Jim Nau is the manager of The Gardens at Ball Horticultural Company in West Chicago. Testing an average of 3,000 varieties per year.

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The Annual Review
by Jim Nau       #Annuals   #Flowers

Just as they review their yearly financial statement, many gardeners do a plant assessment as they consider their gardens for the following year. Here are some annuals you may want to consider in your garden this year.


Archangel Raspberry 1


Need a plant that prefers high heat, high humidity and full sun and tolerates dry periods as long as it is well-rooted? Try angelonia!

Angelonia will tolerate a wide range of soils as long as it gets the heat it needs to attain perfection. That is why early spring plantings will just sit and wait until the weather warms up (especially at night) before they start growing. 

Archangel Raspberry
The Archangel series is available in a number of separate colors. Plants grow up to 14 inches tall. My personal preference is Archangel Raspberry with rich, large raspberry-purple flowers on branching plants.

Serena Waterfall Mix
The Serena™ series has been on the market for a number of years and I appreciate its consistent performance and long blooming period. The series also contains a Waterfall Mix which features blue and white selections growing from 14 to 16 inches tall.


Begonia Whopper 2

Begonia Whopper

Big-leaved begonia plants have been available for decades. From seed, however, the market all but fizzled in the late 1980s. It seemed that gardeners wanted more traditional bedding or dwarf varieties instead of larger ones. The latest in this class is the Whopper series, and it is the most vigorous of all the wax-leaved begonias. Available in both green and bronze-leaved selections, the Whopper plants grow from 24 to 30 inches tall by summer’s end and have shiny leaves with extended trusses of large 1½-inch flowers. My personal favorite is the Whopper Bronze Leaf Rose although Bronze Leaf Red is equally fine.

Coleus ‘Wasabi’  3

Coleus ‘Wasabi’

As you probably assumed, the name was chosen for its lime-green foliage. But watch out! This plant is vigorous. I was told it was 18 to 28 inches tall. It ended up being 3 to 4 feet tall and dominated all the other plants in the mixed containers. No matter. I just moved it to the flowerbed to be an accent at the back of the border. With a mix of tall blue salvias and yellow rudbeckias for companions, the bed was striking.

If you want to have a little fun, place ‘Wasabi’ in the middle or back of a flower bed with vigorous, trailing petunias in front of it. Many petunia colors are available, but I prefer purple, lavender or blue.


Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’  4

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’

Okay, so this is the only variety in the listing that’s a perennial (hardy to Zones 5 to 9). However, many of the newer selections of gaillardias being introduced can be used as either an annual or perennial since they flower more quickly than the older varieties. Another reason I included this one is that gaillardias come in a range of colors although yellows, reds and bicolors have dominated the palette. ‘Arizona Apricot’ is unique, with its apricot petals highlighted at the tip with golden yellow. Flowers are 2½ to 3 inches across on plants up to 12 inches tall. Finally, it is also an All-America Selections (AAS) winner, which means it’s a superior garden plant.


Kale (Ornamental) ‘Glamour Red’ 5

Kale (Ornamental) ‘Glamour Red’

This is another of the All-America Selection award winners. It’s a wavy-leaved (not fringed or cut-leaf) plant growing from 10 to 12 inches tall with burgundy rose or red center leaves and deep green outer leaves.

Kale is a cool-season plant. If planted in our gardens in May, the plants stay green most of the summer and then color up in September for a bright display from fall into December. For this reason, gardeners purchase plants in the late summer for fall decoration with pumpkins and other seasonal accents.


Ipomoea ‘Sweet Caroline Raven’  6

Ipomoea ‘Sweet Caroline Raven’

Sweet potato vine is one of gardening’s rare finds. A wonderful foliage plant, it works equally well as a ground cover or a mixed container plant, and it produces tubers (like a potato) during summer. Granted, eating the tuber doesn’t even register in our consciousness. However, as the plant is growing during the summer, remember you do have another option once you have finished enjoying the foliage. *

‘Sweet Caroline Raven’ is valued for its rich, dark black foliage that shines in a sunny location, and you might occasionally spy a light purple tubular flower as well. Plants grow from 12 to 16 inches tall but spread from 3 to 5 feet. Their spread depends on how happy they are with their growing environment. The richer the soil, the greater the spread. Watch for mice and voles. They love to feast on the tubers, especially in late summer as the tubers mature.


Lantana Bandana Light Yellow 7


Considered Southern favorites for their love of high heat and humidity, lantanas do surprisingly well in Midwestern gardens. While they don’t like our cool spring nights, they will grow quickly once night temperatures warm up and if plants are grown in full-sun locations.

‘Lucky Lemon Glow’
I have written about other members of the Lucky series over the years. They are a compact strain, growing from 12 to 16 inches tall, depending on the site. The warmer and richer the location, the taller they will grow.

