At this time of year, we’re all starved for some outdoor colour. However, early cool colour plants must be able to handle unexpected late frosts, cold winds and lots of very heavy rain. This is no small task! Fortunately over the past few years, some wonderful new plant varieties have found their way into the market, and let me assure you, they are up to all of these challenges.
Even so, there are a few key things to keep in mind. These fairly tough plants still need to be well acclimatized before being set outside. Moving plants directly from warm greenhouses to the cold outdoors will cause too much stress and will seriously set the plants back, especially if the weather is very windy and cool. The second thing to keep in mind is drainage. Make an extra effort to add plenty of fir or hemlock bark mulch or sawdust to any heavy clay soils in order to lighten them up and improve drainage and in containers, be sure to use a well-drained soil.
Many of us are using more and more osteospermums, but the newer and much improved varieties have certainly made a huge difference. These cool and wet loving, brilliant multi-coloured daisies are so refreshing in an early garden. They stay low spreading and blend beautifully with early bulbs, pansies and early perennials like arabis and aubrieta. They are also equally at home in containers or in ground beds.
We use all kinds of linarias in our garden for long-lasting cool colour. They look like miniature snapdragons. A more low spreading plant available in a good range of bright colours, you’ll find them quite striking.
Nemesias, whether the more trailing ‘Sunsatia’ types for baskets and containers or the newer ‘Sundrops’ bedding varieties, both are ideal for some splashes of old-fashioned charm. They love morning sun and afternoon shade, and when it does finally become warmer, they will keep going for the longest time.
Two new series of smaller flowered mimulus, called ‘Calypso’ and ‘Magic’, have unusual vibrant flowers and are ideal for creating some interesting combinations. The ivory, ivory bi-colour, yellow, yellow bi-colour, orange, red and crimson varieties, blended with blue violas, are simply breathtaking. Plant them in shady spots for the best long-lasting results. You’ll be amazed how well they perform in cool temperatures.
Marguerite daisies are truly remarkable plants that simply bloom their hearts out in early cool weather. Today, their compact habit and wide range of colours, from yellows, whites and pinks to reds and bronze-orange make them so versatile in many situations.
What are the best cool-loving plants for a great display? By far and away, the top performers are violas and pansies. Pansies may be old-fashioned favourites, but the colour range of pansies today is fabulous, especially some of the new designer colours like creams, pink blends and happy, bright citrus blends. My current favourite is the new ‘Matrix Morpheus’. It’s a distinctive bi-colour with mid-blue upper petals and bright yellow lower petals. Talk about standing out in a crowd!
The new varieties of violas, the ‘Penny’ and the ‘Sorbet’ series, have improved size, a colour range to blow your socks off and a flowering time that beats them all. Compared to pansies, their smaller blossoms make them less formal and even more charming, and they have the ability to blend with everything in your garden from early bulbs to primulas.
Snapdragons, once hardened off, will stand up to occasional heat or cool wet conditions. They usually come as low, compact, mid-sized, multi-branching types and of course, the tall varieties as well.
Stocks, with their lovely perfume, can also take the variability of spring weather, but they prefer morning sun and afternoon shade for the best results.
Don’t forget to accent each of these annuals with some neat long-blooming or evergreen perennials, like euphorbias and heucheras, or with vibrant ornamental grasses, like carex and fescues.
These are the ‘colour plants you need now’ for your garden to give both of you a lift. These are the plants that will take the weather abuse and keep on giving. These are the ‘feel good now and even better later’ plants that will make a big difference in your garden this year. Marigolds, salvias, geraniums and petunias are already in some garden stores and even though it’s tempting, please hold off planting them until at least mid to late May – they need warmth to thrive.