Archive: May 2018

  1. Technicolor Gardening: Vibrant Garden Flowers

    Colorful Benary’s Dreamland Zinnias are lined with deepest blue edging lobelia.

    Sometimes gardening life is just a little too pastel and predictable.  A day dawns when all those pale pinks, powdery blues, and dreamy pale yellows look washed out, and you yearn for exuberant flowers that pop out of beds and containers with bursts of bright color.  By adding a few “technicolor” flowers with deep, saturated colors, you can create explosions in the garden without scaring the neighbors. (Those same neighbors will probably also enjoy the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators drawn to your vibrant blooms.)

    Adding technicolor flowers is easy.  In each season, chose a few of your favorite flower types—coneflowers, pansies, dahlias, chrysanthemums, or zinnias.  Search garden centers and mail order vendors for the brightest varieties of those favorite plants.  Insert new flashy specimens into existing planting schemes or create new borders or container arrangements devoted to bright colors.

    Colorful Spring Flowers

    ‘Flaming Parrot’ tulips add big color to spring gardens. (Image by American Meadows)

    Start the technicolor spring parade by using the brightest tulips in expected—and unexpected—places.  Red and orange flowers or mixes of red-orange and yellow, make for garden excitement, especially against the fresh greens of plants that are just leafing out.  Think about the brilliant orange tulip, ‘Orange Emperor’ or the red-orange/yellow sparkler ‘Banja Luka’, a giant Darwin hybrid.  ‘Flaming Parrot’, with bright yellow petals striped in red, is stunning.

    Violas in the Sorbet series come in lots of saturated colors. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    For containers, border fronts and other smaller spaces, search out orange pansies and violas and pair them with darkest purple varieties.  ‘Jolly Joker’ features the orange/purple combination in a single blossom, making flower selection that much easier.  Single pots of extremely showy varieties, like the yellow and black-striped Viola ‘Tiger Eye’ also provide a colorful thrill. And, any of the violas in the Sorbet Series are sure to add big color to spring containers.

    Another low-growing, cool-season container annual that’s big on color are nemesias. Those in the Sunsatia® series are more heat tolerant than most and will continue looking good into summer. For vibrant color, try Nemesia Sunsatia® Blood Orange, with its masses of deep orange-red blooms, or the deepest red Sunsatia® Cranberry.

    Colorful Summer Flowers

    Mexican sunflower is a tall summer annual with bold color.

    Strong summer sunlight favors vivid colors and the possibilities are endless.  Instead of plain yellow or orange marigolds, try something a little different, like Marigold “Harlequin’, with striking red and yellow petals. Marigolds offered in new color combinations of rose, apricot and yellow, like the new French marigold ‘Strawberry Blonde‘, are also unusually colorful.

    The arresting Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) grows up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, throwing out scores of intense orange blooms.  Pair it with ‘Black and Blue’ salvia for an eye-catching color experience.

    Tall zinnias of all kinds lend bright color to garden borders.

    If you normally grow zinnias, dial up the brightness with Benary’s Giant tall zinnia (Zinnia elegans) varieties that feature a host of saturated colors and large blooms that banish boredom in the garden or the vase. The bold plants reach up to 4 feet, so be sure to give them plenty of space. If you want something a little shorter, the equally colorful zinnias in Benary’s Dreamland Series only reach 1 foot. These are complemented with an edge of vibrant blue edging lobelia (Lobelia erinus Laguna® Dark Blue).

    Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are another old summer favorite that can ignite horticultural flames.  The Candy Showers mixed snapdragons cascade, making them perfect for hanging baskets, and they bloom in bright yellow, orange and red.  The butterfly snapdragon mix Chantilly Summer Flame are also uncommonly vibrant with their open flowers of dark apricot, deep orange and vermilion red. Use them singly or mix the varieties for a technicolor blast. But, any old tall snapdragon variety will add big color and height to the summer garden.

    Red coneflowers like ‘Hot Lava’ make the summer garden a little hotter.

    Coneflower (Echinacea spp.) lovers can now choose from a wide range of colors, including vivid purples, acid greens, incandescent oranges, and saturated reds.  The most colorful include ‘Colorburst Orange’, with fluffy double flowers that are green at the center; torrid ‘Hot Lava’, boasting big, red-orange blooms; and ‘Dixie Belle’, with bright pink petals.  Perennial coneflowers have many virtues, including the ability to bloom more than once in a growing season, and they attract bees and butterflies.

