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Garden Edition:
What Will This Year's Garden Look Like?

by Linda Coyner

Who doesnt remember the summer the Wave petunia took our gardens by storm? Is the sun coleus next? Will it paint bold strokes of bright colors in our gardens? Will sweet potato (Ipomea) make a comeback now that breeders have made it better behaved? Will gardeners continue to use lots of tropical plants to create that island feeling in their backyards?

There is no shortage of predictions, from the colors that will dominate to the kinds of plants well likely being using. In the end, the makeup of our gardens is likely to be driven by the usual forces that shape our gardens: impulse buying, selection of plants new and old and fashion, with Mother Nature having the last word, of course.

The most interesting prediction came from Color Marketing Group, an international, nonprofit association of more than 1,700 color and design professionals. CMG says our gardens with be predominately blue. Thats a tall order as few true blues exist in nature despite catalog descriptions, making me suspect that none of those 1,700 professionals is a gardener. In fact, most flowers described as blue in the catalogs turn out to be a shade of lavender.

For bluish hues, gardeners have always relied on a handful of annuals and perennials: various salvia, scaeveola, and lobelia, my favorites, as well as ageratum, iris, delphinium, hydrangea, aster, Virginia bluebell, scabiosa, and balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus).

This year there are three new introductions promising to add to the blue palette: Salvia Blue Angel plus two petunias that earned the All American Selections award. Being a salvia fan, Im most intrigued by Blue Angel. Its said to reach a robust 2 feet in height and display electric blue flowers continuously.

'Merlin Blue Morn' is a distinctly different petunia. Its blue and white flower is described as pure white in the center with a soft transition to a velvety blue at the petal edge. The bicolor pattern is an attention-grabber, even from a distance. The branching plants will spread 18 to 30 inches and attain a mature height of 15 to 20 inches. 'Merlin Blue Morn' sounds ideal for hanging baskets and patio containers. 'Blue Wave' petunia has velvety, dark blue 2-inch blooms. Its a trailing plant capable of spreading 3 to 4 feet like a ground cover. Mature plant height can be 4 to 7 inches.

Another not-so-new way of incorporating blue is with ornament and lawn furniture. A well placed bright blue Adirondack chair, a garden stake with a blue crystal, or a large blue container might just do the trick.

In any case, blue is an accent, not a dominate color. This years gardens are much more likely to take advantage of strong splashes of color that work well with the tropical look. That strong color will come from annuals, which compliment the periodic, more subtle colors of perennials, shrubs, and trees.

My prediction is that the new vegetative coleus is going to be a big hit. Its wide variety of patterns and colors adds a new dimension to color in the garden. To get a good idea of its range, visit Glasshouse Works. (See Garden Edition, March 2003, for more information about coleus.) Short ones work well at the base of canna; large ones are robust enough to hold their own with ornamental grass or elephant ear. The plant itself is almost foolproof many can thrive in sun or shade and its only weakness is too much moisture.

Any plant that adds color and a tropical feel is going to be much sought after in the next few years. One such plant is phormium or New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax). Western gardeners already know and love it. When I recently toured Seattle gardens, it was frequently use as the centerpiece in a container. The plants have the same flowing, fountain shape as other sword-leaf plants such as yucca and agave without the stiffness.

In the recent past, phormiums were giants, growing to 7 and 8 feet. But recently breeders have introduced more civilized sizes and colorful cultivars. Many have yellow or rainbow-striped variegation. Maori Maiden has a slightly arching, medium-sized habit with 1 1/2-inch-wide apricot-to-rose colored leaves with green margins. Maori Queen has olive green leaves, and red margins that fade to a cream color. Maiden tops out at 3 feet; Queen, at 4 feet.

 

©2003 Linda Coyner for SeniorWomenWeb

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