Everyday Gardeners

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Don’t Forget Calendula

I sometimes personify the plants in my garden. It’s interesting to think of them as archetypes: Hybrid tea roses, for example, become beautiful, but fussy prom queens; baptisia a completely self-sufficient farmboy who gets the job done; and passionflowers the  foreign-exchange students who many folks never get to know because they seem too exotic.

And there’s calendula — the quiet, shy girl everyone seems to overlook even though she has such a wide range of talents. I don’t grow calendula in my garden every year, though I really should.

The bright yellow or orange blooms are perfect for adding a dose of color to the spring landscape. The flowers attract bees and butterflies and appear over a long season. Both the foliage and the flowers are edible (and fragrant!). While bitter on their own, the flower petals make a great garnish and I’ve been told you can use them as an inexpensive  substitute for saffon. Or if you don’t want to cook with calendulas, they’re great cut flowers. Though calendula is an annual, it often self-seeds when it’s happy, so plant it once and you may always be able to enjoy it in your garden — or have seedlings to share with gardening friends.

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Hot New Variety

Every year, a handful of plant companies send me and the other  BHG garden editors  samples of their new varieties for the next year. That gives us a chance to try them out and tell you what we really think of the plants instead of trusting a press release.

Last year we received a sample of a new sweet alyssum variety called Snow Princess sweet alyssum from Proven Winners. And I have to say this plant totally impressed me with its performance. I grew in window boxes on my second-story balcony with Easy Wave Burgundy Star petunia, thinking the alyssum would look good in spring while the petunia was growing in, then the petunia would put on the show when the alyssum fizzed out in the heat.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the alyssum continued to look good once the summer heat kicked in. And in fact, it held its own against the petunia all summer and fall. I never would have believed I’d see an alyssum that put on as big of a show as a Wave petunia!

Snow Princess sports the largest flowers I’ve ever seen on a sweet alyssum, and the most fragrant, too. It looks pretty amazing in a hanging basket all on its own.  It’s definitely a hot new variety for 2010.

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