Annuals That Work, But Are So Hard to Find

Just having returned from California Spring Trials (CAST), and then looking at in-ground plant trials around the country, I must say that we have ourselves covered when it comes to annuals. We are wallpapered in begonias, calibrachoa, petunias, pansies, and marigolds, to mention but a few of the common foot soldiers of our trade. Every time I turn around, their colors are deeper, the patterns stronger, the plants more uniform … but the important phrase in that sentence is “every time I turn around.” That’s all I seem to see. Why take chances when the status quo is working so well?

Occasionally, companies wander off the beaten path and support their new recruits with marketing and media dollars. Examples of “new” annuals that have made a dent in the market include Pericallis and Echibeckia. I, for one, praise their efforts and wish continued success, but they are the exception rather than the rule. The decision to launch and, more importantly, to support unique plants takes courage not only by the breeder but perhaps even more so by the retailer.

The other day, I was talking about hydrangeas (our latest “heuchera”) to a well-respected retailer. Her grower outlet was overflowing with shoppers, everyone pushing carts piled high with garden goodies. When I her asked her opinion about lacecap hydrangeas, she stated, “They are beautiful, but people won’t buy them — so I don’t carry them.”

Therefore, when I see retailers and breeders paying attention to “minor” plants, I must applaud their resolve and lend my voice to their efforts.

Here are a few annuals that I wish I could see more of. It is not that they are unknown, but they simply exist more as an afterthought. I see them occasionally, and when I do, those retailers (and installers) are quite satisfied with their performance on the bench and in the ground.

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  • Browalia: This easy-to-grow old-fashioned annual provides vigor and a handsome blue color (always appreciated). It comports well with almost anything. It is a solution plant for window boxes and containers. Why don’t I see it?
  • Sanvitalia: I see some fine sanvitalias every now and then at CAST, but I just can’t seem to locate them for installation or my own garden. They provide season-long brightness, fill in rapidly, and act as a sunny groundcover. They are great solution plants for bordering a sunny walkway.
  • Acalypha: Foliage color cannot be beat; copperleaf is a snap to propagate and produce — and thrives in the most contemptible summer weather. It is a solution for heat- and humidity-tolerant situations.
  • Eyeball plant: Every now and then, it is good to include plants for children on our list. It is not that eyeball plant (Spilanthes) is unknown, but, like most of the plants I mention today, it simply does not have enough cheerleaders. Easy to grow, easy to love, kids are fascinated (therefore so are mums and grandmums) and is a solution for container plants on the deck.
  • Nigella: Love-in-a-mist has to be seen more often. I suspect I never see it because it does not look particularly good in a container. However, it does look very good in the garden, not only for azure blue flowers but for the stunning fruit. A solution plant for interest and cut flowers (fruit).
  • Strobilanthes: Persian shield is similar to Acalypha in that it is grown for the foliage, not the flowers. I understand that the subtlety of Nigella can be lost on the retail bench, or never seen in a hotel landscape, but this plant is anything but a wallflower — it screams, “look at me.” This is a solution plant for heat and humidity and all-season color.

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