With summer winding down, and the plant sale just around the corner on September 24th, fall is starting to creep in (although I wish it would creep a little bit faster!). As we turn our sights to crisp autumn evenings and the changing of the seasons, I think it’s worth while to reflect on the last of the summer, with some highlights from our gardens here at Brookgreen. As any gardener knows, it’s never too early to start planning next year's planting scheme! Without further ado, here are five of our favorite warm season annuals from this year.
1) Rex Begonia (Begonia rex-cultorum ‘Fireworks’)
For many, the excursion into the Huntington Sculpture Gardens begins with a greeting from two stately peacocks that implore you to enter the formal gardens. This year, the start to that journey was met almost instantly with ‘Fireworks’ rex begonia. While we typically think of annuals for having ornamental value for their flowers, this is a plant we grow for its spectacular foliage.
The dense white atop the purple of these leaves almost makes the plant look like a rich, chocolate cake with a heavy helping of white buttercream, or perhaps whipped cream – depending on your preference. Plants with such vibrant, light-colored foliage are a great addition for shady, dark areas in the garden, which is perfect for our shade-loving rex begonias!
2) Fan Flower (Scaevola aemula Scalora® Diamond)
This small flower certainly packs a visual punch! We were delighted with the Scalora® Diamond fan flower this year, and it's likely to be one you’ll see in future plantings here at Brookgreen Gardens. The expectation when planting warm season annuals is that you will have long lasting color for the duration, or at least the majority, of the season. Needless to say, Scalora® Diamond in the White Garden did not disappoint!
Although these white and purple flowers may have been small individually, their sheer quantity made their presence known! Flowers in a – you guessed it – fan-shaped formation adorn this plant from spring until frost. We particularly favored this plant for its ability to stay short, at about six to eight inches in height, and for its spread. A groundcover with attractive flowers? Yes, please!
3) Emperor’s Candlesticks (Senna alata)
Okay, I know I just said that one of the reasons we grow annuals is for long lasting color, but if I’ve learned anything from working with plants, it’s that there are always exceptions (and I would like to play that card for myself for this instance!). Sometimes you have plants that spend most of their growing season not doing much from a visual standpoint, and you allow them some grace so they can wow you later on. Emperor’s candlesticks is one of those plants.
For perennial Brookgreen visitors, this is the plant you see nearly every year, bursting into flower come late summer. These plants can grow what feels like up to eight to nine feet tall in a single season and, quite simply put, knock your socks off. These towering lush, green plants hold golden-yellow flowers that resemble a candelabra. Their commanding presence certainly makes them worth the wait!
4) Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides 'UF14-24-1' (FlameThrower™ Salsa Verde))
Like the rex begonia, coleus is another plant we grow for its beautiful foliage. Choosing a coleus to highlight this year was no easy feat. Coleus come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, leaf forms, patterns… The list goes on! I toiled, but ultimately I landed on FlameThrower™ Salsa Verde. What can I say? It checked all the boxes.
Good in sun or shade? Check. Very little flowering (we tend to look for this so the foliage stays looking as intended and doesn’t get smaller when energy goes to flower production)? Check. Forgiving if it gets a little less water than it wants? Check. Topping out at about two feet in height, it is a great plant that will likely grace our gardens again in the future.
5) Zinnia (Zinnia 'Profusion Red Yellow Bicolor')
First off, I will acknowledge that I gave this very same plant a shout out last year on my top annuals list, and I debated whether I should do it again this year. As you can tell, I couldn’t resist. Once again, ‘Profusion Red Yellow Bicolor’ zinnia has stolen my heart (and some may say a spot on this list), but I think it is worth recognizing.
We’re always looking for plants that are going to work well, without needing a ton of extra care. ‘Profusion Red Yellow Bicolor’ flowers continually, whether you deadhead it or not, and boasts an array of different colored flowers at any time on each plant. What makes this so amazing to me is that it’s not a mix of different zinnia cultivars, or cultivated varieties, it’s truly all the same cultivar. As the flowers age, the color changes, which makes for a very unique show!
Bonus! Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena pulchella 'Fireworks')
Okay, since I did a repeat from last year, I feel I owe you a bonus plant – ‘Fireworks’ globe amaranth. This globe amaranth always feels unique to me because of how tall it is. When I think of globe amaranth, I typically think of a plant with a very orderly, round flower atop a stem that maxes out at its total height maybe around two feet. ‘Fireworks’ breaks the mold.
Reaching around four to five feet tall, this somewhat messy pink-purple flowered globe amaranth is hard to miss - for people and pollinators alike! While it may become a little unruly in the garden because of its large habit, if used in the back of a bed, or as a large statement piece, it can be quite effective. In addition to wowing people, the pollinators, including bees and butterflies, are typically all over it, arguably making it the pièce de résistance of any garden.
With another season rapidly drawing to a close, I can’t help but be excited for the arrival of autumn and all that it brings – including new plants as we near our cool season switch! As summer works its way out, it's never too early to start planning your summer garden for next year. Until then, make sure to visit Brookgreen Gardens to catch the end of our warm season display before our change over in the coming weeks.
See you in the Gardens!