined 'Angelface Blue' angelonia, 'Perfume Deep Purple' nicotiana, 'Imagination' verbena, and 'Purple Ruffles' basil. Angelonia, commonly called summer snapdragon, is another of those annuals that has only recently begun being widely grown. Angelonias tolerate both damp and dry soil, as well as heat and humidity, plus they continuously produce spikes of flowers in white, pink, purple, and blue. They also make excellent cut flowers and have a soft scent. The secret to nicotiana fragrance is that the scent only perfumes the night air.

On a brighter, lighter note, a container filled with yellow flowers combines newcomer 'El Dorado' turnera, 'Vanilla Butterfly' argyranthemum, an African impatiens called 'Glow', and a variegated lantana with yellow and orange flowers. Argyranthemum, otherwise known as marguerite daisy, is usually not very heat tolerant, but so far this cultivar has rebloomed quite well, especially when the faded flowers are cut off. The turnera is part of the Athens Select series from the University of Georgia's testing for heat and humidity tolerance. It forms a mound of dark green leaves and has bright yellow 2-inch flowers.

On a recent trip to a home supply store, some plants on display stopped me in my tracks. They were coleus but with giant leaves over 8 inches across. Appropriately, it was called 'Kong'. Sometimes you just have to grow a plant that makes you laugh.


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