Take a gamble on three unsung annuals?
To have something different, sometimes you have to be willing to
gamble. These three cool-season annuals fit that category.
They’re not common because they’re somewhat temperamental, but
from the sparkling clarity of nemesia to the fluttery marked wings of
schizanthus or the pastel pouches of linaria, few flowers proclaim
spring more buoyantly. You can rely on the traditional varieties, or
experiment with new colors and sizes.
Your climate cues planting time
The sooner the weather allows you to plant, the earlier you will
have flowers and the more months you can enjoy them.
Right along the coast from San Francisco south, you can plant large
areas now with confidence; here these flowers perform most of the year.
In mild coastal valleys, play it safe by planting in large pots.
Give them as much sun as you can, but if battering rains or frosts
threaten, move pots to a porch or other shelter. For larger areas in
the ground, take a gamble on a protected site or wait until February,
when lengthening days speed recovery from any setbacks.
The colder your climate, the more cautious you should be. If
frosts are hard or frequent, wait until they are past to plant outdoors.
But inland expect only about a month of glory, since these cool-weather
lovers dwindle away with the first heat.
Wherever you grow them, provide full sun and fast drainage by using
coarse, porous soil and by planting in pots or raised beds. Space plants
6 inches apart in the ground, a few inches apart in pots. Choose young,
compact seedlings if possible. Pinch back any leggy tips by a third to
Water enough to keep soil moist but never soggy. Feed just enough
to keep foliage healthy; too much makes them lanky.
All three plants tend to arch to the ground, then grow erect again,
often rooting wherever they touch soil. If plants stop blooming or
become straggly, cut back to a leaf node 3 to 4 inches above the ground;
plants fill out and often bloom again within a few weeks. Use any
clipped flowers in bouquets–despite their delicate appearance, they are
Choose from many sizes
Most popular and widely sold of the three is Carnival or Rainbow
nemesia, a mixture of orange, red, gold, cream, and purplish shades. Its
inch-wide flowers form a thick cluster of color that is equally
effective carpeting large areas, edging a walk, or trailing from a
Less commonly sold are large-flowered nemesias such as “Fire
King’ (red), “Orange Prince’, and “Bluebird’
(new this year); and small-flowered “Blue Gem’ (shown) and Gem
Mixed (mostly pastels and blue shades). The small-flowered forms are
charming, but not as dense or strong-growing; use them in small
quantities as contrast to other colors.
Light-green, fern-like leaves of schizanthus are ornamental in
their own right. Our photographs here show the oldfashioned
Angel’s Wings, which some prefer for its height. Others now favor
dwarf Hit Parade, with brighter colors and a compact habit similar to
You can buy nemesia and schizanthus in sixpacks and 4-to 6-inch
pots now and in early spring; or sow seeds indoors about 8 weeks before
time to transplant outdoors. For seed sources, see page 242.
Linaria grows so quickly and easily from seeds that plants are
seldom sold; seeds are widely available on nursery racks. For soft
pastels, choose Fairy Bouquet, shown; for darker, brighter shades of the
same colors, use Northern Lights.
Sow them where you want them to grow. Mix the tiny seeds with sand
so you can see where and how thickly you’ve sown. Broadcast them
in clusters or over entire flower beds, as in the garden shown, or
sprinkle a few into the chinks of a rock wall. When seedlings are
several inches tall, dig up clumps that are too dense and use them to
fill in any sparse areas.
Photo: On our cover: Carnival nemesia cascades over sides of
hanging clay pot
Photo: In October, plant nemesia from sixpacks into hanging pot to
create display above; or substitute three to six lacy schizanthus in the
center for the effect at upper right
Photo: A winning combination: Angel’s Wings schizanthus
stretch to 15 inches in center of pot at left. Around the rim spill
Carnival nemesias, in gem-like colors. Dense planting helps support
flowers, shows diverse colors
Photo: Multicolored schizanthus
Fluttery petals and intricate markings give it the nickname
Photo: Linaria looks like miniature snapdragons
Masses of pastel pouches on 8- to 10-inch stems are Fairy Bouquet;
owner counted 13 color variations. Sow seeds in place like wildflowers;
new plants will volunteer year after year
Photo: Low-growing nemesias now also come in blue
For contrast with fiery to pastel hues, try “Blue Gem’,
with a more open habit and flowers about half as large as the kind shown
above and on the cover