Bartlett on Gardening: Bedding Plant Blues

April 28, 2018

“What should I plant in my flowerbed this year? I want something different, but it has to be easy to grow.” This is the garden advice I’m often called upon to give.


For something different, try a fresh approach to planning your plantings. Bedding plants from the local garden center are the easiest way to achieve a fresh look. Seeds are equally easy if they can be directly sown into the garden.


​​Blue is the most versatile color in the landscape. It is as rare as it is valuable. Many flowers we think of as blue are in reality purple. These provide a jarring contrast to scarlet, but set off bright yellow beautifully.  My campanula, ageratum and “blue” petunias all fail the true blue test, while being perfect companions for my roses.


Where can the gardener find a tried and true blue flower? Bachelor buttons fill the bill, but have the most striking display before the weather gets hot. I like to sow them with cosmic cosmos. As the cornflowers are beginning to go to seed, the sunny orange cosmos are coming into bloom. You can cool down the intensity of the show by adding white sonata cosmos. Sow ensign blue bush morning glory for a front row of royal blue all summer.



​No color combination is more elegant than blue and white. The blue spikes of annual salvia combine well with white flowers or silver foliage. The greatest advantage of starting with this color combination has to be its potential to add other colors. Marigolds, either shorter or taller, in orange or yellow or both, work well. Go with yellow marigolds and you can add any shade of pink or red that strikes your fancy. Warm pink geraniums, tropical bright portulaca, even pink or red petunias would make eye-catching additions.  For a sophisticated look, combine the salvia with wine-red verbena and dusty miller. Note that I have suggested flowers of different shapes and growing habits as well as different heights.



​​A fellow master gardener has a great suggestion: Take a quilter’s color chart to the garden center. This helps many of us avoid hideous mistakes because we can make sure that the reds, pinks and purples are compatible. People who live in brick houses will find this especially useful in finding flowers that do not clash with or get lost in the color of the home.


No matter what combinations you chose, be sure to plant them at the recommended distance from each other. But do fill an area with enough plants to have an impact. 



Fertilize annuals with a balanced fertilizer at the start of the season. Deadhead to prevent seed formation. In six to eight weeks, apply a high nitrogen liquid fertilizer monthly to keep your flowers blooming into September.

​​For me, the fun of annuals lies in trying something new every year. Plant plenty of whatever strikes your fancy. My daughter, the artist, says that if you plant a large enough mass of colors, it balances out and looks fine.



Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home, provided it goes with her color scheme ...

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