    What about shade?  Don’t miss out on dramatic color just because your garden or container array sits in partial shade.  Big New Guinea impatiens can rescue a boring landscape with repeated flower production in magenta, red and orange.  Team these large impatiens with chartreuse-leafed coleus varieties for color impact.

    Colorful Fall Flowers

    The brilliant dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ blooms best in fall.

    There is a lot of color available from early September through first frost.  Dahlias come into their own as the season winds down and the number of technicolor varieties is large.  Try the classic red-flowered ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, which also features contrasting dark stems and leaves.  Varieties bred from ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and sometimes labeled “Bishop’s Children”, combine the trademark dark foliage with vibrant petal colors.  For something a bit larger, the huge, red-orange dahlia ‘Caliente’ is as hot as its name, and it makes a dramatic duo with the likes of the orange/yellow ‘Flamethrower’.

    Garden mums, which are reliably hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-9, are another foolproof source of saturated color.  The red and yellow ‘Matchsticks’ with spoon-type petals, works well planted at the feet of dwarf goldenrod, like ‘Little Lemon’ (Solidago ‘Little Lemon’).  ‘Cheerleader’, a large-flowered “football” mum, features bright orange-amber petals.  Pair it with dark purple ‘Grape Queen’ and round out the fall season on a high, clear, bright note.

    Brightly colored New Guinea impatiens will bloom beautifully until frost.

  2. Four Hardy Fruiting Vines for Edible Landscaping

    Concord grapes are an old-standard hardy grape.

    Hardy fruiting vines bring together two of the hottest trends in horticulture: edible landscaping and vertical gardening.  They are the perfect choice for grow-it-yourself gardeners with limited square footage and a tasty way to clothe a pergola or trellis or provide rapid aerial cover.

    Although many hardy fruiting vines will ramble for 30 feet or more if left untamed, with proper training they will fit (and fruit) quite nicely on a 10-by-10-foot trellis.  A few even make excellent subjects for large containers.  If you’re looking to add something vertical and edible to your garden, consider one of the following winter-hardy vines, all of which thrive in full sun and humus-rich soil.  They also benefit from a spring top-dressing of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost and Garden Manure Blend.


    Maypop fruits turn yellowish orange as they ripen.

    Native to the Southeast United States, this hardy passionflower brings a tropical look to the edible garden.  A suckering, herbaceous vine, it returns from the ground in spring and rapidly climbs to 20 feet or more via coiling, clasping tendrils.  Large, showy, lavender-blue flowers appear in summer. Each bloom is fringed with frilly, thread-like segments that surround a central array of large, club-shaped pistils and anthers.   Pale-green, egg-shaped fruits with gloppy, tart-flavored flesh ripen in late summer and early fall. They are best used to make tasty jam or jelly.

    Maypop needs a long growing season to fully ripen its fruits.  It thus requires a warm microclimate or other coddling to bring it to harvest in the northern fringes of its hardiness range (USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 10).  Where the growing season is impossibly short, grow it in a large container (as described below for Actinidia kolomikta).  Move the container from winter protection to a warm sunny frost-free location in April, and place it outside in full sun after the final frost date.

    Hardy Grapes

    A variety of red grape varieties are uncommonly hardy. (Image by Patrick Tregenza)

    Time was when tasty table grapes (Vitis spp.) were a near-impossibility in regions such as the Northeast and Midwest United States.  No longer.  Beyond old-fashioned ‘Concord’ grapes (USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9), numerous outstanding hardy varieties have entered horticulture in the past few decades, including ‘Swenson Red’, whose seeded fruits are large and sweet with hints of strawberry; and ‘Somerset Seedless’, which bears small, juicy, flavorful grapes that ripen orange-red in late summer.  Both are reliably hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8.

    For optimum production (and compact growth), allow your grape vine to develop only one or two main stems, pruning out any other shoots that develop from the base.  Remove all weak, congested, or out-of-bounds side-growth that develops from these main stems, leaving only a well-spaced framework of branches.  This maximizes the space, light, and energy available for flowers and fruits, which are borne on the previous year’s growth on short spurs known as “canes”.

    Hardy Kiwis

    The fruits of hardy kiwi are smooth, green, and delicious.

