Annual Flowers Guide


If you're of the generation that's more familiar with Stankonia than begonia, you probably find the typical annual flowers guide a little boring. Problem solved.



Take a look at the typical flower garden or read a standard guide to annual flowers and you'll consistently encounter the same five annuals: begonia, impatiens, marigold, petunia, and zinnia. "Not that there's anything wrong with that," as the Seinfeld crew might say. But seeing as annual flowers are about color and diversifying the look of your garden, it seems natural to look beyond the Fab Five for annuals a little less banal.




If you've become impatient with impatiens, there are alternatives. Torenia is one of the few annual flowers that, like impatiens, grows well in shade. Commonly known as bluewings or wishbone flower, its flowers are colored an eerie and attractive blue-purple. You can even make wishes on it: inside its corolla tube are two wishbone-shaped stamens that pull apart once the flower is pollinated. Torenia should be planted in early spring or started indoors.


Another colorful shade-blooming impatiens alternative from the world of annual flowers is viola avalanche bronze-lavender. Though better known in the UK than the U.S., we like viola avalanche if only because its name makes us imagine famous violist Lionel Tertis starring in a sports drink commercial.




The frilly blooms of marigold can look a little old-fashioned when surrounded by other annual flowers, but melampodium's yellow daisy-like flowers are extremely bright and cheerful and youthful. Think of Judi Dench as marigold and Samantha Morton as melampodium. And yes, melampodium sounds like skin cancer, but these little annuals are as low maintenance as it gets: they're drought-tolerant and don't require deadheading.




There's nothing wrong with petunias exactly. It's just that as annual flowers go, phlox sounds so much more contemporary than petunia. It's even got the slangy "ph" at the front. As the kids would say, "Phlox is phat." Phlox's colors are also much more intense, including bright red, hot pink, and luminescent blues and purples. Phlox is the Greek word for flame, and annual flowers don't get much more fiery than phlox.




Skipping past the zinnias and begonias in search of half-hardy annuals, we stop at gazania. This African daisy looks right at home among annual plants. What's most impressive about gazania is its color variety, with flowers blooming in various combinations of pink, yellow, orange, bronze, and white. Like most annuals, gazanias like full sun, but this tender perennial flowers better in mild summers rather than hot and humid ones.


Annual flowers by color


It's often said that uniformity is essential for a successful flower garden. We beg to differ. Fortunately there are annual flowers to be found in most every color.




Annuals enjoy sunlight, so what name could be more suitable than Helianthus annuus, the sunflower? Sunflower's tall stem and large, yellow flower head are iconic symbols of summer.


As for orange annual flowers, we're big fans of Thunbergia gregorii, or orange clock vine. This tender perennial is a rooting and creeping plant that makes for good ground cover, and its blooms are simple and bright and very very orange.




Pink annual flowers don't get much more interesting than Alonsoa meridionalis ‘"Apricot," or mask flower. Blooms are a subtle pink with a darker throat.


For a lighter touch in red annual flowers, there is scarlet gilia, a very beautiful biennial wildflower. Its blooms feature long corollas, like little scarlet trumpets heralding the approach of summer.




Cleome, or spider flower, is a tall-growing white annual. At three to six feet, it's suitable for the back row of most planting beds. As for blue annual flowers, we'll go with lobelia, a late summer bloomer that's tolerant of shade.


--Joshua Avram

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