While this one is named Lucky Lemon Glow, I often called it “Eggs over Easy” as the summer progressed. The combination of yellow blooms in the center of the flower and white blossoms along the outside reminded me of a sunny-side-up breakfast. Just don’t eat the blooms.

Bandana Light Yellow
Bandana Light Yellow has light yellow flowers that are consistently displayed across the entire blossom. Try Bandana in front of a bed of red salvia or coral and salmon echinaceas. Plants grow from 12 to 16 inches tall and also prefer sun and warmth.


Marigold ‘Moonstruck Lemon Yellow’  8

Marigold ‘Moonstruck Lemon Yellow’

The African or American class of marigolds is one of the best annuals for the mid- and late-summer garden. The Moonstruck series was introduced many years ago but ‘Lemon Yellow’ was released more recently. As its name suggests, it has a lemon-yellow flower color on plants growing from 14 to 16 inches tall. My personal preference has always been for these lighter yellow flowers rather than the traditional darker colors. I think they blend better in a mixed flower planting.


Petunia ‘Rhythm and Blues’ 9

Petunia ‘Rhythm and Blues’

I admired petunia ‘Rhythm and Blues’ when I saw it several years ago as it was being developed in California. While I had seen a number of bicolor petunias over the years, I was impressed with the uniformity of the blue center blooms highlighted with a prominent white edge on each 2 ½ to 3-inch flower. Plants grow from 12 to 14 inches tall.

I used ‘Rhythm and Blues’ in mixed containers with the golden-leaved helichrysum ‘Moonlight’, the euphorbia ‘Breathless White’ and yellow daisies.


Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’  10

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’

Another All-America Selections award winner, ‘Summer Jewel Red’, grows to 24 inches tall topped with 1-inch tubular red flowers on spikes that measure from 10 to 14 inches long. This is a wonderful plant to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Long-flowering, the plants bloom from June well into September.


Verbena Superbena Royale Peachy Keen 11

Verbena Superbena Royale Peachy Keen

I have to admit that it’s the name that drew me in on this one. While the coral salmon flowers were massed across the crown of the plant within the hanging basket, the name of Peachy Keen made me smile. I smiled a lot more when the plant excelled in its performance. Plants grow from 6 to 10 inches tall and can spread from 14 to 20 inches in either a container or garden beds. Use this one in a mixed combination with dark rose, blue, or yellow flowers. One of my personal favorites was pairing it with a yellow-flowering calibrachoa in a hanging basket.


Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’  12

Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’

Growing from 6 to 8 inches tall, this variety has light blue outer petals with a dark blue center and a white border between the two (this is what defines the color “marina” in most catalogs). It is another of the All-America Selections award winners and can be used for either spring or late summer/autumn gardens.


BOOST Your Nutrition

Burpee has some relatively new vegetables with higher nutritional content than other varieties. Known as the BOOST collection, it is comprised of three cherry tomatoes, a pepper, a cucumber, and a salad mix.

• ‘Cherry Punch’ hybrid tomato delivers 30 percent more vitamin C and 40 percent more lycopene than the average garden tomato. A half-cup of ‘Cherry Punch’ tomatoes delivers 90 percent of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C — 62 days to maturity.

• Cucumber ‘Gold Standard’ hybrid cucumber can produce five times the amount of beta carotene of other garden cucumbers and has a gold tone to the flesh. 49 days to maturity.

• ‘Healing Hands’ lettuce salad mix can produce 20 percent more lutein, 30 percent more beta carotene, 30 percent more total carotenoids and 70 percent more anthocyanins than other garden salad blends. 28 days to maturity.

• ‘Power Pops’ hybrid tomato delivers 55 percent more lycopene and 40 percent more carotenoids than the average garden tomato. 57 days to maturity.

• ‘Solar Power’ hybrid tomato provides three times the level of beta carotene of the average garden tomato. 75 days to maturity.

• ‘Sweet Heat’ hybrid pepper is a habanero type that can produce 65 percent more vitamin C than the average garden pepper. 75 days to maturity.

Editor’s Note: The percentage figures cited above were based on test plants that were grown under Burpee’s trial conditions and harvested when ripe.


* Editor's Note: Remember that even if a plant is edible, you must know the plant's full history before deciding to consume it. Many plants are treated by the growers and nurseries with an assortment of fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals. It is only safe to eat edible plants that you know have not been treated with or grown around any harmful substances.


Photo Credits:
1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 - Ron Capek
4, 5, 10 - Photos courtesy of All-America Selections
9, 12 - Photo courtesy of Ball Horticultural
11 - Proven Winners


A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume XVIII Issue I.


Posted: 03/28/12   RSS | Print


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