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There are many cultivars available of this fast-growing annual. They are best used as bedding, edging, or container plants. Panicles of blue, pink, purple, or white flowerheads arise from oval, downy leaves in midsummer and continue until frost. They have a soft, fuzzy appearance and attract butterflies.
This early, compact bloomer grows to only about 6 or 7 inches tall. With its icy blue-purple flowers, it works well when planted tightly along the foreground of a bed. Its color blends easily with most other hues and textures. -Julia Jones, Designing with annueals, Fine Gardening issue #120
This low-mounding perennial has lobed, silver-edged foliage and small yellow flowerheads in autumn.
Black foliage and spiky blue flowers (which appear in early summer) make a dramatic contrast. 'Black Scallop' thrives in full sun, which intensifies the black color. In full sun, the plant produces numerous runners, which should be thinned to prevent crown rot. In large plantings, you can run a rotary mower with a bagger attachment over the patch to control crowding and keep the foliage fresh. In mixed container plantings, the spilling habit of the plant makes it a standout choice. -Ron Smith, Regional Picks: Upper Plains, Fine Gardening issue #120
About a third the size of the more well known A. mollis, A. alpina has delicate leaves edged in brilliant silver.
For long-lasting bright yellow flowers that sparkle in midsummer, try Allium moly. It is robust, hardy, and an excellent cut flower, naturalizing and increasing happily in the sun in most garden soils. The cultivar 'Jeannine' flowers earlier and produces larger umbels on sturdier stems.
This plant has thin, strap-like foliage that tends to twist. It produces up to 30 long-lasting, 12- to 40-inch-tall pink or lilac flowers in mid- to late summer.
This is the last of the ornamental onions to flower, when mop-like heads of rose-purple flowers appear with orange anthers. The flowers are impervious to frost or snow. Superior cultivars include ‘Ozawa’, with larger purple flower heads than the species. A white-flowered form known as A. thunbergii ‘Alba’ is a splendid plant, with cup-shaped florets sporting white stamens, yellow anthers, and green centers.
'Yellow Form' Alternanthera is an easy-to-grow, tropical plant with a fast-spreading habit and pointed, chartreuse-yellow leaves. It forms a mat of color from spring's frost-free date to fall's first frost. Like others of this genus, it makes a great edging, bedding, or container plant. In formal landscapes, it can be used in a knot garden. It looks great with dark-leaved plants.
Chalk up another great plant introduction from the folks at Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina. This dwarf blue star grows to only about half the size of the species, making it well suited for gardens with limited space. It performs best in full to partial sun and is appreciative of moist, well-drained soil. The sky blue flowers appear in early spring above the clean, dark green foliage. Try planting 'Short Stack' in a mess and along bed edges for a winning display.
In summer, this colorful groundcover makes a 9-inch mound of saucer-shaped, deep blue flowers on long stalks.
This plant produces a great low-growing mat of flowers. The cheerful starlike blossoms come in pink, blue, and white, and the attractive finely cut leaves disappear soon after flowering.
This plant produces a 12-inch-high, symmetrical mound of silver-green, silky-hairy leaves. They make this plant a nice counterpoint to very colorful plants.
A. italicum will add great color and diversity to the garden with their attractively marked leaves, which may be arrow- or spear-shaped. Leaves are veined with mid-green to white. In early summer, white spathes of flowers are followed by spikes of bright orange red berries.
This is a short-growing aster has creeping rootstocks and pink, daisy-like flowers with yellow centers. It can be used on steep slopes for erosion control.
This is a dwarf astilbe with attractive red-green leaves and reddish pink flowers in broad, dense conical groups. Its blooms appear mostly in summer.
This fern has cool, grey-green, almost silvery, foliage and reddish-purple stalks that are useful for brightening dark spots in borders. It is deciduous, and although it reaches only 8 to 12 inches in height, it is easy to grow, prolific, and easily divided.
The broad silvery leaves of ‘Ursula’s Red’ have a showy burgundy band at the center of the leaves in spring. This plant can double in size in a single growing season, as it spreads from rhizomes. Though deer do like it, it may simply grow more fronds and not show any lasting damage. --Michael Ruggiero, Regional Picks: Mid-Atlantic, Fine Gardening issue #127
Unlike many other shade garden plants with their cool blue colors, 'Cowardly Lion' rex begonia offers rich warm tones. Chocolate-colored leaf veins veil the golden leaves, which become darker with age and make a fine counterpoint to yellow-based foliage plants. -Rita Randolph, Rex begonias, Fine Gardening issue #120
'Escargot' takes its name from the snail-like curl pattern at the base of the leaf. The foliage is striking enough to stand on its own but it's a good mixer, too. Use it with other foliage plants and brightly colored blooms. This is an extremely popular Rex hybrid begonia. -Rita Randolph, Rex begonias, Fine Gardening issue #120
10 Outstanding Succulents
Skip the finicky selections and go for these unique yet reliable beauties
by Maureen Gilmer
Building Better Borders
Use plant combinations that focus on complementary colors, textures, and forms
A guide to growing, care, and propagation of rex begonias, plus some great cultivars
by Rita Randolph
PLANTING PLAN: A deer-resistant bed that shines in fall and winter
by Nancy Matthews
Q&A Economical edging for beds
by Kate Feely
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