One of the easiest ways to add visual fireworks to your garden is to plant bright and colorful annual flowers. Even though they live for only one gardening season, most annuals will bloom non-stop for months
Two of the easiest, and toughest, summer annuals to brighten a sunny border with bountiful flowers are bachelor buttons and celosia. Breeders have been busy working to improve these flowers that have been gardener’s favorites for generations, producing new colors, growth habits and hardiness.
Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa), also known as bachelor buttons, have been a mainstay for generations of gardeners, as they are very easy to grow from seed. They thrive in our heat, and enjoy a sunny location in the garden. Breeders have recently developed varieties with increased vigor in the landscape, which is always welcome. Some of the older, more compact varieties don’t seem to last as well through the summer growing season.
Because of the new varieties now available, their adaptability to Texas landscapes, and statewide variety trials, gomphrena was designated a Texas Superstar in 2012, and also was named a Mississippi Medallion Winner.
The QIS series brings additional colors to the old fashioned light purple and white varieties, including rich purple and pink. This series has more of a spreading habit, and does quite well in the landscape. The Las Vegas series has more of an upright habit. Red and orange has also been added to the color palette of bachelor buttons.
One very different looking gomphrena variety is called Fireworks, with bright flowers held high above the foliage, looking like little fireworks exploding. The flowers are hot pink, and looking closer, they are tipped with yellow, looking like miniature fireworks. This variety gets about 3 feet tall, and looks great when mixed with other annuals and perennials. Look for transplants next spring, or order seeds and grow your own. There is a great example of a planting of Fireworks in the Heritage Rose Garden in the Tyler Rose Garden, in the center mixed border that leads to the arbor.
Gomphrena flowers also are enjoyed as cut flowers for arrangements because they dry easily and hold their color well. Seed-eating birds also appreciate the dried seedheads in the wintertime, if you leave them in the garden.
Celosia is another easy-to-grow annual that comes in different flower forms — including feathery spikes and a crested cockscomb (looks kind of like a brain). Like gomphrena, celosia is easy to grow from seed, loves the heat and sun and is a great filler for blank spots in sunny parts of your landscape. Their colors cover the rainbow, and are bright and vibrant. Intenz is one of the newer varieties you might find at your local nursery or garden center as transplants. It has unusually rich magenta purple spikes and is fairly compact, making it a good choice for both garden beds and containers.
Keith Hansen is Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is http://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu. His blog is http://agrilife.org/etg.