Irresistible thrillers, fillers and spillers
THE best advice when shopping for annuals goes something like this: Decide where you would like to grow annuals, whether in sun-filled or shady beds or patio containers. Consider the colour palette that appeals most to you and will complement your garden space. Take along your list of last summer’s best performers and this season’s must-haves, and give yourself some parameters as to how many annuals you have space for and how much you are prepared to spend.
I’ve never been one to strictly adhere to that advice.
It’s easier to forego, in my case, chocolate, or most anything for that matter, than it is to walk past an annual that teases with its alluring form, texture, and vibrant colour. Then, of course, there is the temptation of all the tantalizing combinations that one might create. I’m in.
The hunt for thrillers, fillers, and spillers is at its most thrilling when it includes visits to multiple garden centres. For a look at some of the latest introductions and newest releases, I talked to a group of garden centre owners in and around Winnipeg.
Harry Schriemer, after a brief retirement, is back in business. He and his son Matthew opened the doors earlier this week to their brand-new, 600-square-metre greenhouse (corner of St. Anne’s Road and the Perimeter). Grö Greenhouse, a seasonal operation, is carrying a varied selection of annuals. Schriemer says he is convinced colour drives most annual purchases. For sunny containers and baskets, he recommends Night Sky petunia, an award-winning spiller, which has dark violet petals and a distinctive splatter of white spots.
Another trailing plant that has caught his eye is the new, compact, densely branched Ipomoea SolarPower Red with attractive, burgundy-auburn colour that holds its colour in the full sun.
For an early blooming option, Schriemer likes new 4D Osteospermum. An ideal filler that stands only 20 centimetres to 30 cm tall, two-toned daisy-like blooms have a frilly centre and stay open 24/7 unlike earlier-generation osteospermum. After mid-summer, cut back stems for another round of blooms in the fall. For season-long colour that won’t quit in heat or high humidity, Schriemer suggests Hot Pak French Marigold in Fire or Yellow for a mass planting at the front of a sunny border.
Diane Whitley is the owner of Red Valley Plant Market, a fourth-generation familyowned and operated garden centre celebrating its second year at its new location (3091 St. Mary’s Road). Formerly known as Riverside Greenhouses, Red Valley Plant Market is small in size but big on selection. Whitley says Mahogany Splendor Hibiscus was a popular thriller last year for sun containers. This year, a smaller version, Little Zin, will offer the same burgundy colour and texture that is similar to Japanese Maple but at one-third the size (45 cm to 60 cm).
Whitley says we need more landscape annuals and Dragon’s Breath Celosia fits the bill. With a height of 60 cm, Dragon’s Breath sports crimson red plumes and unique greenred foliage. Bred for superior performance in hot and humid conditions, Whitley plans to use it in containers as well.
For hot, dry locations, Whitley recommends BeeDance Bidens, a fast-growing, sun-loving annual that blooms continuously until frost and requires little maintenance.
Looking for some drama in a foliage plant that is tolerant of both sun and shade? Susan Jensen, co-owner of Jensen’s Nursery on McGillivray Blvd, makes an intriguing suggestion. Artful Heartfire caladium is a mediumsized upright plant (45 cm), with maroon-red foliage that has deep green edging. With tropical blood in its veins, Artful Caladium thrives in heat and humidity. Keep indoors until temperatures are reliably above 10 C. Don’t allow the soil to dry out.
For early season colour, Jensen is carrying Senetti, a reblooming pericallis hybrid bred by Suntory Flowers in Japan. Available in magenta and blue bi-colour, Senetti produces masses of large, daisy-like flowers on an upright plant. Senetti matches the cool-season tolerance of pansies and thrives in the damp weather usually associated with spring. To encourage rebloom, cut the plant back by half in mid-summer and fertilize with an organic water-soluble fertilizer.
