Steve’s Must-Have Annuals

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

Nancy’s post about fun annuals got me thinking about a few of my own must-haves. I experiment with loads of annuals, tender perennials and tropicals every season, and am in deep zonal denial. I’m always on the lookout for bold or colorful (or, better still, bold and colorful) foliage, bright floral colors, and plants that really pay the rent.

Browallia and PlectranthusI can never understand why I don’t see Bush Violet (Browallia americana). Sure you can buy some of its hybridized, blowsy-bloomed offspring at almost any garden center, but I’m talking about the straight species, the forebear of all those other ones. This easy annual grows in sun, shade, wet, or dry, in lean or rich soil. Given an early start – I usually sow seeds indoors in February – it will bloom from early July right through a mild frost or two. The plant’s twining stems grow to about 2 feet tall high and wide. They twist and weave through their neighbors, neatly lacing almost any composition together with a cloud of starry little magenta-kissed blue flowers with white centers. They’re more than capable of carrying a whole tableau right through summer – they’re an essential ingredient in knitting together Fergus Garrett’s 100-yard-long mixed border at White Flower Farm, and my garden as well.

Abelmoschus flowerAnother stunner, one of grander stature, is Sunset Hibiscus (Abelmoschus manihot). This fast-growing okra relative loves heat and sun and will quickly reward you with a five or more foot tall plant rich with hand-shaped leaves more than a foot across, and big, dark-eyed primrose-yellow flowers, which, coming as they do in late summer, provide a color rarely seen at that time of year. And once the flowers have gone by, they yield the cutest little fuzz-covered seed pods.

Abelmoschus budAbelmoschus leaf

A third fun annual that finds more and more spots in my yard every year is Lauren’s Grape Breadseed Poppy (Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape). Though this a fairly ephemeral plant – it comes and goes all too fast – I cherish its short-lived splendor. The Japanese have special word for the almost aching appreciation of passing fragile beauty, and I do too: ‘Lauren’s Grape’.

Poppy flower

It originated in Lauren Springer’s Colorado garden. Lauren told me she spent years growing every kind of poppy she could find, even going so far as to scrape the seeds off bagels just to see what might pop up. After many poppy-filled years, a stunner popped up. It was an eye-catching Kool-Aid-colored magenta single flower and to Lauren it represented the apex of poppydom. She promptly plucked out every other poppy to let this one produce seeds undiluted by the DNA of other poppy pollen. Then for six years she yanked every poppy that did not display that true color and exquisite single form. By then she had a reliable seed strain that would come true, which is bot-speak meaning to produce plants identical to their parent.

I was lucky enough to get a bag of seeds from Lauren years ago and have been appreciating the, er, fruits of her labors ever since. Thanks Lauren! When it comes to seed-grown plants it doesn’t get any easier than these: Get a handful of seeds, then just throw ‘em and grow ‘em. Sprinkle the seeds in February or so. The resulting plants will self-sow in subsequent years.

You can get all these seeds from Select Seeds. The first two are also available from J.L. Hudson, a quirky little idiosyncratic catalog that is among my very favorites.

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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Kathy January 26, 2008, 7:25 am

Welcome to the fantastic author lineup at GGW. Do you have an arbor and pergola post to contribute?

I have grown the browallia in the past and gave some seed to my best garden buddy. It now self-sows in her garden. I’ll have to start over again, but am glad to learn of a seed source, as I had originally gotten it in a seed swap.

Lisa at Greenbow January 26, 2008, 7:40 am

These all sound wonderful. I seem to have a brown thumb when it comes to poppies. When I see these lovlies during spring I want to try again. Here you have shown another reason to try try again.

Curtis January 26, 2008, 12:43 pm

These three looks great. When I first saw the sunset hibiscus. I thought it was an Okra.

Elly Phillips January 26, 2008, 5:44 pm

Hi Steve!

A very inspiring post! If memory serves, Nan also likes Select Seeds, and thanks to the two of you, I’ve ordered seed catalogs from both SS and JLHudson. I appreciate the recommendations for both plants and sources!–Elly

jodi January 26, 2008, 7:16 pm

Splendid poppy, Steve…I never met a poppy I didn’t like, so I hope to find this one somewhere soon. The hibiscus I THINK I have in my garden, given to me by a friend last year, because I have a small hollyhock like plant with soft yellow flowers and it’s not H. trionum. We’ll see if it seeds or not.

Steve Silk January 27, 2008, 5:16 pm

Thanks for all the comments. Seeds are so easy–especially throw-and-grow ones such as popppies–and cheap, that it’s always worthwhile to at least give them a try.
The sunset hibiscus is striking and fun, and Jodi it may well self sow in your garden. If you get a lot of heat it will zoom right out of the ground.
I always start those seeds indoors, so I can more easily position those big plants to grow where I want them to rather than randomly. The hibiscus looks great with grasses or anything with fine-textured foliage.

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