Gardening With Tony
LOS ANGELES—The common and almost stigmatized nasturtium has always been my favorite of the flowering annuals. It is technically a warm season annual that gets its seed sown at the end of winter so that it can grow and bloom with bright yellow, orange and sometimes even red flowers all spring and summer and into autumn. However, because winters are so mild here, the foliage is appealing even while bloom is inhibited by cool winter weather. By the time older plants die out, seedlings are already maturing to replace them; so they function like perennials. Nasturtiums are so easy to grow that many garden enthusiasts consider them to be weeds, or too cheap and common to bother with. Yet, their carefree nature is precisely why so many of us enjoy them so much.
Sweet alyssum shares the same reputation that causes it to be shunned by some but appreciated by others. It can be white, pink or purple when initially planted, but eventually reverts to white as it naturalizes. (Pink and purple types produce white blooming seedlings.) Like nasturtium, it blooms less over winter, but never really goes away, since seedlings are always there to replace older plants. It is easy to grow from seed sown late in winter, or can be planted from cell packs after winter for more immediate results.
All sorts of warm season annuals that are now available in nurseries are ready to replace the cool season annuals that bloomed through winter. Busy Lizzy (impatiens) and petunias are the most popular as well as the most colorful. French marigold has the best yellows and oranges, as well as bronze. Lobelia is a classic companion for sweet alyssum or marigold, providing all kinds of blues, as well as purple, purplish rose and white (although white is rather redundant to alyssum). Cosmos blooms in many shades of pink, from very pale to almost red, as well as white. Most varieties stay quite low while others get a few feet tall.
The less popular warm season annuals are sought by those who like their unique colors or other appealing characteristics. Floss flower blooms pale blue or lavender with funny fuzzy flowers. Cockscomb are mostly the colors of marigold as well as red, but with unusual plume-like blooms. Verbena and moss rose may not fill in soon enough to work as bedding plants, but have rich colors that look great with other assorted annuals or perennials. Although statice, pincushion flower (scabiosa) and zinnia can function as bedding plants, they are more often grown singly, in small groups or as borders around more homogenous bedding plants.
Flower of the week: Richmond begonia
It is difficult to say whether Richmond begonia, Begonia'Richmondensis', is grown more for unusual waxy pink flowers that bloom throughout the year, or rich glossy green leaves with bronzy red undersides. Perhaps it is the distinctive combination of both characteristics. Perhaps it is because Richmond begonia is so easy to grow in partial shade near porches or atriums where other flowering plants would want more sunlight. It only wants relatively rich soil and regular watering, and is quite happy in pots. Mature plants eventually grow to two feet tall and broad. Lanky branches that get cut back to promote dense growth can be rooted elsewhere in the garden.
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