Allan Armitage: A Closer Look at New Annuals for 2018

Colorful gomphrena such as Gomphrena ‘Ping Pong’ (Sakata Ornamentals) make wonderful texture additions to containers.

It seems that every new plant or new series of plants will be better than those from the year before — just ask the breeder. And of course, they were better than those the year before that, and so on. After all these years of claiming greatness, we ought to have some spectacular plants to look forward to. It turns out we do. Here are a few annuals I see as winners this year.

Color will never go away, and landscapers need color all season. Petunias, marigolds, pansies, lantanas, and zinnias will always be used, but here are some other annuals I think may increase sales.

Bidens

I wrote an entire column about the excitement going on in bidens a few months ago; I am still excited. Half a dozen hybrids and cultivars that didn’t even exist a couple of years ago are available for mixed containers and baskets. This is a plant I see as being included in nearly every mixed container and basket in the future.

Agastache

It’s about the fragrance. Agastache has been on the cusp of breaking out for years, and every year I see another series or two appear. There is no excuse for not jumping on these, if for nothing else than the leaf fragrance. But the flower power is so extraordinary now, from the tried-and-true ‘Blue Fortune’ to the deep, rich colors found in, for example, the Kudos, Arizona, and Acapulco series. If fragrance and color are called for, agastache is a terrific recommendation, and may even be perennial in marginally cold winters.

Begonia

Good grief, the breeding in fancy-leaf begonias should not only be embraced; it should be cuddled, squeezed, and stroked. There is no end to the foliage patterns or the diversity of leaf size and shape. Why would anyone not use plants in, for example, the Jurassic, Shadow, Dibs, or Nautilus series?

Gomphrena

I realize gomphrena is kind of boring, but for a no-maintenance, no-brainer solution to high-traffic areas, this is near the top of the list. Good designers and landscape installers are finally recognizing gomphrenas’ outstanding performance in difficult areas. Given the improvement in the range of colors and stature, I can’t imagine it not being used as a solution plant. Numbers will increase in several series, including, for example, ‘Ping Pong,’ ‘Las Vegas,’ and ‘Pinball,’ as well as in my favorite cultivar, ‘Fireworks.’

Herbs and Veggies

For the Millennial, for the patio gardener, and for Farmer John in the suburbs, I have no doubt that the increased use of herbs (lavender, basil, thyme) and veggies will continue. However, they must be incorporated in mixed containers, and we must understand that their value in foodscaping is far higher than their value as food. If we can make succulents sexy, just think what we can do with herbs and veggies.GG

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