If you want a change from the tried and true seasonal color that you will see in most gardens, consider some of these lesser known, but beautiful plants that you might enjoy adding to your garden:
Angelonia (Angelonia angustifolia) - 12-18” t x 14” w. Angelonia is a very reliable performer and tolerates heat well. It’s a spreading annual with upright flower spikes that resemble miniature snapdragons, with flower colors of white, pink, purple, lavender and lavender-pink. Plant Angelona en masse, in borders, or in containers; it’s happiest in full sun with afternoon protection.
Bacoba (Sutera cordata) – 6-12” t x 2-3’ w. A Proven Winners winner, you will find it most likely labeled Snowstorm Giant Snowflake. This trailing plant sports pure white sweet little flowers from spring to frost (new for 2017 is a brilliant blue variety). Bacoba will thrive in sun or part sun but needs consistent watering (it won’t die with drought stress, but will drop its flowers and buds and it will take up to two weeks for the plant to begin re-blooming). Plant Bacoba as the “spiller” in containers, or allow it to weave its way around the garden and fill in bare spots.
Bat Faced Cuphea (Cuphea llavea) – 18-24” t x 24-36” w. Named for its resemblance to a bat: the dark purple flower is the face and the red lobes are the ears, Bat Faced Cuphea thrives in heat, tolerates drought and will bloom spring until frost. It’s a rather large plant, so it’s best as a specimen or in a container. It’s equally happy in full sun or part sun and it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.
Brazilian Sky Flower (Duranta erecta) - 48-60” t x 12-48” w. If you have a large garden and are looking for a shrub-like multi-stemmed plant that produces blue/purple flowers summer through fall, this plant is for you. Grow Brazilian Sky Flower in full sun. If you have a partially shady location, consider the variety D. erecta ‘Gold Edge’ (the intense yellow and green variegated foliage is beautiful).
Flossflower (Ageratum ‘Artist’ Series). 10-12” t x 6-10” w. Another Proven Winners plant, this attractively mounding plant is covered in small, fluffy, button-like flowers in blue or violet and bloom spring through fall. Unlike most Ageratum, the ‘Artist’ Series will bloom through the summer in North Texas. They also attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Gold Star Esperanza (Tecoma stans ‘Gold Star) - 48-60” t x 36” w. Gold Star Esperanza is a heat tolerant and pest resistant Texas native that sports striking masses of golden yellow trumpet-shaped flowers from early summer until frost. It’s a focal point in a border or large container. To maximize bloom, remove pods and don’t over-fertilize. Gold Star Esperanza may return in the spring, but it is slow to emerge so mark the spot.
Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis) - 12” t x 48” w. Trailing Lantana is a perennial in zone 8B south, otherwise it’s grown as an annual. The profusion of lavender, purple or white flowers bloom consistently from spring through frost in a sunny garden. It’s lovely in a raised bed where it can tumble over the edge, or simply allow it to intertwine through the garden; it’s also a nice addition in containers. Trailing Lantana has outstanding heat, wind and drought tolerance, making it a tough and beautiful plant.
Mona Lavender (Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’) – 1-2’ t x 1-2’ w. It's hard to find a blooming plant for part shade, but Mona Lavender is up to the task. This is a very attractive plant even when not in bloom. The dark green leaves are purple underneath, and the small lavender blooms appear spring to frost (it can be overwintered in a garage). Best as a specimen plant, it looks really pretty underplanted with a groundcover with blue flowers. Trim off new stems regularly and remove spent blooms to keep the plant tidy.
Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). 4-6’ t x 2-3’ w. Mexican Sunflower is a tall plant, most suitable for the back of the border or as a screen. But it’s worthwhile growing because it’s orange-red with yellow center disc and ray flowers are beautiful. Grow in a full sun location and go easy on the water (this is a good flower selection for the @#$% strip). Deadhead spent flowers to prolong bloom.
