Planting for impact

168
Planting for impact

Lily of the Nile has been planted in California for decades, providing one burst of flowers over several weeks in early summer. This new form has darker, more vivid blue flowers and continues to put out new flower spikes all summer. Keith Miner, Monterey Bay Nursery/Courtesy photo “I want my garden to look like this!” (Hands me phone with a picture of the main garden area at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia.) “Hey, I’ve been there! I was about 10 years old and I still remember the beds of gaudy annuals, the twinkle lights in the evening, and the amazing fountain and light show. Definitely worth a visit, especially with kids, and they are justifiably famous for the spectacular beds of flowering annuals … “OK, I see from their website that you’ll need 50 full-time gardeners, 20 part-time gardeners, and 26 greenhouses. But maybe we can scale this down for you.” Annuals or perennials? Public gardens get great impact from mass plantings of annuals, which are plants that grow, bloom and die all in one season. Things like petunias, marigolds, and impatiens. The gardeners also refresh the beds frequently. Landscape firms that maintain high-quality flower plantings typically change them over about four to six times per year. Sometimes they do use perennials (plants that bloom year after year). I had the opportunity to tour Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and go behind the scenes during their annual fall chrysanthemum festival. If you wonder how they keep it all looking so perfect, the answer is that minions go out at dawn before the gates open and pull the plants with fading flowers, replacing them with fresh plants from the production greenhouses. Each planter, looking like one big plant, is often a collection of individually grown stems, each with a perfect flower, with the plants then crowded together to create visual impact. Or the whole planter is replaced overnight. I took pictures of huge circular planters of mums suspended from the ceiling of the main greenhouse, each with hundreds of blooms. When I reviewed my pictures later, I realized that one day they were white and another they were yellow! Annuals are great for avid gardeners. But plant breeders have observed that you are short on time and seem to want flowering plants that give lots of bloom over a very long period with little effort. Here are some new introductions that give high impact with low care. Resist the temptation to mix things up. Those public gardens fill a whole bed with just one or two species to get great swaths of color. These varieties are either hybrids or selections. Hybrids are created by crossing different species or existing varieties in a controlled manner to try to get specific characteristics. Selections are simply naturally occurring variations that are observed and, if they are different and consistent enough, are named and propagated from divisions or cuttings for market. New Day varieties of gazania are frost proof, sun-loving perennials that bloom through […]