Living

Planting like life - trial and error required to get it right

The annual spring fling and feast for the eyes is in full force at local garden centers. Gardeners are there trying to resist those flowering plants with dynamite colors they've never seen or heard of until now.

If, like me, you've given in to temptation, you may find yourself in your garden, plant in hand, wondering where to plant it. The label reads "full sun" but past experience tells us there are a large number of plants that grow and flower best in the Coastal Lowcountry with partial sun.

Don't grow tomatoes in full sun, regardless of what the seed packets say; not in the Carolinas, and not if you want to pick them past July. All-day sun is too much of a good thing.

Learning where to plant your different varieties is like so much of life -- it's about trial and error. Still, you can get some outside help by touring the farm gardens: the Heritage Farm in Sea Pines and the Seabrook in Hilton Head Plantation, both on Hilton Head Island. Many of the garden plots contain flowers of the season growing alongside vegetables. For the serious gardener it's a big help to see hollyhocks and larkspur flowering next to coreopsis and cilantro in April.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED

On my last trip to a plant nursery I purchased several impatients plants, both double and single varieties. That's easy; they must have shade to survive. The dianthus in five colors that came home with me now resides in a mix of sun and shade; it would wither in full sun come mid-May.

"Dragon Wing" begonias: Is there a flower gardener in the Lowcountry that does not know that these amazing survivors planted in any location will not disappoint? I bought three. So far so good.

And now the questionable, or, you might say, "field tests." The hanging baskets of vivid raspberry red calibrachoa took me right in. Often called "Million Bells," these petunia-like flowers are said to produce blooms from spring until frost and I've hung two of them in a full-sun spot. OK, but I'm from Missouri. We'll see.

If there is a coleus variety to be had that I don't have, I'll buy it. Coleus are my backbone summer plants for the wide range of gorgeous foliage colors and their adaptability for part -- never full -- sun. Have you forgotten which varieties grow best in sun and which in shade? Don't worry. Plant them where they will get a bit of both. I succumbed to the charms of "Red Ruffles" to add to my collection. I have many varieties as this easy-to-propagate plant has given me new plants from last year's varieties. I'm now on the look-out for "Fishnet Stockings," with purplish foliage and striated leaves.

Still and all, for the many flowering plants that love the spring sun, just as many hate the summer sun. The way to go is to plant in movable containers. When the geranium flowers begin to fade, set the containers where they will have relief from all-day sun. One of my favorite plants in a pot is Diascia. To keep it flowering, I give it shade in the summer. The variety "Emma" with raspberry colored blossoms is exceptionally cold hardy and should live through winter.

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