From ruby banana trees to peas in purple pods, they’re delicious to see or eat
By Valerie Easton
Sunday, April 27, 2008
The Seattle Times
Too often we underestimate annuals, choosing permanent plantings in an attempt to be thrifty or to avoid the dated "bedding out" look. Annuals are actually a pretty good deal: They’re relatively inexpensive and perform continuously over the months we’re outdoors most. And this year’s kaleidoscope of cool new annuals is anything but dated. Among the offerings:
• The darkest red banana tree ever is unfortunately marketed as "part of the new spring line from Hort Couture," which sounds too Project Runway for a plant. Yet the extravagant, merlot-colored leaves of Musa ‘Siam Ruby’ could hold their own with any designer gown. Actually, they could be made into a designer gown. This is one thrilling banana tree. It grows to 8 feet, with chartreuse striations marking each huge leaf.
• You wouldn’t imagine anyone could invent yet another coleus, but new ones abound. Two of the best are ‘Big Red Judy,’ a monster-sized coleus with hefty rich red leaves and an upright shape 3 to 4 feet high. ‘Lancelot Velvet Mocha’ is a smaller, finely cut coleus in a pretty chocolate-laced-with-wine color, perfect for a dark note in containers or front of the border.
• How I wish Echeveria subrigida ‘Fire and Ice’ was the sedum it looks to be. Then it’d be hardy in our climate. This echeveria thrives in heat and drought, and its bold leaves and sea-green and pink color scheme will class up any container planting for the summer at least, and can be moved indoors in winter.
• Shouldn’t every VW Beetle sport a gerbera daisy in its dashboard vase? These tall, showy daisies look equally happy growing in the garden or as cut flowers in bouquets, but often their colors are so . . . obvious. But not the new Gerbera ‘Crush Mix,’ which has a luscious color scheme in shades of rose, pink and watermelon.
• I’ve never been a big amaranth fan, yet ‘Autumn Palette’ is changing my mind. Can’t you picture its soft cream-, biscuit- and cinnamon-colored plumes mingling with purple asters or either of the coleus above? A. paniculatus ‘Autumn Palette’ grows quickly from seed, is ideal as a cut flower or as a 4-foot-high textural backdrop in the garden.
• Wholesaler Monrovia is flooding nurseries with two unusually colored annuals this spring. Teenie Geenie lantana is a dense, compact version of this useful annual, with yellow rosette flowers that morph to watermelon pink. The new Golden Jackpot bougainvillea has a striking Husky-fan color combo of deep purple flowers and golden foliage. A mounding, nearly thornless vine, it’s as tender as the rest of its kin, but will bloom steadily until first frost.
• A green marigold? Tagetes erecta ‘Nosento Limegreen’ is a plump, sturdy marigold hybridized in Holland as a cut flower. It blooms all summer and lasts for weeks in a bouquet where its soft green complements all the other colors of summer. And get this — those clever Dutch have bred out the characteristic marigold stink.
• Celosia is so feathery and exotic it looks more like an underwater species than the sturdy garden flower it is. Brand new ‘Sylphid’ is especially silky, and its unusual soft green color is great in the garden or the vase.
• Tomato ‘Country Taste’ is one of those fat, juicy ribbed tomatoes perfect for slicing. What distinguishes this new kind is that it’s as flavorful as an heirloom, but as easy to grow as any of the hybrids.
• Pea ‘Blauschokker Purple Podded’ is as ornamental as it is delicious. These pea vines bloom with red and violet flowers in spring, followed by glossy purple pods that can be eaten early like snow peas or left to ripen.
• Here’s a joke of a vegetable to make you smile — until you bite into it and learn how crisp and delicious Zucchini ‘Pool Ball’ tastes. Ideal for stir-fries and salads, this round summer squash grows on bush-type plants that’ll grow in containers.
• Broccoli is on every list of the healthiest vegetables, and now it’s a pretty ornamental, too, with the introduction of Broccoli ‘Blue Wind.’ This blue-green broccoli matures early with a bold flavor and delicious crunch.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "A Pattern Garden." Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.