I was never a big fan of petunias until the Wave series came along and won me over with their mounded, spreading habits and nonstop, season-long color. This fabulous plant family includes several series: Shock Wave, Easy Wave, Tidal Wave, and Double Wave. My only problem: With so many to choose from, how do I decide which will wash over my garden? Color always influences my selections. In 2012, the Shock Wave clan welcomes Coral Crush, a unique hue among all of the pink, purple, and red flowers that fill nursery shelves. In my trials last summer, this petite-flowering variety took off running as soon as I planted it, quickly forming a solid carpet of salmon flowers that tirelessly bloomed their hearts out until our first hard frost. Here it is in my garden, filling a gap between Chocolate Chip ajuga and hosta 'Aphrodite'.
I discovered this classic beauty a few years ago while gathering hummingbird plants for a new border in my front yard. August lily (Hosta plantaginea) can hardly be classified as new, but it certainly qualifies as an all-time favorite. Named for the Greek goddess of beauty, 'Aphrodite' produces pure-white double blooms on 2-foot-tall stems in late summer. I love getting whiffs of their heady fragrance on the breeze from my front-porch perch. Hummingbirds zoom in close to enjoy the sweet nectar in the tubular blooms. I used to pass over hostas that sport solid-green leaves, being dazzled more by new variegated hybrids. Trouble is, modern varieties often forsake flower power for fancy foliage. From now on, 'Aphrodite' will have a home in my garden.
Gardeners (myself included!) often bemoan the fact that the color blue can be hard to come by in the flower world. With Serena Blue angelonia and Superbells Lovely Lavender calibrachoa, you can get your blue fix all summer long. Sometimes called summer snapdragon because of its miniature snapdragon-like blooms that persist into hot weather, 10- to 14-inch-tall Serena Blue is a flowering workhorse in every season -- from cool, wet spring days to hot, muggy summer weather. Because calibrachoas are a little more persnickety about moisture, I paired Lovely Lavender with Serena Blue in a container to ensure good drainage. Before long, the light blue blossoms of Lovely Lavender (the name is a little deceiving -- they're more blue on my color wheel) billowed over the pot's edge. Together, Serena Blue and Lovely Lavender sing the blues in two-part harmony.
I'm known in the BHG garden group as the nature girl, and for good reason. I make my preference known for tough native plants, particularly ones indigenous to the tallgrass prairie and woodlands of the Midwest. So it's a little surprising that I fell head-over-heels for a tropical plant that won't survive an Iowa winter in the ground. Previously, I viewed cannas as tender summer bulbs that "other gardeners" grow. But then Tropicanna Gold came along, and I was hooked. How do I rationalize such an exotic departure from my prairie home companions? Easy -- hummingbirds are drawn to this South American native's brilliant orange blooms. Even without the flowers, 'Tropicanna Gold' glows: Its 4- to 6-foot-tall clump of distinctive gold-and-green striped leaves pop in beds and containers. From now on, I may be known as an equal opportunity gardener.
Wasabi coleus is named for the spicy, bright green Japanese horseradish that sends my sinuses soaring when I eat too much of it. Unlike its namesake (which I carefully savor in small portions), I can't get enough of this new coleus's serrated chartreuse leaves. Wasabi knocks my socks off wherever I plant it. Here's one of my favorite container combos: Wasabi is at the center of this basket that also features Sweet Caroline Raven sweep potato vine, Superbells Grape Punch and Superbells Cherry Star calibrachoas, and Supercal Pink Ice petchoa. Wasabi holds its brilliant color in full sun. And unlike a lot of plants in my garden, the foliage doesn't appear to suit the palates of grasshoppers and other chewing insects. Until something zippier comes along, Wasabi coleus will remain a mainstay on my garden menu.
I never go a year without growing zinnias. This easy annual produces gobs of cheerful blooms all summer long from just an envelope or two of seeds. Up until a few years ago, I limited my palette of zinnias to the old-fashioned cut-and-come-again types. Then I discovered the Profusion series. Their bushy, compact habit gives them unmatched versatility in gardens and containers. Introduced in 2011, Profusion Sunrise Mix offers a mix of three bright colors: Fire, Yellow (shown), and White. I planted this dynamic trio between rows of herbs to add punches of color amid a sea of greens. Some zinnias are troubled by leaf mildew when humidity is high, but not Profusion. A healthy dose of late-summer heat and steam feeds the flowering frenzy.
Seeds go high-tech in SimplySalads, a line of innovative seed mixes from the Ball Horticultural Company. My favorite, Alfresco Mix, includes lettuces, arugula, endive, and radicchio -- in other words, all the greens to make a delicious and healthful salad. SimplySalad mixes grow from pelletized seeds. Each pellet contains multiple varieties that sprout into a veritable veggie bouquet. When the plants reach 6 inches tall, you can snip the greens to within 2 inches above the soil line. New growth will quickly fill in for repeat harvests every three weeks. These mixes are particularly geared for containers (salad bowls, quite literally), which is very advantageous if you garden on a balcony or have a particularly wet or cold spring that delays you from getting in the garden, like we did here in Iowa last spring. Now that's what I call cool!
Temperamental flowers don't stand a chance in my yard. I simply don't have time to fuss over them. As much as I love roses, many modern hybrids fit in this finicky category. I've grown a ton over the years, and the ones that stand out and perform year after year without any encouragement from me are the Flower Carpet roses. My hands-down favorite is Scarlet. I have three of these cold-hardy and disease-resistant roses in a mixed perennial border at the sunny edge of my woods. Winter protection consists of letting fallen leaves gather at their bases. Without fail, their resilient canes withstand frigid temperatures with very little winterkill. The rewards for my "Frankly, Scarlet, I don't give a hoot" lack of attention? The three sisters are smothered with brilliant red blooms from June through the first hard frost.
Any plant named for a mythical creature with the body of a lion and head and wings of an eagle deserves a second look. 'Gryphon' begonia captures my attention and holds it. After growing this architecturally dramatic foliage plant all summer on my shady porch, I moved it to my family room before the first fall frost to prolong my enjoyment through the winter. Its low water requirements outdoors translates to a high tolerance for dry air indoors. I like to grow 'Gryphon' in a galvanized container to bring out the silver streaks in the green leaves. This lion of a plant has become an instant classic in my plant collection.
When Denver celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2008, city officials set out to beautify the city with a flower that symbolizes Colorado's natural beauty and ruggedness. They carpeted gardens all over the city with a new Rudbeckia and dubbed it Denver Daisy. This cross between the native Rudbeckia hirta and R. 'Prairie Sun' produces giant golden blooms with rust-color rings on stocky, 2-foot-tall stems. Despite summer heat and drought, Denver Daisy blooms tenaciously from late spring until fall frost. Feel free to insert your own city in the name. I have. My "Des Moines Daisies" stage a celebration in my garden every year.