Nancy Brachey

4 ways to jazz up your flower beds

Give your garden a dash of the unusual. The purple flower in the lower center is a heliotrope, which has a sweet scent that resembles vanilla or almond. The plants grow about 1 foot tall and just as wide.
Give your garden a dash of the unusual. The purple flower in the lower center is a heliotrope, which has a sweet scent that resembles vanilla or almond. The plants grow about 1 foot tall and just as wide. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

The wealth of annuals and perennials in the garden marketplace seems to offer all we could wish for in our flower beds.

Yet it never seems enough. We want something unusual, something to make us call across the street to a neighbor and say, “Come see this.”

It could be an unusual color, a different scent, a wild and crazy shape, anything that will turn heads and elicit comment.

The idea is to look for something unusual, but not so unusual that you have to search the Earth and pay a fortune. You can bring a dash of it with plants chosen at garden centers and catalogs on the Web. Some strategies to consider:

Late bloomers

It blooms, but not until late afternoon or early evening. It can be a delightful experience for young and old when blooms of four o’clocks or moonflower open their tight buds. It is a sight worth pulling up a chair to watch as the afternoon moves toward evening. Four o’clocks make shrubby plants bearing flowers of white and varying tones of yellow, red and pink that open in late afternoon.

The moonflower, also called moon vine, is aptly named as its flowers open as wide, glistening white round blooms, some 6 inches in diameter. They stay open from about sundown and through the night on attractive vines, a perfect party backdrop.

Distinctive flowers

These flowers are distinctly different. The passion vine comes in a number of forms, and one in particular, the maypop, is a Southern favorite because it will survive our winters.

The complex bloom, complete with delicate filaments, stamens, petals and sepals, is pale lavender, with purple and pink markings across the 3-inch blooms. There is also a white form named Alba. This something to call the neighbors to come and see.

Grow maypops from seeds or a purchased or shared plant. Other forms of passion vine tend to be less hardy and can be grown best outside in a pot and brought indoors for the winter.

Making scents

Most garden flowers that have distinctive scents, such as the various dianthus or pinks, are very sweet. For something very different, consider garden heliotrope, an annual. This little bedding or pot plant brings two distinctive characteristics to the garden. The most common color is a deep blue, close to violet, but there are lighter blues as well. The second is its sweet scent that some think is like vanilla, others think is like almond and still others, baby powder. Plants grow about 1 foot tall and just as wide. The blooms are clusters, 3 to 4 inches wide, of cup-shaped blooms.

Colorful leaves

Leaves don’t have to be green. Lots of plants have come into the marketplace in recent years that bear leaves in colors such as lemon yellow, golden yellow and lime green. This foliage, often seen in the newer hostas, really adds spark to a flower bed. Splashes of this foliage are particularly welcome as daylight dims in the evening, because the color stands out, especially among darker foliage and flowers. Sum and Substance is a grand hosta with shiny yellow leaves. Piedmont Gold has leaves of chartreuse gold with a shiny effect.

Besides hostas, another trouble-free yellow plant is Acorus gramineus, the Japanese sweet flag, which produces clumps of slender leaves 6 to 12 inches tall. This is an excellent choice for the edge or corner of a flower bed. A popular variety is Ogon, which has golden yellow leaves that look outstanding through the season.

Some striking ferns have fronds colored with glistening silver. The Japanese painted fern, with beautiful silver markings, is one of the most elegant plants for a shady garden, rising about 18 inches.

Another gem for light shade is the Ghost fern, its new fronds almost covered in glowing silver, then turning silvery green with a bit of burgundy as the fronds mature. The plant eventually reaches about 24 inches.

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