If we lived in a warmer climate, we might be interested in a tidbit of information I received in my mailbox at home last week.
We also might be interested if we had a winter home in Florida or a greenhouse that needed filled for winter, provided we own our own oil company and can afford to heat it.
I was excited when I first saw the press release with the 2009 plant collection from Southern Living magazine and Athens Select, a program of heat- and humidity-tolerant plants. My excitement turned to disappointment; however, when I read the brochure and learned that all of the plants were hardy to zones 7 to 11. Zone 7, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness map, encompasses parts of eastern North Carolina and southward.
Upon further examination of the brochure, I was hit with a realization that might have occurred a lot sooner to sharper minds than myself; we already grow many of these plants, but we treat them as annuals.
The press release was obviously meant for professional growers, offering information on colorful and tempting summer plantings. Who among us hasn't bought that apricot-hued hibiscus only to learn that the only plants hardy to our zone-5 climate are red and pink varieties?
Just in case temptation is not something you can resist from the plant world, here are a few I wouldn't mind adding to my containers and garden borders this summer.
Coleus are plants that I can't resist. They don't withstand our winters, but are such prolific growers that even as I type, there are rooted cuttings in my kitchen window from last season's plants. It won't be long before they are potted up to go in this year's garden. When I visit garden centers in the spring, I am lured to the many varieties of coleus. The popularity of this plant waxed and waned several times from its explosion during the Victorian era until the 1970s, when their maroon and red leaves with its distinct veining simply became boring.
Recently; however, Victorian heirlooms have been resurrected and cultivated with newer varieties to create fascinating colors and leaf shapes. Each season it seems there is something new in the world of coleus and greenhouses often devote large sections to its diversity. On the market this season is a variety called 'Gold Brocade.' This plant has narrow but deeply toothed leaves that are brilliant gold with deep maroon variegation. An older, but still popular, variety 'Red Ruffles' has heart-shaped leaves that are pale maroon based with deep maroon striping and white tips on the toothed margins. Even more interesting is 'Mariposa,' a thickly quilted-look leaf that is pale maroon with its darker shades seemingly flowing outward from the leaf veins.
Another perennial plant that we treat as an annual are hybrid verbena. The colors are often not only vibrant, but the plants bloom all season until cold weather zaps them away. A well known variety, 'Homestead Purple' is related to a new variety for this season, 'Homestead Carpet Red.' Verbena are heat-loving plants that prefer full sun, so don't be afraid to put it right out in the open.
For an old-fashioned cottage garden flower that is not only reminiscent of our grandmothers' gardens but is likely one of the most scented flowers we will grow this year, nothing much can compare to heliotrope. Once hard to find, these plants have made their way into our garden centers, but are usually the more common Heliotropium arborescens. Athens Select propagators; however, have developed a variety of creeping heliotrop (Heliotropium amplexicaule) called 'Azure Skies,' that produces pastel lavender flowers and spreads into low-growing mounds. Interestingly, heliotrope is an American native plant, but unfortunately, it is native to areas south of us where winters are not only mild, but virtually non-existent. That doesn't mean we can't enjoy these plants anyway during our growing season.
Purple varieties of ornamental grass don't usually come back after our winters, and this is also true of Pennisetum (fountain grass) varieties 'Prince' and 'Princess.' 'Prince' is quite a bit taller, growing 2 to 6 feet, about twice the size of 'Princess.' Placing the taller grass near the back and the shorter near the front of any garden will produce a flow that pulls the eye throughout the landscape.
It's true that gardeners love their perennials, but annuals have a place in the garden as well and shouldn't be discounted from a summer landscape.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at kevanoff