Home & Garden

Great waves of blooms

Hot weather and cool new plants are making it bright this summer in my garden. One of the perks of writing a garden column is I get to try a lot of new plants before they hits the major markets. I report on what does well in Western Washington.

I am thrilled with the performance of these winners, and happy to say many local nurseries already have them available for sale. You don’t even have to be a homeowner to cash in on the joy of gardening with these plants.

From the vivid hues of Superbells Calibrachoa to the exotic foliage of water-loving “King Tut” papyrus, all you need is a pot, soil and a sense of adventure. Don’t think it’s too late to start planting or to try something new. Gardening can be a dirt-cheap way to improve your view, your health, and your home’s value – so keep growing.


Time to broaden your horizons and look for Blue Skies because this new plant is going to make “going blue” in containers much easier. Nierembergia also is called “cup flower“ and your cup will runneth over with color when you plant these low growing annuals. The foliage is rather stiff and ferny and the flowers small but numerous but what I really like is the ability of this new plant to bounce back from neglect. I confess that after I planted my sky blue cup flowers into a deep blue ceramic pot I promptly forgot to water them. But I was forgiven. After trimming back the wilted plants and offering them more to drink they perked right up with waves of blooms. I have a pot in both full and one in partial shade and they do well in both locations.

Garden gossip: The little blue cups are attractive to slugs.


Talk about a touch of the exotic. The tall, slender stems of these water-loving plants hold umbrella-shaped wands that have reached over three feet in height at the edge of my water garden. Cyperus are African natives and fast-growing members of the sedge family but not hardy to frosts so there is no danger of them taking over your pond or water fall. You don’t need a pond or fountain to grow these graceful cyperus – they will adapt to a container garden if the soil is kept constantly moist.

Garden gossip: The green might fade to yellow without fertilizer. Use a little slow-release plant food such as Osmocote right on top of the roots.


If you want constant color in your shade garden but you’re looking for something flashier than pretty pastels, Astilbe Color Flash is hot, bright, red and orange. Introduced a few years ago from Anthony Tesselaar plants (the Australian grower that brought us the Flower Carpet roses) this is a perennial plant that survived the wind and cold weather of my Enumclaw garden, resists slugs, deer and drought and is simple to divide up for multiple clumps of color. The colorful foliage really heats up in the fall but this past June when I hosted a garden club tour, experienced gardeners marveled at the red foliage that was starting to fire up in early summer. Like all astilbes, Color Flash blooms in the summer with spikes of feathery, long-lasting flowers.

Garden gossip: Astilbe will pout in dry soil or hot sun and needs to be divided every couple of years to stay vigorous.


Now here’s an example of “new and improved” from the reliable family of petunias. The “Supertunias” are more compact and weather resistant than what you might have grown just a few years ago. This variety is perfect for containers or small gardens as it stays neat and tidy without pinching. The new color of “Citrus” is a mix of lemon and lime creating a cool neutral shade that works perfect as a backdrop for brighter blooms. I grow mine in a pot with bright orange “Bon Fire” begonias and as match making goes, it’s a beautiful plant marriage.

Garden gossip: This variety is so new you might not be able to find it at local nurseries just yet. Remember the name and snatch it up next spring for waves of carefree summer color.


There are now a rainbow of colors to choose from but nothing performs as well in my mixed baskets as these well-behaved mini petunias. With blooms the size of a quarter the Superbells hold up much better than larger petunias in a rain storm and bloom in sun or partial shade. These tough annual plants continue to bloom into the fall so don’t stop fertilizing them at the end of the summer. An easy-going nature is nice but it is the colors that Superbells Calibrachoa now come in that make them garden stars. Terra cotta orange, deep purple with black, carmine and yellow and lavender with violet throats are examples of the shades from which you can choose.

Garden gossip: These sun-lovers do better in pots and baskets – in our climate they tend to rot when you grow them in the ground.


The “never needs spraying” Knock Out roses made a powerful punch a few years back when they fought their way into the competitive rose market blooming in shades of red and pink. These compact, shrubby roses flower all summer and love our cool summer climate. The newest addition to the collection is “Sunny Knock Out” a pale yellow that will shine some light into any garden. I grow mine in a bed with other disease resistant roses and have never seen a sign of mildew or black spot.

Garden gossip: Not a particularly fragrant rose, and the flowers have short stems and don’t last long in a vase.