Take a gamble on three unsung annuals? To have something different, sometimes you have to be willing togamble. These three cool-season annuals fit that category.They’re not common because they’re somewhat temperamental, butfrom the sparkling clarity of nemesia to the fluttery marked wings ofschizanthus or the pastel pouches of linaria, few flowers proclaimspring more buoyantly.
You can rely on the traditional varieties, orexperiment with new colors and sizes. Your climate cues planting time The sooner the weather allows you to plant, the earlier you willhave flowers and the more months you can enjoy them. Right along the coast from San Francisco south, you can plant largeareas 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 froststhreaten, move pots to a porch or other shelter. For larger areas inthe 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. Iffrosts are hard or frequent, wait until they are past to plant outdoors.But inland expect only about a month of glory, since these cool-weatherlovers dwindle away with the first heat. Wherever you grow them, provide full sun and fast drainage by usingcoarse, porous soil and by planting in pots or raised beds. Space plants6 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 tohalf. Water enough to keep soil moist but never soggy. Feed just enoughto 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 orbecome 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 anyclipped flowers in bouquets–despite their delicate appearance, they arequite long-lasting. Choose from many sizes Most popular and widely sold of the three is Carnival or Rainbownemesia, a mixture of orange, red, gold, cream, and purplish shades. Itsinch-wide flowers form a thick cluster of color that is equallyeffective carpeting large areas, edging a walk, or trailing from abasket. Less commonly sold are large-flowered nemesias such as “FireKing’ (red), “Orange Prince’, and “Bluebird'(new this year); and small-flowered “Blue Gem’ (shown) and GemMixed (mostly pastels and blue shades). The small-flowered forms arecharming, but not as dense or strong-growing; use them in smallquantities as contrast to other colors. Light-green, fern-like leaves of schizanthus are ornamental intheir own right. Our photographs here show the oldfashionedAngel’s Wings, which some prefer for its height. Others now favordwarf Hit Parade, with brighter colors and a compact habit similar tonemesia’s.
You can buy nemesia and schizanthus in sixpacks and 4-to 6-inchpots now and in early spring; or sow seeds indoors about 8 weeks beforetime to transplant outdoors. For seed sources, see page 242. Linaria grows so quickly and easily from seeds that plants areseldom sold; seeds are widely available on nursery racks. For softpastels, choose Fairy Bouquet, shown; for darker, brighter shades of thesame colors, use Northern Lights. Sow them where you want them to grow. Mix the tiny seeds with sandso you can see where and how thickly you’ve sown. Broadcast themin clusters or over entire flower beds, as in the garden shown, orsprinkle a few into the chinks of a rock wall.
When seedlings areseveral inches tall, dig up clumps that are too dense and use them tofill in any sparse areas. Photo: On our cover: Carnival nemesia cascades over sides ofhanging clay pot Photo: In October, plant nemesia from sixpacks into hanging pot tocreate display above; or substitute three to six lacy schizanthus in thecenter for the effect at upper right Photo: A winning combination: Angel’s Wings schizanthusstretch to 15 inches in center of pot at left. Around the rim spillCarnival nemesias, in gem-like colors. Dense planting helps supportflowers, shows diverse colors Photo: Multicolored schizanthus Fluttery petals and intricate markings give it the nicknamebutterfly flower 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 shownabove and on the cover