    Believe it or not, several close relatives of the familiar, but frost tender, supermarket kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa) produce delicious fruits of their own on twining vines that are hardy up to USDA Hardiness Zone 4.  The most widely cultivated of these is hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta), a rambunctious climber that rapidly ascends to 30 feet or more.  The vines are dioecious, meaning vines may be male or female. Female vines produce eye-catching clusters of dime-sized, saucer-shaped white flowers open in spring, followed by inch-long fruits that resemble miniature, smooth-skinned tropical kiwis that are good for fresh eating.  A pollenizing male companion is required for fruit set, except in the case of self-fruitful cultivars such as ‘Issai’.  Hardy kiwi requires either ample room in which to romp, or frequent pruning to keep it in bounds.  Its architecture and pruning regimen is similar to that of grapes, with flowers and fruits occurring on the previous year’s growth.

    ‘Arctic Beauty’ is the most common variegated hardy kiwi vines. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    A better behaved but equally hardy cousin of hardy kiwi is variegated-leaf hardy kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta), which is usually represented in gardens by ornamental male cultivars such as ‘Arctic Beauty’, whose leaves are showily daubed with splashes of pink and silver variegation.  Female selections are drabber in leaf, but compensate by producing a late-summer crop of tasty, spherical, pale-orange fruits (provided a male pollenizer is nearby).  All Actinidia kolomikta cultivars can be grown in large containers, creating all sorts of portable garden possibilities.  A coarse potting mix such as Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix works best.  In USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and below, move containerized actinidias to a cold frame or other protected location for the winter.

    Actinidia polygama fruits have inner orange flesh. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    Showy, edible, pale-orange fruits and silver-variegated leaves (on male plants) are also among the horticulturally significant features of a third hardy kiwi vine, silver kiwi vine (Actinidia polygama).  It ranks somewhere between the above two species in vigor. The exterior of the fruit resembles that of standard kiwi, but the inner flesh is orange.


    Chocolate Vine

    Chocolate vine flowers are attractive, but the vines are aggressive. (Image by Jeff Delonge)

    Impossibly invasive (and widely banned) in milder sectors of its hardiness range (USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9), this vigorous , semi-evergreen vine is well worth growing in colder regions such as the American Northeast and Midwest.  Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) will rapidly ascend to 20 feet or more if left unpruned, the twining stems with elegant, hand-shaped leaves are laced with clusters of small, delightfully fragrant, maroon-purple flowers in spring.  White-flowered cultivars (e.g., ‘Shiro Bana’) are also available.  Large, sausage-shaped fruits expand in summer, deepening to purple as they mature.  Fully ripened fruits split open to reveal the seedy, gelatinous flesh, which has a melon- or guava-like flavor when ripe.  Plant two or more cultivars for a good crop.

  3. Favorite Garden Poppies

    Poppies are some of the most beautiful garden flowers! (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Nothing is prettier than a field of red, windblown poppies. The delicate blooms rise from slender stems, and their colorful petals resemble crushed tissue paper—giving these classic garden flowers lasting appeal. Poppies are diverse, and can be grown in practically any garden. Some are long-lived perennials while others are fleeting annuals the bloom spectacularly for a short time before setting seed.

    The best poppies for the garden are effortless and big on color and appeal. Most are cool-season spring bloomers, but a select few will weather through the heat of summer. Here are some of our favorites.

    Annual Poppies

    Breadseed Poppies

    The flowers of breadseed poppies are a favorite of bees. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Some of the showiest annual poppies are breadseed poppies (Papaver somniferum). They bloom in late spring and die back and set their beautiful flower heads by summer. The tall plants reach 2-3 feet and have lush grey-green leaves. Their  large seedheads are filled with edible seeds that are ready for harvest when the heads dry. Their flowers come in shades of white, red, pink, and purple, and are favored by bees.

    The breadseed poppy ‘Pepperbox’ has beautiful flowers of pink, red, and purple and produces loads of seed for baking. The ~1886 heirloom ‘Danish Flag’ is another select variety with frilly cut petals of red and white. All are sure to self-sow.

    Papaver somniferum is also the source of opium, but cultivated forms are bred just for flower color and seeds. Gardeners should not worry about growing these flowers, if they are purchased from legitimate flower seed vendors. The trade and consumption of Papaver somniferum seed within the United States is unregulated, and it is legal to grow them as garden flowers, but it is illegal to grow forms for opiates. The Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942 made any Papaver somniferum cultivation illegal in the United States, but it was repealed in 1970. Still, unauthorized farming and processing of this plant is a felony crime, so be sure to just grow plants sold in flower catalogs for blooms and seed!

    Peony Poppies

    The frilled puffy blooms of peony poppies resemble powder puffs.

