February 26, 2012

Maine Gardener: Taking an annual approach to perennials

(Continued from page 1)

Formosa lily will produce white flowers up to 10 inches long on a stock that can get up to 6 feet tall. Once the flowers go by, the seed pods also are interesting.

An unusual plant Schrader recommended is Gossypium herbacum nigra "Black Cotton," a black-leaved cotton plant that also produced black cotton balls as flowers. It will grow well in a single season.

Coleus is a more commonplace annual, and Schrader uses it massed together with several different varieties for a display of color. This can work as a lesson in hybridizing plants, because coleus seeds profusely, and the varieties will cross-pollinate. In his greenhouses, there are all sorts of potential hybrids growing on the floor from spilled seeds, and the same could happen for you in your garden.

There are a number of tropical vines that also will work well in Maine gardens, Schrader said. 

One of the most vigorous is Argyreia nervosa "Woolly Morning Glory," which is so vigorous that it has been compared to kudzu, but it is not related to kudzu. But if you want some vines that will cover everything and definitely die at the end of the year, this would be the one you want.

The way a lot of people in the North use tropicals and annuals is in container plants. With containers, it is easier to bring them inside for the winter. You don't have to dig them up and repot them, because they already are in their pots.

And while one container will look good, Schrader recommends grouping several together to make a sort of container garden on your patio, deck or entrance steps. Grouping several small containers together will make a strong statement in the garden.

No one is saying you want to give up on your perennials, but a few bold tropicals can make a Maine garden more memorable. And Mainers are thrifty enough to bring their tropicals inside in the fall. Our blue passion flower has survived two winters, and (I just checked) it looks like it's going to make it through this winter as well.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth, and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:



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