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Hailing from South Africa, Leucadendron 'Red Gem' has an unusual appearance that makes it right at home in a mixed shrub or perennial border in a mild-climate garden. The bushy shrub has green leaves with a section of red near the leaf tips. The leaves take on a bronze appearance in late fall, and striking red-and-yellow flowers decorate the tops of the stems in winter and spring. The flowers are excellent for cutting.
Leucadendron 'Red Gem' grows well in sun and well-drained soil. It tolerates drought with ease after a strong root system is established.
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.
African violet care is incredibly easy. African violets are easy-to-grow, rewarding houseplants. They bloom well with lower light than most other blooming plants, although they will perform better with medium to bright, indirect light. All bear clusters of purple, pink, white, rose, or lavender flowers over fuzzy leaves. African violet flowers may be single, double, ruffled, or edged in an accent color. African violets thrive in warm conditions (65 degrees F or warmer), although newer varieties tolerate cooler conditions. Keep the soil evenly moist, and water from the bottom to prevent leaf browning from water spots.
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.
Amaryllis is an easy bulb to grow. Its enormous cluster of trumpet-shape blooms may require staking to keep them upright, but blooms may last for up to 6 weeks. Keep the plant cool (60-65 degrees F) while in bloom but slightly warmer at other times when it is actively growing. It needs bright light and evenly moist soil, except when it is dormant. Force the bulb to go dormant in late summer or early fall by withholding water and placing it in a cool, dry location for a couple of months. Resume watering and move it to a warm spot to force new growth.
Anemones naturalize easily in good garden soil, spreading their early-spring cheer in the ephemeral garden under bare trees and shrubs that later leaf out. These daisylike blooms feature thin, silky petals that quickly disperse in the breeze after flowering. A color range of white, sky blue, pink to the velvety reds and purples of poppy anemones provide jewellike tones for early in the season before the tulips open.
Soak anemone corms in warm water overnight before planting to speed sprouting. These hardy Mediterranean natives flourish in a well-drained, lighter soil in full sun to partial shade.
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.
Annual phlox is a native wildflower in areas of Texas. As such, you can guess it's a wonderfully heat- and drought-tolerant variety. In late spring and summer, it shows off clusters of red, pink, lavender, or white flowers.
Because it's easy to grow and puts on such a great display, it's a good choice for beginning gardeners who have to tackle a hot, dry spot. Remove the flower clusters as they fade to encourage more blooms and pinch the plants back in summer if they start to get leggy.
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.
You've gotta love annual vinca -- it really delivers. It will tolerate a wide variety of conditions and still keep it up with almost unreal-looking, glossy green flowers and pretty pink, lavender, or red flowers that look like tiny parasols.
Whether the summer is dry or wet, hot or cold, vinca plugs along unfazed. It makes a great container plant. Or plant it in a bed or border, grouping at least eight or more together for best effect.
Plant established seedlings in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Vinca withstands drought but does best with moderate moisture. Fertilize occasionally. Like impatiens, this plant tends to be "self-cleaning" and needs little deadheading.
Shown above: Pretty in Pink vinca
Astilbe brings a graceful, feathering note to moist, shady landscapes. In cooler climates in the northern third or so of the country, it can tolerate full sun provided it has a constant supply of moisture. In drier sites, however, the leaves will scorch in full sun.
Feathery plumes of white, pink, lavender, or red flowers rise above the finely divided foliage from early to late summer depending on the variety. It will spread slowly over time where well-situated. Most commercially available types are complex hybrids.
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.
Once a favorite of Victorian gardens, this old-fashioned annual adds an exotic, almost gaudy touch to the garden. It offers interesting, trumpet-shape blooms, mostly in shades of pink. Many selections have bicolor flowers. Balsam often self-seeds in the garden and is very easy to grow.
Plant established plants outdoors in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Balsam needs rich, well-drained soil to do best, so work in plenty of compost. (It's ideal in containers as long as you don't let the plants dry out for even a second.) Fertilize lightly but regularly.
Barrenwort is a rare plant -- one that thrives in the dry shade beneath shallow-rooted trees! It spreads at a moderate rate, forming a graceful, dense groundcover. Almost as a bonus, it also produces dainty flowers shaped like a bishop's miter -- prompting another common name, bishop's cap. Its colorful foliage dangles on slender stalks, providing yet another moniker: fairy wings.
Bee balm is a wonderful plant for attracting butterflies and helpful bees. This prairie native has fascinating-shape flowers in jewel tones of red, pink, purple, and white, surrounded by dark bracts. They grow atop substantial clumps of dark foliage.
The aromatic foliage is sometimes used for making tea, and bee balm is often grown in herb gardens. Established plants tend to spread, especially in damp soil. This plant is extremely prone to mildew problems, so be sure to plant in full sun and seek out cultivars touted as resistant to mildew diseases.
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.