2018-05-17 / From The Garden

Update Old Annuals, Make a Splash!

By Cynthia Gibson


A combination of Coleus and Sweet Potato vines combine for a bold and dramatic garden planter. A combination of Coleus and Sweet Potato vines combine for a bold and dramatic garden planter. There are several annuals that we see in pots every summer, such as marigolds, petunias, geraniums, violas, salvia and zinnias. Boring!

The latest varieties of these old-time favorites are spectacular and can be found at our local nurseries, garden centers and certain florists. The same goes for greens that are added to pots to hang and trail over the edges of your potted geraniums. Please forget the “Snow on the Mountain” for at least one summer and replace it with a variegated ivy or sweet potato plant in bright chartreuse.

It is easy to get locked into planting the same annuals each year, as they are not only old friends, but you know you just can’t kill them. They are grateful when you remember to water them and will perform like rock stars when you give them fertilizer twice a month and water twice a day.


Loose and airy, the, Cottage Red is an eye-catching marigold that was discovered in Mexico. Loose and airy, the, Cottage Red is an eye-catching marigold that was discovered in Mexico. But if you add new varieties of the old standbys, you will create a summer garden filled with cutting flowers for bouquets and for lovely pots. And planting different flowers in the same color is magical.

Marigolds just are not marigolds any longer. The gold standard, “Old Mexico” still exists, but why not try French marigolds that are mini, come in bright gold or lemon yellow, are edible and look great on top of potato salad during a picnic. The French marigold grows before your eyes, and if you buy a six pack, they will create a small hedge of yellow flowers that will bloom all summer. The hot varieties to look for are “Lemon Drop,” “Nema-Gold” and “Cottage Red.” They are single petaled flowers and not ruffled.

The most distinctive of colorful old-fashioned flowers is the zinnia. The new bi-colors and the unusual petal, versus center combos, are delightful. Zinnias will continue blooming all summer. They also last in an arrangement or casual bouquet. They are sun hardy and will not fade. The prettiest and most unusual are “Whirligig.” Their bright, tri-color is almost psychedelic, and they vigorously bloom over and over. They are dramatic and will certainly add a show-stopper touch to your garden. If you like hot pink, and orange and yellow together, rather like a vintage Pucci blouse, these zinnias are for you.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Another smashing variety is “Peppermint Stick,” which are white with red stripes and blotches, yellow with red, cream with red, and gold with red. They are stunning. For a burst of color, there is nothing like the huge “California Giants.” Zinnias are versatile and add texture to your garden with their different types of flower heads. Some are single-petaled, others are shaped like buttons, but all give you the satisfaction of a perfect flower for summer. There is nothing as lovely as a bouquet of all green “Envy” zinnias.

If you have never seen a “Zinderella Peach,” they are worth planting. They are reminiscent of a peach-colored Bichon Frisse. I would try some of each.

Petunias have new showy color combinations that are fantastic. The “Tumbelina” and the “Star” series will turn your humdrum terracotta pots into dazzling visions.

Lastly, there is the elegant Nasturtium, a country flower with tremendous beauty that now trails and climbs. They are the perfect alternative to green-and-white trailing leaves in your pots. They also easily fill a portion of a garden bed with one packet of seeds. Nasturtiums should be planted now, as they are stronger when grown from seed. They will take at least one week to break through their hard, crinkled shell.

Annuals are easy. Stray off the path of the “same old” in your garden by adding surprise, a burst of color and different shape of flower.

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