Million Bells (Calibrachoa spp.). 6-12” t x 12-24” w. Proven Winners call these plants Superbells, and they are super easy to grow as long as their needs are met. They require a minimum of six hours of full sun, require regular fertilization (every other week with a soluble fertilizer), and very well drained soil. If you are up to it, they will reward you with perky, petunia like flowers that come in delicious shades of every color in the rainbow. Million Bells look beautiful on their own in containers (use two colors in the same family for an elegant look), in hanging baskets, or to provide a ruffled edge to a mixed container.
Penta (Pentas lanceolata) - 24” t x 24” w. Pentas happily bloom from spring through frost and come in lovely pinks, lavenders, red, and white. They perform as well in part sun as in full sun. Plants are low maintenance, heat and pest tolerant and bloom from planting until frost. Pentas look lovely en masse, but are also attractive in containers and mixed in a border. Did I mention that the butterflies love the flowers?
Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinea pulcherrima) - 48-60” t x 36-48” w. Pride of Barbados is another large stunner that produces brilliant orange-yellow petals and elongated red racemes summer through fall. Plant in full sun and well drained soil. Pride of Barbados looks at home around pools and in tropical landscapes.
Verbena (Verbena X). 6-12” t x 24” w. Look for the new (2017) Proven Winners verbena (labelled Superbena Royal Romance) in coral and burgundy to add a new color to your garden (they look stunning paired together). They have a mounding and trailing growth habit so can fill in as either a “filler” or a “spiller” in containers. Plant them in full sun to part sun and they will reward you with beautiful blooms from planting until frost. The plants are well branched, but will become ever fuller with a slight trimming at planting time.
Vinca (Catharanthus roseus) - 14-18” t x 18” w. Vincas come in a wide variety of flower colors with either upright or trailing habits. The Cora and Nirvana varieties are resistant to Aerial Phytophthora fungus and have some of the largest flowers and beautiful colors available. The best time to plant Vinca is after the soil has thoroughly warmed in late spring or early summer. Plant Vinca in a hot, full sun bed.
Narrow Leaved Zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia) – 10-18” t x 10-12” w. I read somewhere that these Zinnias “put the fun back into growing Zinnias” and I have to agree. Unlike traditional Zinnias, they don’t fade in the heat of the summer and don’t need to be deadheaded. The dainty single petal flowers bloom orange, yellow, white, red and pink mid-summer until frost. They grow best in full sun in a somewhat dry bed.
And let’s not forget the plants that have colorful foliage. In many instances they lend more color to the garden than plants that produce flowers.
Alternanthera (Alternanthera ‘Little Ruby’) - 12-16” t x 12-16”. Alternanthera is a Texas SuperStar selection that is small and compact with rich burgundy foliage (in full sun). It is still attractive in part shade, but the foliage is more greenish in color. Plant after the soil has thoroughly warmed in late spring in soil rich in organic matter and with good drainage. Alternanthera can be used as a ground cover or as a container plant.
Fancy Leaved Caladium (Caladium spp.) - 12” t x 12” w. If you’re looking to light up a shady spot, consider Caladiums. Foliage is available in many colors, shapes and sizes, many of which are decorated with colorful shading, veins, margins and markings. Tubers are available starting in late winter, but resist planting them until the soil is thoroughly warm or the tubers will rot. If you have the space, plant them up and keep them in a warm spot to get a head start. Keep tubers moist but not soggy.
Coleus (Plectranthus scuttelaroides) - 36” t x 24” w. Breeders have been busy developing Coleus in every color, shape, size and left texture combination. It used to be that Coleus were only for shade, but there is a whole line that has been bred for sun tolerance, so check the label carefully before purchasing. Plant Coleus in well-drained soil but be diligent to water regularly until established and then keep evenly moist.
Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) - 18-36” t x 18-24” w. The foliage of Persian Shield is extraordinary: thick, quilted, purple leaves up to 6” long splashed with iridescent silver. In fall, it sends up a fuzzy stem that bears delicate, funnel-shaped violet flowers. Grow in moist, part to full shade in beds, borders or containers. Pinch off the growing tips to keep the plant compact and bushy.
If you are shy about planting some of these selections en masse in your beds, consider growing them mixed in the border until you know whether you like them or not. Either way, you’ll be breaking away from the ordinary and trying something new.