Pick of the plants: New annuals attract gardener’s eye

With its rich cherry-red blooms on robust, 24-inch-tall bush plants, Rudbeckia 'Cherry Brandy' is among the favorites for new flower varieties in 2009.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL GARDEN BUREAU
With its rich cherry-red blooms on robust, 24-inch-tall bush plants, Rudbeckia 'Cherry Brandy' is among the favorites for new flower varieties in 2009.
Posted Dec. 12, 2008, at 6:22 p.m.

There are too many new annual flower varieties for 2009. The National Garden Bureau is promoting 45 varieties (compared to 26 new vegetables), an imposing list of introductions from plant breeders across the world. And each seed house has its own list of “New for 2009.” I sifted through it all this past week, applying my own biases to narrow the field.

I like to scatter annual flowers about the garden in small gatherings, either in the ground or, even better, in pots. And though I prefer functional annuals, plants that attract pollinating insects or hummingbirds to the garden, I am also a sucker for something new, just for the experience of growing it.

Once is often enough, however, and there are only a few annuals that are regulars in Marjorie’s garden. There are always sunflowers, love-in-a-mist, snapdragons and flowering tobacco, the tall, white, fragrant type that brings hawk moths to the back steps at dusk. There are Shirley poppies that pop up from self-sown seed, that blow among the strawberries or dance around the compost bin. And there are sweet peas to bring in from the garden, long-stemmed bouquets in small pots carrying the fragrance of shared memories.

Among sunflowers available for 2009, one variety, ‘Van Gogh,’ made the cut. It is a handsome flower with the classic colors of the artist’s sunflower portraits, bright yellow ray petals surrounding a disk of rich gold with a green center. As the flower matures, the disk turns a dark chocolate color. ‘Van Gogh’ is pollen-free, a disappointment to bees, but the cut flowers have a longer vase life. Seeds of this sunflower can be ordered online from Renee’s Garden Seeds (www.reneesgarden.com) or at garden centers that carry the brand.

Renee’s Garden Seeds also packages seeds of two sweet peas, ‘Zinfandel’ and ‘Painted Lady,’ to sow early next spring. ‘Zinfandel’ has ruffled blossoms in a rich shade of claret, the color of fine vintage wine. Growing on pea stakes in a garden bed, the blooms will fill the air with the fragrances of orange blossoms and honey.

‘Painted Lady’ dates back to 1737 as the first named sweet-pea cultivar. The fragrant flowers, a mix of rose, pastel pink and cream, hover over the garden like exotic butterflies and make bright, colorful bouquets for the table. Certainly not a new variety, these are flowers that graced the cottage gardens of our great-grandmothers.

Snapdragon varieties for next year include ‘Arrow Yellow’ with strong stems, 20-24 inches tall, that stand up to wind and rain. The vivid yellow color will make a striking statement in Lynne’s little cutting garden.

Another new snapdragon, ‘Palette Orange & White,’ is just 8-12 inches tall, perfect for pots scattered about the garden. Outstanding cold tolerance makes this an excellent garden performer in early spring and late fall. It will handle frosts and occasional freezes.

For the pollinators, I want to grow Rudbeckia ‘TigerEye,’ the first F1 hybrid rudbeckia, which means it has superior strength and longevity in the garden and will remain covered with 3-inch yellow flowers all summer. I expect it to be covered with butterflies and bees, as well.

I also like the looks of Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy,’ the first red-flowered rudbeckia from seed. Rich cherry-red blooms on robust, 24-inch-tall bushy plants will create a dramatic impact in a large pot, and as cut flowers as well.

There you have it, one gardener’s favorites among the many annual flower varieties available for next year, at least for the moment.

Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to rmanley@shead.org. Include name, address and telephone number.

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