Flirting with colorful flowers

betsjukofsky@aol.comNovember 4, 2012 

  • A visit last week with the newly formed garden club in Colleton River Plantation was a delight. Herbs were the topic. We passed around samples of most varieties flowering now. Big hits were the blooming mint marigold (Southern tarragon) and Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans). They are such beautiful plants, flowering each year when there is little else in bloom. Club members are looking for a fun name for their thriving garden club. If any of you readers come up with one, email me at above address and I'll pass it on. Already taken are "Going to Pot," the Palmetto Dunes garden club, and in Hilton Head Plantation, "Island Transplants" and "The Achivers," an herb group.

You know the scene. The setting is your favorite garden center. The time is the start of a new season. The players are plants -- their costumes are colorful, their size and shape familiar. The ancestors of these plants have been a part of your garden drama for many years. But wait, what's that? It's an ingenue who is new to the scene. She's dressed in orange stripes with scalloped green sleeves. She's stunning, and you have to take her home.

You study her label. "Perennial; part shade, moist conditions." This is not the first time you've been in this theater. Does the grower and labeler know your yard, your shade, your soil?

Mystery to be solved. You buy, you take home and you plant.

There's not a gardener out there who has a perfect plant survival record. We share a lust for the new player in our setting, to be planted surrounded by an experienced cast. The truth is, our botanists and growers are taking many familiar and old favorite plants and creating new varieties with similar growth habits but with twists on shape and colors.

My on-and-off love affair with coral bells (Heuchera) began 30 years ago, when I fell in love with a neighbor's golden, ruffled-leaved, orange flowered coral bells. I found a replica in a plant catalog, ordered, planted and watched it decline slowly over the next year. My neighbor's plant grew more glorious each year. It's no longer there. The house has been torn down.

The plant was near the front door. That might have been be a clue. Perhaps it was easier to water it every day?

But will I give up on coral bells? Never. Only this time I shall try its hybrid, Heucherella. Also new this year is the variety "Sunrise Falls," a trailing plant with large, deeply cut, yellow leaves with red veining. Stems can grow to 3 feet and clusters of small white flowers bloom on spikes in late spring. It tolerates heat and humidity; grow it in a moist, shady spot.

Other new and colorful plants this year are an easy to grow coreopsis "Sweet Marmalade" with flowers that open bright orange and mature to a creamy orange-yellow, and a succulent ground cover, ice plant, "Fire Spinner" that has multi-colored flowers that open in the spring. Horticulturist, Kelly D. Norris calls "Fire Spike" head turning and gaudy in the best way possible. What an addition to a cactus and succulent garden! Lowcountry gardeners who grew verbena plants this past summer and saw them sail untouched through July, will want the new peach-colored, fragrant flowered verbena, "Royale Peachy Keen."

The last summer portulaca, zinnia and bee balm plants have been pulled from my garden. With the addition of fresh compost, we plant the cool weather annuals: the dianthus, violas, twin spurs (Diascia) and calendulas. We pass on the snapdragons and stock, they take more room and my sun filled garden is small. Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden seed company suggests planting cool-season annuals both in fall, for earliest blooms, and again in spring to extend the flowering season. "Cut them often and they'll bloom a lot longer," she said.

Allan Armitage, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, forecasts, "The next great pansy is one called Cool Wave, a cascading pansy."

These trailing pansies have been impressive in trials, growing only six to eight inches tall, and as much as 2 feet across. Grow them in a container, hanging basket, or in the ground.

As I plant these beautiful flowering winter growing plants I think how lucky this gardener is to live in the Lowcountry and practice my favorite pastime all year long.

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