||Annuals and bedding plants for colour
Anyone who has visited a seaside town will probably remember seeing large beds of brightly coloured flowers along the promenades. These beds are filled mainly with annual plants, some of the brightest, most vividly coloured plants available – and they can be grown with just as much success and impact in our own coastal gardens.
Coastal colour from annuals and bedding plants
‘Bedding plants’ is a term that gardeners do not always fully understand. Most bedding plants are annuals. These are plants that are sown, grow, flower and die all within a year. Bedding plants can also be biennials, which are sown and grown on in one year, and flower and die during a second year.
Confusingly, however, there are a number of perennial plants, and even soft shrubs, that are grown as bedding plants nowadays. It really just means that the plants are grown in sufficient quantity and at a time and price that warrants them being grown en masse for temporary colour. Such plants are usually sold in trays or pots and, depending on the type, are available from six months before they are due to flower, right up until they have already started to do so.
When choosing them from a garden centre or shop, always look for healthy specimens. The ideal plant will not yet have started to flower, or have only a few flowers, which will mean that you have a full season of colour ahead of you. If they have already started blooming, the plants will have developed a significant root system and may respond badly when planted out. You will also have missed some of the flowering potential.
Most annual types will be tender (in that they will be damaged by frost or very cold weather). These plants, which will have been started off in a greenhouse, will need to be slowly acclimatized to colder conditions – a term that is known as ‘hardening off’ – then planted out once all danger of frost has passed.
Try to do as little damage to the roots and stems as possible when you remove the plants from their container. Damaged leaves will readily be replaced with new leaves, but a plant has only one stem!
Annual phlox (Phlox drummondii) The annual phlox give a succession of colour throughout summer and are very easy to look after. Look for ‘21st Century Pink’ (bright sugar pink), ‘Twinkle Stars’ (magenta and white) and ‘Carnival’ (a strain with flowers of pink, rose, salmon, scarlet, blue and violet). USDA Zone: Z6
Baby’s breath, or chalk plant (Gypsophila elegans) This hardy annual thrives in any good garden soil, although it tends to prefer chalk. It is loved by flower arrangers as well as gardeners for its long-lasting, wispy, airy flowers, which come in white, pink or lilac. USDA Zone: Z5
Bedding, or wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens) This is the fibrous-rooted bedding begonia, as opposed to the tuberous-rooted container or house-plant type. Plants are usually 8–12in (20–30cm) high and have bronze or green leaves. Flowers come in shades of red, pink and white, and appear from early summer to late autumn. USDA Zone: Z9–1
Bells of Ireland (Molucella laevis) This plant, which is tolerant of both wind and salt, has tiny, inconspicuous flowers. However, they are surrounded by a curious, light green calyx, which gives the plant a cool, green look that goes well with lots of hot, vibrant-coloured flowers. When the seeds form, these green calyces turn papery and light brown. USDA Zone: Z7
Blanket flower (Gaillardia spp) This bright, daisy-flowered annual blooms for four months from mid summer onwards. Look for ‘Sunburst Yellow with Red’ (which perfectly describes the colours), ‘Burgundy’ (with flowers of burgundy red) and ‘Sundance’ (with deep red, double, almost globular flowers). USDA Zone: Z8
Busy Lizzie (Impatiens spp) This is an extremely popular, low-growing, highly floriferous, summer bedding plant. Flowers come in a variety of colours from white and pale pink through to oranges, deep reds and near purple. There is a new strain, called ‘Sunpatiens’, which is the first Impatiens variety to be both yellow and a sun-lover. Another interesting variety is ‘Swirl Pink Improved’. USDA Zone: Z10
Californian poppy (Eschscholzia californica)This is the state flower of California and it grows beautifully all along the Pacific coastline. It blooms throughout the summer, the silky-textured flowers looking like orange, red-orange, rose-pink, warm yellow or cream poppies. There are also forms with attractively marked petals. USDA Zone: Z6
Cockscomb (Celosia argentea) This makes an excellent specimen plant for a container, but it can also be used successfully in bedding schemes, if planted in quantity. The flowers appear as dense, feathery plumes. These are the Plumosa types, but there are also the Cristata types, which have crested flowers and are best as pot plants. USDA Zone: Z9
Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) This is a showy annual for the summer and early autumn. The daisy-like blooms can be single, double or crested, and usually come as white, pink, crimson or lavender, often with notched or frilled petals, and with yellow centres. ‘Dream Picotee’ is an excellent, free-flowering strain. USDA Zone: Z10
Dianthus (Dianthus) There are many types of Dianthus, including perennials and biennials, as well as annual strains, such as ‘Musical Score’. This is one of the newer forms, with very dark brown and white flowers; most Dianthus come in shades of red, orange, pink or white. These plants tolerate dappled shade and full sun, and acid and alkaline soils. Being low-growing – usually 12–24in (30–60cm) – they do not get blown over in windy gardens. USDA Zone: Z5–8
Everlasting flower (Helichrysum bracteatum) We have already met one Helichrysum for coastal gardens (H. petiolare on p143). This form is entirely different, however. Everlasting flowers are brightly coloured, rather like miniature dahlias, and look as if they are made from paper. USDA Zone: Z10
Floss flower (Ageratum houstonianum) A perfect plant for edging a flower bed or border, Ageratum is well known for its fluffy, powder-blue flowers. There are also pink and white forms, but these are much less popular. A. houstonianum ‘Blue Mink’ and ‘High Tide Blue’ provide some of the clearest of blues. USDA Zone: Z10
