Favourite Old-Fashioned Annuals
Image by David Tarrant
Felicia Amelloides are native to South Africa and a favorite amongst gardeners.
Every gardener loves to dream of summer landscapes when the winter winds are gusting cold rain or snow past the window.
Thankfully, new seed catalogues are abundant at this time of year, allowing us to sit in comfort and plan our sunny summer gardens.
Having been involved with gardening all my life I admit that I get a little upset with gardening publications that devote so much of their coverage during the first part of each new year to the latest plant introductions.
Tried and Tested
While new plant cultivars are being developed all the time, there are hundreds of tried-and-true varieties that have been around for years. A number of them may have fallen out of vogue, but they remain worthy of a place in our gardens. When it comes to summer annuals in particular, there are so many showy members deserving of garden space. Here are a few of my long-standing favourites. And I am happy to say that all of them are suitable for growing in gardens throughout our entire province.
When I was a child growing up in England, our neighbour Mrs. Stimpson always grew large, brightly coloured daisies that she called asters. She frequently cut bunches of them to give to friends as these blooms last well in vases. In the old days these plants were often referred to as China asters, which makes sense as they belong to a species of strong-growing annuals that originally came from the stony slopes and wastelands of China. The botanical name for them is Callistephus chinensis; their overall height at maturity ranges from 20 to 90 centimetres, depending on the cultivar and soil conditions.
In recent years the smaller Powder Puff series seems to have become the most popular one grown. But if you can find them, I would choose the single mixed colours, which are the happy daisies I remember from childhood.
Their flowers range from seven to 13 centimetres across with bright-yellow centres and petal colours ranging from deep-red to pinks, mauves and blues. The more often you cut them for indoor decorations, the more they will bloom right through until frost. One word of advice: The larger double-flowered cultivars are not as suitable for coastal gardens or other areas with high rainfall, as they tend to collect water and end up flopping their heads down into the mud.
Cleome hassleriana or spider flower is perhaps not as old or forgotten as the aster, and you may often see it widely planted in our beautiful public parks and gardens. It comes to us from South America and is a tall annual that makes a bold statement, reaching up to one metre in good soil. The stems and undersides of the palmate leaves are thorny, making it a great plant to place where delivery people and other visitors constantly cut across the flower border! The blooms are superb in dense terminal racemes. Each one measures three centimetres across and has long, protruding anthers (which explains its common name). Two good cultivars to look for would be ‘Rose Queen,’ with rich rose-coloured flowers, or ‘Helen Campbell,’ which has white blooms.