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African daisy has a bold, graphic look that's hard to find in more common daisies. Flowers are big, up to 4 inches across, often with interesting, eyelike markings around the flower's center.
This cool-season plant hails from South Africa. In areas where summers aren't hot, such as the Northern regions of the U.S. and the Pacific Northwest, it will bloom constantly until frost. In warm-summer areas, it often takes a break during the peak of summer, but reblooms in fall. Many types have silvery-green leaves that remain attractive when the plant isn't in bloom. It's usually grown as an annual but is a perennial in frost-free climates.
There's nothing subtle about an African marigold, and thank goodness for that! It's a big, flamboyant, colorful punch of color for the sunny bed, border, or large container. Most are yellow, orange, or cream. Plants get up to 3 feet tall and produce huge 3-inch puffball blooms while dwarf varieties get just 1 foot tall. The mounded dark green foliage is always clean, fresh, and tidy. Grow them in a warm, sunny spot with moist, well-drained soil all summer long.
Alstroemerias are best known as cut flowers, where their rich colors and lovely veining grace many a vase, where they'll last for as long as two weeks. But they can also be grown in the garden, where they do best in light, well-drained soil. They bloom freely through the summer and come in almost all shades of the rainbow except true blue.
Where they're perennials, in the warmest parts of the country, deadhead flowers when they are done blooming to prevent them from spreading too much by seed.
Grow something a little different this year and try amaranth. It will likely grow taller than you and produce stunning, large reddish to gold flowers. It's almost worth growing just for the flowers alone.
Vegetable amaranth produces coleuslike green leaves overlaid with burgundy patches. Use the tender young leaves in salads and stir-fries as you would to spinach. The leaves have a nutty, tangy flavor so are best mixed with other greens. The seeds are a favorite of nutrition-conscious cooks, especially vegetarians, who like its high protein and fiber content. The seeds, which are produced in abundance, can be used as a cereal, ground into flour, popped, toasted, or cooked with other grains.
Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) is probably the best-known amaranth and for good reason -- it's a showstopper. The plant can hit up to 5 feet, but what's amazing is its dripping, tassellike red flowers, which look like no other.
Another type of amaranth, Joseph's coat, has showy, almost gaudily marked leaves in greens, golds, purples, and pinks.
It can be difficult to find love-lies-bleeding in garden centers as established seedlings, so start them from seed directly in the soil. Joseph's coat is usually easier to find as an established plant.
Angel's trumpet is a heat-loving tropical or subtropical shrub that likes warm (80 -85 degrees F) days and cool nights. In cold-winter regions, you can grow it in a container and take it indoors over winter or simply treat it as an exotic, amazing annual. Grow it in moist, well-drained soil. Its fragrant, trumpet-shape flowers dangle from upright stems and appear in shades of white, yellow, pink, orange, and cream.
Note: All parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten, and the plant has been banned in some communities. Check local restrictions before planting it.
Angelonia is also called summer snapdragon, and once you get a good look at it, you'll know why. It has salvia-like flower spires that reach a foot or 2 high, but they're studded with fascinating snapdragon-like flowers with beautiful colorations in purple, white, or pink. It's the perfect plant for adding bright color to hot, sunny spaces. This tough plant blooms all summer long with spirelike spikes of blooms. While all varieties are beautiful, keep an eye out for the sweetly scented selections.
While most gardeners treat angelonia as an annual, it is a tough perennial in Zones 9-10. Or, if you have a bright, sunny spot indoors, you can even keep it flowering all winter.
Old-fashioned annual statice is found more often dried in crafts stores than growing in gardens. But this easy-to-grow plant is a great pick for containers or the middle of a border, especially if you want to harvest it for everlasting bouquets indoors.
Statice bears papery flowers in a wide variety of colors. The flowers dry well -- so much so they practically dry on the plant. The plant is also very drought-tolerant, so you can enjoy its blooms even if you forget to water it from time to time. In fact, statice thrives in hot, sunny spots with well-drained soil. Plant them outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.
Resembling a miniature snapdragon, toadflax is a great choice to bring color to the garden early in the season when you're most starved for it. In areas with cool summers, annual toadflax blooms from spring to fall. In warmer areas, the blooms fade come hot weather. Shear them back by about half. If the weather isn't too hot, they may rebloom in fall.
Toadflax grows well in the ground, but also try it in containers, especially with pansies, bulbs, and other early-season stars.
Showy, brightly colored flowers are saucer-shape, sometimes semidouble, over loose mounds of handsome dark strawberrylike leaves. Many of the best cultivars are hybrids between species. These plants do best in a well-drained, rich soil.