Heliotrope, or cherry pie (Heliotropium arborescens) These flowers, which really do smell of cherry pie, come in purple, violet-blue or white and appear from early summer until mid autumn. ‘Marine’ (wine-purple) and ‘P.K. Lowther’ (pale purple) are excellent forms. USDA Zone: Z10
Livingstone daisy (Mesembryanthemum spp) This is a succulent plant with masses of daisy flowers in shades of red, pink, white, orange, yellow and cream. The flowers open fully when the sun is out and tend to close during cloudy weather. Being a ground-hugger means that it is ideal for gardens right at the edge of the sea. USDA Zone: Z9
Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena) If you want a plant that produces masses of dainty, blue flowers from early summer to autumn, and you have a sunny spot on a free-draining soil, then this is for you. Look for ‘Miss Jekyll’ (bright blue) AGM, ‘Oxford Blue’ (very dark blue) and Nigella papillosa ‘Midnight’ (a rich, dark purple). USDA Zone: Z7
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) These annuals can smother other plants if left to run wild, but they do carry fine flowers in orange, red and yellow. They do not mind salty air and, because of their twining habit, do not come unstuck when the wind blows. The Alaska Series AGM is popular, but the Jewel and Whirlybird Series are equally as good. USDA Zone: Z9
Pelargonium (Geranium spp) There are hundreds of varieties of pelargonium, perhaps better known as the bedding geranium. They all love the warm, clear air and sunshine of the coastal garden. These are actually tender perennial plants and, with care, they can be kept from year to year. Some of the more interesting forms in recent years are those with decorative foliage, such as ‘Black Magic Red F1’. USDA Zone: Z10
Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) This is not an annual, nor even a perennial in the true sense of the word: it is actually a soft-stemmed shrub that is best grown as an annual. It is very tender, being native to Burma, but if successfully kept over winter it will be evergreen. It is grown for its attractive dark purple leaves. USDA Zone: Z10
Petunia (Petunia spp) These rank probably as the most popular summer bedding plant of all, with hundreds of varieties available. Petunias bloom best in a sunny and warm position and they flower continuously until cut down by the first frosts. There are miniatures, ground creepers, trailers and twiners, so they will suit many areas of your coastal garden. USDA Zone: Z7
Pot marigold (Calendula spp) The pot marigold is a hardy annual thatcan be sown in autumn for flowering the following summer. Its bright flowers work extremely well by the sea. Look for ‘Daisy Mixed’ (golden yellow, orange and cream) and ‘Art Shades Mixed’ (apricot, orange and cream). USDA Zone: Z6
Salvia (Salvia patens) There are annual and perennial salvias. Some perennials are better grown as annuals, though – and this is the case with Salvia patens. Upright, branching plants have mid-green leaves and attractive flowers in different shades of blue. Look for ‘Blue Angel’ (a rich royal blue) and ‘Cambridge Blue AGM’ (light blue). USDA Zone: Z8
Shrubby verbena (Lantana spp) These sub-shrubs are best grown as low-growing annuals to be discarded at the end of the summer, or kept in a greenhouse over winter to become larger shrubs growing to 6ft (2m) or so. There are several reds, yellows and oranges available such as ‘Lucky Red Hot’. USDA Zone: Z10
Signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia) The Tagetes genus is best known for its large-flowered French and African marigolds. Better suited to a coastal garden, however, are the ferny-leaved, smaller-flowered strains of Tagetes tenuifolia. These plants form many-branched clumps some 15in (37cm) high and they have a strong fragrance. Try ‘Luna Golden Yellow’. USDA Zone: Z9
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) This is a versatile summer bedding plant, being good in beds, borders and containers. It is actually a tender perennial and in some gardens will survive from year to year. The dwarf kinds are better for exposed coastal gardens. Look for ‘Montego Mix F1’ and the trailing ‘Pearly Queen Mix’. USDA Zone: Z7
Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana) The curious bloom of this summer-flowering annual plant really does have spidery qualities. Usually rose-purple, pink or white, the flowers come loosely clustered at the tops of stems, with ‘legs’ coming out at all angles. It is a tall plant at 4–5ft (1.2–1.5m), so place near the back of the border. USDA Zone: Z10
Sun plant, or rose moss (Portulaca spp) This is a succulent plant, producing creeping stems that cover the ground. It is a sun-lover, but does not grow higher than about 6in (15cm), so it is good for a windy garden. It flowers throughout summer, producing small, rose-like blooms in whites, yellows, oranges, reds and pinks. A modern strain is ‘Tequila Mix’. USDA Zone: Z9
Swan river daisy (Brachycome iberidifolia) This white daisy flower is entirely suited to coastal gardens and it flowers from late spring to early autumn. ‘Dwarf Bravo Mixed’ is lower-growing than the main species, reaching just 10in (25cm) or so, with flowers in shades of blue, violet and white, with black or yellow centres. ‘Purple Splendour’ (purple blue) is also excellent. USDA Zone: Z8
Tickseed (Coreopsis spp) Although perennials, these flower in the first year from seed, so are often grown as annuals. They have bright, daisy flowers and enjoy being grown in a sunny border where they will flower profusely during mid summer. Look for the shorter varieties, such as ‘Sunfire’ (deep yellow and maroon), ‘Zagreb’ AGM (gold yellow) and ‘Mahogany Midget’ (deep red). USDA Zone: Z4–5
Treasure flower (Gazania spp) With large, bright, daisy flowers, there is little to surpass these plants for brilliance and colour when the sun shines. Although the prominent colours are shades of orange, breeders have created different coloured zones within the flowers. USDA Zone: Z9
• Verbena (Verbena x hybrida) With the introduction of many different colours and weather tolerance, as well as prolonged flowering, verbenas have become much more fashionable. A good example is ‘Tukana Hot Pink and Salmon mixed with Raspberry’. They can be grown as annuals for summer use. USDA Zone: Z9