In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
May, 2012
Regional Report

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This Peppermint Twist geranium, with its pink and white striped and speckled flowers, reminds me of peppermint candy. It's lovely to look at but I wish it smelled like peppermint instead of having the standard geranium fragrance!

My Annual Quest for Annuals

I love planting annuals. You can't beat them for quick and easy spots of color, and planted in masses, they provide dynamic focal points in any part of the garden. Perennials can take two to three years to reach their full potential, but annual flowers give quick satisfaction by providing rich floral displays within weeks of planting. I also like the short-term commitment I have with annuals. They allow me to reconfigure my garden every year, and I can choose colors according to my current mood.

Think Outside the Box
For years I planted the same reliable annuals; begonias, impatiens and lobelia for shady spots, marigolds and sweet peas for sunny sites. 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 friends and neighbors are growing.

Give Unusual Annuals a Try
Four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) have trumpet-shaped blossoms that open in late afternoon and close the following morning. I like the multi-colored Kaleidoscope or Marbles mixes rather than the standard solid colors. The multi-colored flowers of these plants are white streaked with bright yellow or hot pink, or a combination of yellow, hot pink and purple. Best of all, they're quite fragrant, making them the perfect addition to a twilight garden. Mirabilis grows about 2 feet tall and wide and will sometimes winter over in our gardening zone.

Tweedia caerulea, or little blue star, is actually a blue-flowered milkweed. While the sky-blue flowers might be small, they are prolific. It has a semi-vining growth habit and will naturally intertwine with nearby plants. Listed as a perennial in most gardening books, I've never had them remain in the garden for more than a season.

Cigar flower (Cuphea ignea) is a real gem that just keeps on giving all summer long. Called cigar flower for its orange and yellow tubular flowers, new cultivars are showing up in raspberry, salmon, and white. It's a freely branching plant, growing about 12 inches high and wide.

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

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. It attracts hummingbirds and takes sunshine well, but will also tolerate some shade. I plant them in containers to brighten my front deck.

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.

Elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta) are available in deep green, black, or gold leaf varieties. All develop huge heart-shaped leaves and give a lush, tropical look to the garden. I've grown them as single specimens in containers, but they are just as happy growing in well-drained soil. The leaves die down in the fall and the tubers go dormant. If you dig and store them like you would a dahlia tuber, you can replant them each spring.

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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