Our Annual Fling

Our Annual Fling

Valerie Easton for The Seattle-Times

Think of annuals as a blind date. Why not give ’em a whirl? The pleasures are fleeting, no commitment required beyond a single season, perfect for indulging in the new just for the fun of it.

Aeonium manriqueorum cv. ‘Zwartkop.’ This very cool annual — and, oh, how I wish it were hardy in our climate — looks like a tree sedum with purple-bronze rosettes of leaves. In late summer, they’re topped with yellow flowers. The plant makes a show-stopping centerpiece in a container, and you can bring it inside before first frost to spend winter indoors on a sunny windowsill.

Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire.’ A bizarre beauty that’s been around awhile in collectors’ gardens should be widely available in nurseries this spring because it’s being produced by wholesaler Log House Plants. Picture a mass of colored-pencil-like twigs in chartreuse, orange and pale red, branching out like a hunk of tropical coral.

Begonia ‘BabyWing.’ If you prefer annuals with pretty flowers, you’ll enjoy this new white begonia, which can take more sun than most of its kin.

Impatiens. Also new this year are impatiens called Fusion Peach Frost and Fusion Glow Improved, with variegated foliage and peach and yellow flowers, respectively. They do best in at least partial shade and grow about a foot tall in mounds covered with self-cleaning flowers.

Nicotiana ‘Bingerdon Brown.’ Another pretty flower on a more statuesque plant is this new flowering tobacco, which grows 4 feet tall with masses of coffee-colored flowers centered in lime green.

Mandevillas. Called the “queen of tropical vines,” their hot-colored, voluptuous flowers would look as much at home in a steamy rainforest as dangling off a Northwest arbor. The new strawberry lemonade mandevilla (M. sanderi ‘MonProud’) has magenta flowers with yellow throats, but it’s the variegated foliage in cream, pink, white and mint green that’s so spectacular. In a warm, protected spot, the flowers keep blooming into October.

Solanum rantonnetii ‘Sunny Daze.’ Another wow of a foliage plant is this potato cousin. With gorgeous gold, white and green foliage and pretty purple flowers, the whole plant has the luxuriant feel of a hibiscus, yet in glowing color. It grows into a small, bushy shrub to fill a container or mingle in the border.

Maracas Brazilian fireworks.

For shadier areas, try Porphyrocoma pohliana. Just in case its name doesn’t make clear this plant is tropical, the bicolor purple and pink flowers atop gaudy variegated foliage shout out its exotic heritage.

Coleus ‘Fishnet Stockings.’

If you’re as tired as I am of all the cutesy marketing monikers given to new plants, you’ll appreciate this name, which is not only descriptive but easy to live with. And you’d better get used to the name because every garden visitor is sure to ask about this 3-foot high, sun-loving coleus with scalloped, chartreuse leaves heavily veined in dark purple. Speaking of unfortunate new names, coleus is now known as Solenostemon scutellarioides.

Tomatoes. Be a contender in this summer’s tomato queen contest (doesn’t every neighborhood have one?) with two exciting new varieties. The craze for chocolate-colored plants has infiltrated the edible garden with the new ‘Chocolate Cherry’ tomato. The same color as a chocolate drop and just as round and tiny, these little fruits are packed with flavor and will raise a few eyebrows on an appetizer tray. The ‘Golden Rave’ tomato has sweet yellow fruits, oblong like roma tomatoes, but only 2 inches long. They resist disease and cracking, and mature in 67 days.

Pepper, ‘Holy Mole.’ Either tomato would be perfect in a summer-celebrating salsa, chopped and tossed with lime and bits of this mild, crunchy new pepper. Long and skinny, it grows on sturdy, compact plants, and its tangy, nutty flavor is delicious not only in salsas but also in moles and other Mexican dishes.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.”

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company