Several new annuals sport reds, pinks, yellows and peaches that promise to make gardens glow in the dark.
Shade gardeners are constantly looking for plants that provide an abundance of color in their otherwise dark corners of the garden. Gardeners blessed with plenty of sunshine have vast plant choices. Gardening in the shade, however, is a bit more of a challenge; there's competition for nutrients from tree roots, plus, shade plants often don't bloom as profusely as sun-dwellers.
This year, shade gardeners will find that challenge greatly eased by a few of the new varieties introduced for 1999. The National Garden Bureau has provided details on some shade-loving annuals.
Are you ready?
Perhaps the most familiar plant for the shade garden is the impatiens. It is cherished as a valuable addition to gardens with little sunlight because of its many carefree qualities. Impatiens are easy to grow, bloom from early spring until frost and are pest-free. The plant responds well when watered adequately and only requires a monthly dose of liquid fertilizer.
Under favorable conditions, the impatiens is a self-sowing annual. At the end of the growing season, these annuals produce tiny seeds that explode from their seedpods to reward gardeners with new plants the following spring.
This bushy plant is a native of Australia, New Zealand and South America. Impatiens have fleshy, succulent stems and typically bear an abundance of vibrantly colored flowers. This popular flower is guaranteed to bring nonstop color into shady spots.
A new variety for 1999 is Impatiens "Cajun Garnet." Its flowers are the deep red of the gemstone, giving a richer look in the garden. This unique crossover color combines with cool pinks and blues as well as hot rose and yellow. The Cajun series is designed for Southern gardens and hot summer weather.
Another impatiens is "Tempo Peach Butterfly." What makes this plant so unusual is its soft peachy flower with a striking orange pattern that spreads outward from the center of the flower. Tempos are acclaimed for their consistent seed quality, great garden performance and compact plant habit. Garden height is 6 to 10 inches.
For a change of pace in the shade garden consider begonias. And if the begonia you choose is an All-America Selections (AAS) winner, it is bound to do something special for your garden. These are plants that have won awards for attributes that gardeners love -- resistance to disease and pests, tolerance to the elements and interesting flowering.
Try the 1999 AAS winner "Pin-Up Flame" for an unusual color combination of yellow with an orange/red petal edge. This bicolor pattern is distinct from other single flowered tuberous rooted begonias. The pattern varies slightly from plant to plant, yet all have deep green foliage. The flower form is single and reaches a size up to 4 inches. The height of the plant is 12 inches as is its width.
"Pin-Up Flame" looks best when positioned so the leaves are pointing toward the front when first planted. The blossoms will face and open in the same general direction the leaves point. Give the plant adequate moisture and moderately fertile soil for more continuous blooms.
Some expert gardeners may be brave enough to grow "Pin-Up Flame" from seed. Be forewarned that the seed is the size of dust, although they may be sold as pelleted seed. All begonias are challenging to grow from seed because the length of time from sowing seed to flowering is between 18 to 20 weeks. Fortunately, most gardeners will find "Pin-Up Flame" plants flowering in 4-inch pots at garden centers this spring.
For a more traditional colored begonia try "Maestro Mix." The new "Maestro Mix" begonia offers a unique mixture of well-matched green and bronze-leafed colors. Bloom colors include scarlet, pink and white on the bronze-leafed plants and scarlet, pink, rose, white and white/coral bicolor on the green-leafed plants. The 6- to 8-inch plants are extremely tolerant of rain and heat.
Layering with lobelia
When looking for more height in the garden, look no further than the tall thin spires of lobelia. Their tubular flowers add that spike of color many gardeners seek in the shade garden. A familiar variety called Lobelia "Brightness" reaches a height of 36 inches. A somewhat smaller variety new this year is Lobelia speciosa "Fan Deep Rose." It is 24 inches and has a well-branched habit with bronze stems. The "Fan" series produces colorful thick flower spikes from July to September. Over-wintered plants will bloom in June.
When surrounded by plants with lighter colored foliage, lobelia presents an eye pleasing contrast and a welcome dash of color in the partial shadiness of your garden.
If you are like me, your favorite color is yellow. What better flower to put in the garden than viola "Four Seasons." These nonstop bloomers provide a golden yellow color throughout spring, summer and fall in our hardiness zone. And given the warm weather we had so late this past growing season, we might just see this plant living up to its name and giving us blooms in the fourth season -- winter.
Seeds should be started inside and will bloom just 10 weeks from sowing. The growth habit of viola "Four Seasons" is a low and spreading one. When planted en masse, they quickly form a solid mat of color. This vigorous little plant is sure to light up any dark corner of the garden.
Pansies, relatives of viola, typically have larger flowers than their diminutive cousins. Yet, if you want an early start on the growing season, plant some pansies. They love the cool weather of early spring and often suffer as the weather heats up.
Although pansies like full sun, they tolerate partial shade and, in fact, need shade in hot areas. Besides, what can be more enjoyable than walking in the garden and seeing the cheerful "faces" of pansies smiling back at you from the rock garden or along the front edge of the garden bed.
A new variety of pansy for 1999 is "Fama Blue Angel" hybrid, whose delicate flower is a beautiful light blue and white with a face. Though pansies rarely are much taller than 8 inches, their flowerheads are significantly larger than the foliage. With medium large flowers the Fama series is excellent for both spring and fall. Fama is available in 16 separate colors plus "Clear Face Mix," "Dark Eyed Mix," and a complete mix of all colors.
On the fringe
Another plant with a variety of colorful flowers is the snapdragon. Technically not a shade plant, snapdragons prefer a bit more sun than the other plants mentioned. They need fertile, well-drained soil. Their height may range from 6 inches to nearly 3 feet. Like most annuals, pinching spent flowerheads encourages blooming. Unlike most other annuals, snapdragons may survive the winter if well mulched.
New for this year is a mid height snapdragon called "Crown Pink Appleblossom." It reaches a height of 12 to 16 inches with a distinctly different habit. Instead of one or two tall central flowers, "Crown Pink Appleblossom" plants have many shorter spikes at once. The plants have much more color in the garden and a valued for their excellent fragrance.
Next week we'll look at more award-winning flowers for the 1999 growing season.
-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at email@example.com.