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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.
Among the most architectural plants, agaves feature bold succulent leaves that set the tone for wherever they're planted. They're incredibly heat- and drought-tolerant and most are long-lived. Many varieties bear sharp spines along leave margins and at the leaf tip, which adds to their dramatic presentation. The bluish-green rosettes naturally spread by producing offsets at the base of the plant. It is an excellent choice for sunny, hot, dry areas, especially desert regions, with good drainage.
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.
An adaptable tree sadly overlooked by gardeners, hornbeam is a slow-growing small tree with strong wood. In fall, the foliage turns shades of yellow, orange, and red; in winter, the fluted texture of the bark gives hornbeam one of its other common names: musclewood.
Hornbeam thrives in full sun or partial shade, and its small size makes it useful for growing in parking strips or other tight spaces. Native to areas of North America, it can be grown with a single trunk or a clump of smaller trunks; it develops a rounded shape.
American persimmon is a tall shade tree that's sadly underused in gardens. It features dark green foliage that often develops yellow or red tones in fall. Older trees have distinctive bark that almost looks scaly, as though it's covered in small silvery plates.
Male and female flowers appear on separate plants; the female trees produce an edible fruit if there's a male nearby for pollination. The fruits are also great for attracting birds.
American persimmon does best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. But it tolerates drought fairly well.
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.
A grand Southern lady, banana shrub is a member of the magnolia family. Its lovely springtime flowers resemble magnolia blooms but have a bold banana fragrance. The evergreen shrub's flush of flowers in spring is followed by sporadic flowering through summer. Plant this lovely shrub in beds or borders, or use it as a fragrant hedge. It tolerates pruning well and can be maintained at 4-5 feet tall. Water banana shrub regularly after planting. After it is established, it tolerates drought with ease.
Baptisia is one of those tall plants with beautiful spires, often in a showy blue, that draws everyone to it for an admiring closer look. It's a native prairie plant that bears long, tall spikes of pealike blooms in late spring. As the flowers ripen, they turn into interesting black seedpods often used in fall arrangements.
It is a drought-tolerant plant that forms a deep taproot. Choose its location carefully; it is difficult to transplant once established.
Barberry paints the landscape with arching, fine-textured branches of purple-red or chartreuse foliage. In fall, leaves brighten to reddish orange and spikes of red berries appear like sparklers as the foliage drops. The mounding habit of barberries makes for graceful hedging and barriers, and the thorns protect privacy.
Japanese barberry is considered an invasive plant in the Eastern U.S. and the species is banned from cultivation in some places, so check local restrictions before planting.
With strawberry-like leaves and bright yellow spring flowers, barren strawberries are an alternative evergreen groundcover or edging plant. They tolerate dry soil well and colonize banks and along woodland paths and between stepping stones in light shade or sun. They spread by runners and can cover a space relatively quickly.
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.
Basket-of-gold is one of those plants that loves to grow in the least likely of place -- cracks between paving stones, the edge of gravel paths and patios, rocky outcroppings, between the stacked stones of a retaining wall, and more. It loves a baked spot with excellent drainage but will struggle in hot, humid areas and tends not to do well in the South.
But where it does well, it's a showstopper. It will reseed prolifically in little cracks, filling an area each spring with dazzling neon yellows. After it finishes blooming, the grayish-green foliage makes an attractive mat in the perennial garden.
Bidens is a perfect container plant. It spills down the edges of windowboxes, large pots, and planters with starry, yellow flowers and ferny, green foliage. Some varieties are fragrant so plant them where you can enjoy their sweet scent. Bidens likes rich, well-drained but moist soil. While it's a perennial in Zones 8-10, it's usually grown as an annual.