More plants are available each year for people gardening in small spaces who want results fast, have no time to deadhead and are delighted by eye-catching riots of colour. All are worth watching for this spring at your local garden centre or starting from seed at home.
For instance, many perennials that typically bloom in their second year now include varieties especially bred to bloom in their first year (if you start the seed early).
This includes the 2013 AAS winner, South Pacific. This is a red Canna lily said to bloom 12 weeks from seed planting. It will germinate fast if you give it hot temperatures.
South Pacific is described as having six or seven stems per plant and capable of withstanding light frosts.
Another AAS winner that flowers in its first year is the Echinacea Cheyenne spirit.
This fits nicely into several other trends: it's available from seed as a mix, it's self-cleaning so that no deadheading is required and it's also drought-resistant.
Freedom from deadheading is being bred into more plants. This isn't always because spent flowers drop off. In the intensely orange African marigold windsong, for example, new foliage grows up and over, hiding the spent flowers. Celosia in the "Looks" series has the same habit.
Yet another trend is to breed contrasting stripes, splashes and flecks into petals that, in earlier times, were available only in solid colours. Meanwhile, where solid colours remain, flowers are often much larger and/or brighter than the older varieties.
Even more interesting is the tendency for flowers to change into different colours on the same plant as they age. The 2013 AAS winner, pinto premium geranium, produces bright white young flowers that morph through pink to rose flowers as time passes.
Then there's the sweet pea odoratus blue shift, in which flowers open purple but gradually become a deep, dark blue.
Following a similar trend is the Verbena x hybrida Lanai twister, which displays three flower colours in the same plant. The florets in the centre of each cluster are red but the outer florets are white with a pink edge.
Another welcome change for container gardeners is the arrival of "Cool Wave" pansies, which are said to be hardy down to -20 F (-28 C) and exceptionally fast-spreading even through the coolest of fall weather. The Cool Wave pansies can also be grown as a ground cover in flower beds but are quite spectacular flowing down the side of a container.
Generally, container gardeners have never had so many varieties that will welcome a home in small spaces. Not all have to be flowers.
The "fireworks" ornamental pepper grows from 16 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) tall and produces slim, pointed peppers in cream, red, purple and orange. These are not edible.
Then there is the Florian Fl hybrid strawberry, which first displays masses of pale pink flowers that become reasonably sized, delicious fruits. This strawberry is excellent for containers since some of the fruits hang from its runners as well as the main plant.
A new rose that combines several trends is the dwarf seed-grown rose "garden party," which is said to grow just 10 inches (25 cm) tall.
It's a multiflora rose that can produce pink, rose or white blooms. Garden party will flower in its first year if you plant the seeds from January to March.
. Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to amarrison@ shaw.ca.