    These plumy poppies grow much like breadseed poppies and are most often sold as glorious doubles that resemble powder puffs. Peony poppies (Papaver paeoniflorum) are old-fashioned and add elegance to late spring gardens. Try Feathered Mix with its lush, fluffy flowers in that come in lots of bright colors, including purple, red, white, pink, and lavender.

    Flanders Poppies

    Flanders are Old-World field poppies that add color to naturalistic gardens.

    These are the black-blotched red field poppies (Papaver rhoeas) that dot roadways and meadows across much of the Old-World and are planted to commemorate fallen soldiers of war. Common red forms are easy to find in seed catalogs, but some have been selected with more delicate colors. The best of these are the English Shirley poppies that may be pink, coral, or white. The pale hues of the Shirley poppies in Old Fashioned Mix are subdued, while Falling in Love has semi-double blooms in brighter shades of coral, pink, and clear white.

    Shirley poppies come in shades of pink, coral, and white and can be semi-double.

    All Flanders poppies should be sown early in cool weather and will bloom by early summer. In midsummer, they set seed. Be sure to shake mature seedheads on the ground to encourage seedlings the following year.

    Western Poppies

    Fields of California poppies fill fields and hillsides across the West. (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

    Two poppies worth mentioning are in the poppy family but not the Papaver genus. These are the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and Mexican tulip poppy (Hunnemannia fumariifolia).

    The bright orange California poppy thrives in cool, spring weather in western states. Its low mounds of grey-green, ferny foliage give rise to loads of cup-shaped flowers that set fields and hillsides on fire with color. Lots of cultivated varieties have been developed that may be ivory, pink, rose, or orange-red. Some are even have double petals.

    California poppies are best grown in cool spring or fall weather. They often self-sow to extend the show the following season.

    Golden, bowl-shaped blooms are highlight of Mexican Tulip Poppies. These rare, heat-tolerant poppies are native to California and adjacent Mexico.

    Perennial Poppies

    Spanish Poppy

    ‘Double Tangerine Gem’ a lovely Spanish poppy for summer gardens. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    This pure orange poppy is one of the most heat tolerant of the perennial poppies. Spanish poppy (Papaver rupifragum) has small clumps of ferny foliage that produce slender stems of soft orange flowers. Plants start to bloom in midsummer and will continue until fall if spent flowers are removed before they set seed. Leave a few seedheads at the end of the season to sprinkle on the ground, to encourage new seedlings the following year.

    Give this poppy soil with excellent drainage. It is so waterwise, it is approved for xeric gardening!

    Icelandic Poppy

    Iceland poppies require cool weather to perform well. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    As the common name suggests, these delicate poppies are adapted to cool weather, but surprisingly, they are not from Iceland, as their common name suggests. They are boreal flowers native across the whole of the north from Europe across to North America. Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule) thrive cool spring weather throughout much of the US, and southwestern winters with mild, cool temperatures. They usually survive as short-lived perennials, so expect to plant them again after three years or so. Plants may die in high summer heat.

    The papery flowers of Iceland poppies come in lots of pretty shades of salmon, orange, pink, white, apricot, and yellow. Try Meadow Pastels, a delicate mix with ruffled flowers in almost every color.

    Oriental Poppy

    Old-fashioned oriental poppies are a perennial border staple.

    The large, bowl-shaped blooms of oriental poppies are distinguished by showy clusters of black stamens in the center of each flower. Theses long-lived perennials bloom in early summer, and traditional forms have classic orange-red flowers with ruffled petals. They have been a mainstay in flower gardens for hundreds of years, and though it sounds like they should come from “the Orient” they are native to northern Turkey and Iran, and the Caucasus mountains.

    Their prickly green foliage appears in spring and nearly disappears by summer’s end. Flower stem height depends on the cultivated variety; taller forms can reach 3 feet. There are many varieties with flower colors that may be white, pink, red, orange, lavender, and burgundy. ‘Beauty of Livermere‘ is a classic red that will add elegance to any garden.

    Growing Poppies

    All poppies need full sun and fertile soil with a neutral pH and good drainage. Before planting, be sure to amend the soil with a fertile amendment, like Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Annual and spring perennial poppies will die back, so be sure to plant other garden flowers among them to fill in the spaces they leave behind.

    A nodding bed of poppies will make any gardener or passerby delight in the beauty of these prized flowers. Plant a few this season to add cheer and bright color to your garden.