Celosia, also called cockscomb, is an old-fashioned favorite that shows off feathery or crested blooms. It's a good choice for beginning gardeners, because celosia holds up well to heat and drought and continues to flower reliably all summer long.
Celosia Fresh Look Red, released in 2004, was a top pick. Growing 16 inches tall and wide, it bears rose-red plumes that look like candle flames over fresh green foliage. The plants have a compact, well-branched habit, producing lots of blooms on the plant. It doesn't require deadheading; new blooms cover up the faded flowers.
The judges also said you can't go wrong with celosia New Look, a variety released in 1988. It shows off bright red flowers accented by lovely bronze-purple foliage. It grows 14 inches tall and 12 inches wide, and it thrives in beds, borders, and container gardens. The attractive flowers are also wonderful for use in dried-flower crafts projects such as wreaths.
Learn more about celosia.
There's so much to love about garden salvia: Its lovely flowers, the spiky upright texture it adds to the garden, how attractive it is to hummingbirds and butterflies, and the fact that it's super easy to grow.
AAS judges recommend salvia 'Evolution', a winner from 2006 that offers lilac-blue flowers and gray-green foliage. It's wonderfully drought-tolerant and loves hot weather (in fact, the species it's bred from is native to Texas). Salvia 'Evolution' grows about 20 inches tall and 16 inches wide. It thrives in the ground as well as containers and raised beds. You can also use the blooms in dried-flower crafts.
Note: While salvia 'Evolution' is commonly grown as an annual, it is a perennial in Zones 8-10.
If you prefer bold, hot colors, look for salvia 'Lady in Red', a 1992 winner that offers spikes of bold cherry-red blooms on 24-inch-tall, 18-inch-wide plants. Bred from a salvia species native to South America, you can count on 'Lady in Red' to perform no matter how hot the weather gets.
Because many types of salvia, including 'Evolution' and 'Lady in Red', have scented foliage, they're largely deer- and rabbit-resistant.
Learn more about salvia varieties.
Native to areas of North and Central America, so-called African marigolds have been popular with gardeners for generations. Bearing dark green, finely divided foliage and brilliant flowers in shades of orange and yellow, it's easy to see why.
Marigolds are also a cinch to grow, making them top picks for beginning gardeners. Among marigolds, the AAS judges loved 2010's Moonsong Deep Orange, which bears pumpkin-color flowers all summer into autumn. Those bold blooms are large, too, at 3 or more inches wide. And, unlike many older varieties, you don't have to deadhead marigold Moonsong Deep Orange to keep it looking beautiful. It grows 15 inches tall and wide.
Learn more about African marigolds.
Though you wouldn't guess it from the common name, French marigold is also native to areas of North America. A considerably smaller plant, it's just as garden-worthy. It's almost as common today to see herb and vegetable gardens planted with a border of little French marigolds as it was in your grandmother's time. (The practice is born out of the theory that marigolds deter rabbits and insect pests.)
The AAS judges picked 1980's French marigold Janie as one of their top picks. It's exceptionally heat-tolerant and holds its cheery yellow, orange, or rusty-red flowers well over the deep-green foliage. It grows 10 inches tall and 8 inches wide.
Learn more about French marigolds.
Continued on page 3: Cosmos, Ornamental Peppers, and Grasses