Want a showy garden but on a budget? Check out these impressive and inexpensive blooms.
This classic cutting-garden annual comes in shapes and sizes that most people have never even tried. Growing from seed will allow you to experiment with more than the usual suspects you see in garden centers: there are the brainy-looking “crested” celosia (C. argentea cristata), soft plumed varieties (C. argentea plumosa), and fluffy arrow-shaped types (C. argentea spicata). All are superb for adding texture in the border or the vase.
If you have a big space to fill, monarda will rise to the occasion. In most gardens, it spreads vigorously but not aggressively, making a towering clump of spiky crimson blooms that draw hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Chances are, you’ll be attracted to the fresh, minty scent as well — you can make a brightly flavored tea from the flowers and leaves.
Sunflowers are the definition of showy, and there are so many interesting varieties available from seed that it’s a shame not to have at least one in your border. As a bonus, branching varieties produce lots of extra blooms for your tabletop. Hillary Alger of Johnny’s Selected Seeds likes to grow a mix of branching sunflowers together: ‘Sunfinity’ is our new favorite re-blooming sunflower.
Hillary Alger of Johnny’s Selected Seeds says zinnias are a “must-have” flower, easy to grow and impossibly cheerful. Sow an empty border with a tall zinnia seed mix after the last frost in spring, and come July you’ll be blown away by a four-foot-tall rainbow of color that blooms its brains out. For a more compact but equally eye-opening effect, try the Profusion series.
Some annuals can be finicky, but Pentas seem to take whatever Mother Nature throws at them. Taller varieties such as ‘Butterfly’ have always been solid performers that attract loads of pollinators, but some of the dwarf varieties have been slow to rebloom. Try ‘Lucky Star’ for a dwarf variety with big color punch.
Impatiens have all but disappeared from the shade garden, where they were just recently the star, due to a fatal disease that seems to infect any traditional impatiens. The tougher New Guinea hybrids are definitely immune, but they tend to get much larger. For a compact annual in shade that blooms terrifically, try Torenia, also known as Wishbone Flower. The fun, bell-shaped blooms just keep coming all season, and will bloom well into late fall.
The star of any summer garden is Vinca, and it shows no signs of slowing down as reigning champion of an everblooming annual, for challenging, hot sites. Success with Vinca takes some knowledge. They should not be planted until the heat has arrived; they like temps in the upper 80’s with nights of at least 70. They also do not like waterlogged soils. Try the Nirvana or Cora series for increased fungal resistance.
The most common Cuphea is the tiny-flowered Mexican Heather, but we are falling in love with the Cupheas known as “Cigar Plants” There is Giant Cigar, Pink Cigar, ‘Vermillionaire’, and others, but all sport loads of orange to red tubular blooms on arching stems that are a treat for hummingbirds.
There are so many Salvias available that it can be sometimes daunting, but we definitely have a new favorite. The Mirage series are a dwarf, evergreen, mounding variety that blooms consistently throughout the warm season all the way up through light frosts – in mild winters, it will bloom year-round. Plus, hummingbirds love it!!
Many edible and ornamental varieties of peppers are available from seed, and anyone who has grown them knows their aesthetic appeal! The truly ornamental varieties are certainly pretty, and can still be mixed into a salsa, but culinary types like Thai Dragon or Habanero are beautiful in their own right when they are loaded with peppers, which they will be from late spring to first frost.