Last year, I didn’t think anything could compare to Begonia Unbelievable Miss Montreal and this year I’m looking forward to trying Unbelievable First Kiss. Jensen, though, has convinced me to also try new cascading Belleconia begonia with loads of double ruffled blooms. Suited to partial shade but also tolerant of sun, Belleconia has been bred for heat tolerance. Available in rose, hot orange and apricot blush. Today Jensen’s is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Lilies are perennials, of course, and might not seem to have a place in an article about annuals. The Lily Looks series developed in the Netherlands, however, has been bred for containers. Genetically compact Asiatic varieties fully hardy to zone 3 are great in pots and transplant easily to the front of a sunny border in fall. Both Glenlea Greenhouses south of St. Norbert on Hwy. 75 as well as Green Oak Gardens in Beausejour carry several varieties from the Tiny series.
Sue MacLeod, co-owner of Glenlea Greenhouses, has already sold out of Tiny Poems which has deep purple-black trumpet-shaped flowers with hot-pink tips. Blooms are large and up-facing. MacLeod also likes Tiny Padhye with purple centres and white tips.
Rodney Wohlgemuth, co-owner of Green Oak Gardens, loves the combination of Tiny Shadow which has burnt orange blooms with dark maroon centres together with the twotoned red blooms of Tiny Rocket.
MacLeod also likes the new dwarf pineapple lilies (eucomis). Tiny Piny Ruby, at only 22 cm high, won’t look like much now but later in the season produces adorable spikes that look like miniature pineapples with deep ruby-red florets. Plant in full sun and protect from heavy rainfall.
Last year, Vertigo pennisetum took many gardeners by surprise with its massive height and width, totally obscuring container underplantings. MacLeod has two interesting new ornamental grasses with a more manageable size, Eragrostis Wind Dancer with soft, feathery texture, and delicious Pink Champagne Ruby Grass (Melinus). Our love affair with the ubiquitous Purple Fountain Grass may be far from over but either one of these will be eye-catching annual thrillers in containers or beds.
Whatever promise I made to myself to not buy annuals until the end of May was soon forgotten last weekend when I spotted the new Twist and Twirl coleus at Green Oak Gardens. A thriller that will grow to as high as 70 cm, says Wohlgemuth, who grew it last year, Twist and Twirl has attractive foliage with green and purple splashes at the time of purchase. An award-winner, this sun-loving coleus transforms itself with twists and twirls of bright red and yellow. Definitely a musthave plant this season although it is flying off the shelves at Green Oak Gardens and Jensen’s.
Cory and Celyne Langner are the new owners of Petal Place Greenhouses (235 River Road) in St. Andrews. Taking over this spring from Cory’s parents, who operated the 929-square-metre greenhouse since 1985, Petal Place is featuring a number of new flowering annuals that are perfect for containers and hanging baskets. New Sunsatia Blood Orange Nemesia bursts forth like a bowl brimming with popcorn, says Cory Langner. Developed for high performance in both cool and hot temperatures, he recommends occasionally trimming this multi-toned fiery orange nemesia to maintain its good form right up until the first fall frost.
Langner is also stocking Holy Moly Superbells which combines deep rose pink and warm yellow in blooms that look exactly like the picture on the plant tag.
Dahlias add gorgeous colour to containers. Langner likes Firebird, a semi-cactus dinnerplate dahlia with yellow 25 cm blooms that have bright red-orange tips. Grows to a height of 100 cm.
Langner reminds customers to topdress their containers and baskets with slow-release fertilizer. “If the weather turns cold and plants are being stored in the garage,” he says, “be sure to provide plants with adequate spacing for good air circulation.”
If you are purchasing plants this weekend, Langner recommends pinching off the first flush of blooms to encourage multiple branching. The reward will be many more blooms.
A Gardener’s Evening with St. Vital Agricultural Society, May 18, 7:30 p.m., at St. Mary’s Road United Church, 613 St. Mary’s Rd. Plant sale and rainbow auction. Includes flower-arranging demo by Jim Fuller of Top Hat Florists. Admission $3. For more details visit www.svas.ca.