Add a pool of sunshine to the garden with a massed planting of black-eyed Susan. From midsummer, these tough native plants bloom their golden heads off in sun or light shade and mix well with other perennials, annuals, and shrubs. Tall varieties look especially appropriate among shrubs, which in turn provide support. Add black-eyed Susans to wildflower meadows or native plant gardens for a naturalized look. Average soil is sufficient for black-eyed Susans, but it should be able to hold moisture fairly well.
Black-eyed Susan vine is a top pick for adding easy-growing bright color to the summer garden. The trumpet-shape blooms appear in cheery shades of yellow, orange, and white; many selections have dark purple throats. It's a polite vine you can count on to stay in bounds and not become overgrown.
This uncommon perennial is grown for its unusual black berries that form in clusters when its seedpods split open in fall. They are fascinating to behold in the garden and often brought indoors for arrangements.
In summer, this easy-care iris relative bears small orange or yellow flowers dotted with red. Plants are short-lived, but self-sow to replace themselves.
Blanket flowers are wonderfully cheerful, long-blooming plants for hot, sunny gardens. They produce single or double daisy flowers through most of the summer and well into fall. The light brick red ray flowers are tipped with yellow -- the colors of Mexican blankets.
Blanket flowers tolerate light frost and are seldom eaten by deer. Deadhead the flowers to keep them blooming consistently through the summer and into fall. Some species tend to be short-lived, especially if the soil is not well drained.
Like its perennial cousin butterflyweed, bloodflower is one of the best plants to attract butterflies. Monarch larvae love to feast on the leaves, and other butterflies that sip its nectar. A drought-tolerant plant, it's also called Indian root and swallow-wort. It's perfect for planting in sunny naturalistic or wildlife gardens. In midsummer, it covers itself with gorgeous flowers in oranges, reds, and yellows on tall stems. Plant it in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Be careful of the milky sap, which can irritate skin. While it's grown as an annual in most areas, it is a perennial in the tropics.
Bougainvillea is one of the showiest vines you can grow. The large plant practically smothers itself in big clusters of papery bracts. These bracts appear in bold shades of pink, lavender, red, gold, or orange and create a display you can see a block away.
While bougainvillea is tropical, it's usually grown as an annual in cold-winter areas.
Note: Many varieties of bougainvillea bear sharp spines, so take care not to plant these varieties next to doorways or paths.
Brightly colored butterfly weed is a butterfly magnet, attracting many kinds of butterflies to its colorful blooms. Monarch butterfly larvae feed on its leaves but seldom harm this native plant. It is slow to emerge in the spring, so mark its location to avoid accidental digging before new growth starts. If you don't want it to spread, deadhead faded blooms before seedpods mature. It is sometimes called milkweed because it produces a milky sap when cut.
Sometimes grown as an herb, cheerful calendulas look good in every garden. The cream, yellow, apricot, or orange flowers are edible, adding bright color and tang to soups and salads. And they're great cut flowers, adding a burst of sunshine to bouquets. Cool-season annuals, these plants do best in early spring or fall in most parts of the country but can be grown for winter color in the southernmost parts.
They like a variety of soils but need good drainage and moderate water. Deadhead them regularly to prolong bloom. Calendula will reseed in ideal conditions.
Like a tiny petunia on steroids, calibrachoa (also called million bells) grows and flowers at an amazing rate. Often confused for a petunia, million bells makes a splash no matter where you put it in the garden. It is perfect for containers or hanging baskets but also can be tucked into the front of a border where it will spill out onto sidewalk or patio. In fact, it may be the ultimate "spiller" for container gardens as long as you give it ample water and fertilizer, which it needs to fuel its astounding growth.
Shown above: MiniFamous Compact Red calibrachoa
California poppy, a native wildflower, adds an easygoing dose of color hot, dry sites. Beautiful, satiny flowers in sunset colors wave above ferny, blue-green foliage. They like poor soils, especially sandy soils. If soil is too rich and moist, they won't bloom well. California poppies are a cool-season annual, which means they offer great color early in the growing season but fade once the heat of summer hits.
Plant them from seed in the fall or very early spring. They like moist conditions at first, but they are drought-tolerant once established. They dislike transplanting. When the plants start to brown and fade, pull them up. However, California poppies will reseed easily; for more plants next year, allow some flowers to ripen to seed on the plant and scatter when you tear up those plants. Replant in fall if you like, especially in warmer-climate areas.