Winning annuals are proven performers

Top plants include varieties of celosia, petunia, hollyhock and rose mallow

In the Garden

January 25, 2004|By Nancy O'Donnell | Nancy O'Donnell,New York Times News Service

Annuals live only for one growing season so they need to be tops in performance due to this small window of opportunity to strut their stuff. Winning plants chosen by All-America Selections and Fleuroselect are just that; easy to maintain, hard working, and disease resistant.

A winner of both the AAS and Fleuroselect Gold Medal is a celosia named 'Fresh Look Red.'

There are two types of celosia. The winner belongs to the crested or Celosia plumosa family, which features fluffy, feathery plumes. The other type of celosia is Celosia cristata or the cockscomb variety. This flower is often described as resembling the brain with all its nooks and crannies.

If you've never grown celosia, give them some serious thought this year. They love full sun and August heat and tolerate both drought and rainy weather.

Now for plants that are pretty darn easygoing. Grow them right in the garden or tuck a few in pots or window boxes. You can purchase plants come spring or sow seed directly in the soil around May 15.

'Fresh Look Red' and 'Fresh Look Yellow,' another 2004 AAS award winner, are both self- cleaning, which means you don't have to deadhead them. Spent blooms are continually covered with new flowers and fresh rich, green foliage. They'll grow 18 inches in height and 15 to 20 inches in width. Enjoy them in fresh bouquets or as dry flowers for wreaths and arrangements.

Other winners include:

* 'Queeny Purple' hollyhock. Purplish-violet, double 3-inch flowers have frilly edges and button-like centers, and they line multiple flower stalks throughout the summer. This compact hollyhock, which, unlike most hollyhocks is an annual not a perennial, grows only 30 inches tall but a robust 20 inches wide, so it has wind resistance usually not seen in taller varieties. Try planting them close together to create a flowering hedge in the garden or use as a focal point in a large container.

If you're starting from seed, they be planted indoors in early spring. Move them outside into a location with full sun.

* Petunia 'Limbo Violet.' This plant is a grandiflora (large flowered), non-trailing (remains a compact, well-rounded plant) with incredibly dark, rich violet-purple blooms.

These plants are beautiful massed along the front of a border as they stay a crisp 12 inches tall. Best of all, these petunias never need pinching to shape or for cleaning. Seed must be sown indoors in early spring, or you can purchase plants later in the year at garden centers.

* Gypsophila 'Gypsy Deep Rose.' An annual baby's breath, the flower sports small, rosy-purple flowers that just blanket its foliage. Reaching approximately 14 inches high and wide, it's another compact grower bred to accommodate smaller gardens and containers. Grow in full sun by seeding directly into the garden in mid-May. As with all annual baby's breath, stagger planting times 2 weeks apart to ensure flowers through September.

* Phlox drummondii 'Grammy Pink / White.' This plant barely reaches 8 inches tall and is adorned with large rounded clusters of 1-inch-wide pink and white flowers. Watch this one light up your garden from spring right through until frost. Sow seed indoors in early spring and transplant to a sunny location.

* Lavatera trimestris 'Novella.' This plant, also known as annual rose mallow, needs full sun and will reward you handsomely with large, rose-colored blossoms streaked with silver all season long. A great plant for containers or in the garden, it will only reach 12 to 14 inches tall and wide.

Again, either sow the seeds indoors in early spring or purchase bedding plants. Seeds are available from various catalogs such as Jung, Park and Burpee. Or, once the planting season arrives, you can browse your local garden center as plant tags will proudly note these coveted titles.

Nancy O'Donnell, who wrote this article for the Albany Times Union, owns a nursery in New York state.

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