2017-04-27 / From The Garden

No-Fail Annuals

By Cynthia Gibson

Like good friends, there really are certain plants you can count on. In the world of annual plants (they only last for one season), they will bloom, and then re-bloom if you dead-head them. The color range is vast, and heights and shapes of the flowers and the plant itself are suitable for garden beds to pots. If you take care of them, feed, and trim them they will be beautiful, strong and healthy.

The flower that heads the lists of no-fail annuals is the marigold, also an edible flower as long as you do not spray it with insecticides. (What is great about annuals is that they rarely need spray of any sort.) The French varieties have single miniature flowers that grow to three feet tall. Marigolds are a festive, hardy, and colorful annual, ranging from white to maroon, perfect for a burst of colorful zing in your garden. Some of the bright yellow-orange colors are almost dayglo, making them quite dramatic.

The heights of marigolds are perfect for potted gardens as well. The three basic descriptions of marigold are giant-tall, medium, or dwarf, with the two finest varieties being French and African marigolds.

One species of French marigold, the Gem, can easily fill a six-inch diameter pot. They get quite bushy with very delicate fern-like leaves, unlike their dwarf and giant cousins that have large, serrated broader leaves. Lemon Gem, Red Gem and Golden Gem are the three types of single-petaled French marigolds. These petite but beautiful plants can form a small, blooming hedge. French marigolds are excellent in salads and have that distinctive marigold flavor. However, since they are so tiny, with blossoms the size of a thumbnail, the flavor is not overpowering, but it is a bit spicy. They are perfect when scattered on top of potato salad, lovely!

Dwarf varieties of marigold that are unique looking are Court Jester, Striped Marvel and La Bamba. These are standout varieties that will not disappoint. The flamboyant names of most marigolds are due to the fact they are native to Mexico, and have a fiesta flair. These marigolds are great for including in pots with other annuals or planted as a border.

The tallest varieties are referred to as “giant.” The best mix you can buy is Cracker Jack. The colors are lemon yellow, yellow-orange and deep shocking orange. These marigolds are known as the African variety.

Whether tall or dwarf, these plants are insect proof. They also deter moles and voles and rabbits, as the small animals do not like the fragrance of the flower. Marigolds attract ladybugs, which eat aphids, and attract butterflies as well. Marigolds should be planted in full sun and they will thrive.

Summer is on its way, so start planning your parties and bouquets.


The gardener’s other annual best friend is the zinnia, a strong and stately flower. It comes in a multitude of colors: hot pink, bright red, deep purple, lime green and now there are striped and splashed varieties as well.

Another unique variety is called “cut and come again,” because once the flowers are cut, they bloom again.

You can plant zinnias now, from seed, and have flowers by July. Be sure to plant in full sun. They are also sold in flats at local garden or nursery centers, but you will end up with a better crop if you plant them from seeds, as the seed companies have more interesting and unusual varieties.

Zinnias sometimes attract Japanese Beetles, so a systemic drench would be good for these flowers, twice during the summer, and the beetles will fly away.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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