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IN THE GARDEN

Add New Color to Summer Bed

June 25, 1995|ROBERT SMAUS | TIMES GARDEN EDITOR

In seed catalogues just about every summer flower from asters to zinnias seems to be "New and Improved!" Once in a while they actually are, sometimes remarkably so, and well worth searching out.

At nurseries, it may be hard to spot these improvements on the crowded benches, so look for plant tags to find these new and improved bedding plants for the summer garden:

Petunias

For the summer of 1995, a new petunia named Purple Wave is startlingly different, not to mention neon bright, winning it an All American Selections award. It's more a short-lived ground cover than a bedding plant, spreading easily over a square yard and acting like a perennial, weathering winter much as impatiens do (though, like impatiens, it looks better replanted each spring).

Similar to other spreading petunias introduced in the last few years, such as Surfinia and the Supertunias, it is descended from new species found in South America that stay under six inches tall, but spread wide or trail over the sides of a pot. Unlike the others, which are grown from cuttings, Purple Wave is seed-grown.

Ben Walraven, of PanAmerican Seed in Santa Paula (the wholesale seed source), says you can space new plants of Purple Wave 1 1/2 to 2 feet apart in the ground, so its even economical. Try that with any other annual and you'll have a lot of bare ground showing.

He says Purple Wave is tough, forgiving and takes heat, but that they prefer regular watering and fertilizing.

At Sheridan Gardens Nursery in Burbank, Wendy Waldron is excited about another new wrinkle in petunias, the miniatures. She says they have "10 million" little flowers on tiny, compact plants that grow no larger than six inches tall, small enough for an edging.

Lew Whitney, at Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar, remains loyal to the now-commonplace F1 multiflora strains such as the Madness series, though he especially likes one newcomer, a 1995 All American Selection (AAS) winner called Celebrity Chiffon Morn. It has frilly single flowers that are a particularly nice shade of soft pink.

Gloriosa daisies

Another 1995 AAS winner comes under the category of "improved." It's a much more robust gloriosa daisy named Indian Summer, with golden daisies to nine inches across, on plants that grow to 3 or 4 feet tall--good news for those of us who don't like the trend to shorter and squatter bedding plants that look like they were extruded from machines. Indian Summer branches from the base so they are unlikely to need staking and that extra height can make for dramatically bolder beds of summer annuals. Lew Whitney likes to use gloriosa daisies in a blue, gold and white scheme that he says "lasts and lasts." He mixes the gold of the gloriosa daisies with blue Victoria bedding salvias and Sonata White cosmos. Sonata is a sturdy, big-flowered, 2 1/2-foot tall cosmos and for 1995, it comes in the other cosmos colors, Pink, Pink Blush and Carmine.

Verbenas

Want to do something a little different color-wise this summer? Dan Cunningham at Marina del Rey Garden Center likes the new Peaches and Cream verbena mixed with orange nasturtiums and gerberas for a sizzling summer scheme. He also likes the intense violet-blue verbena named Imagination planted with a yellow and orange nasturtium named Alaska that has creamy marbled foliage. Both these verbenas recently won AAS awards.

Cunningham grows these combinations on his Venice balcony in big 14-inch pots, with the verbenas trailing over the edges.

Inland fuchsia

Fuchsias do much better in Venice than they do in Riverside, but a new seed-grown strain called Florabelle has a fighting chance of surviving away from the coast.

It's a trailing type with small purple and red flowers that look like the kind of fuchsias grandpa used to grow, but it reportedly stands a good deal of heat, according to Ben Walraven, even tolerating 90 degree-plus days in Chicago, which is about as far from the ocean as you can get. Closer to the beach, it will bloom all summer. In Europe, Florabelle won a Fleuroselect medal.

Vincas

For those really hot inland areas, vincas are probably the best bet for summer and there are several "new and improved" kinds at nurseries. "Vincas are really getting exciting this year," said Wendy Waldron of this former plain Jane.

The color range has widened to include dark pinks that are nearly red (one named Pacifica Red is the reddest) and some that are almost lavender. Look for Grape Cooler and Orchid Cooler in that series.

Impatiens

For shady spots consider the new Swirl series of impatiens that bleed from dark pinks and red on the edges of the petals to white near the center. The contrast almost makes these impatiens glow in the dark. Or try any of the more recent New Guinea impatiens, says Whitney, some with colored foliage.

Whitney has another shady suggestion--Non-Stop begonias as an alternative to impatiens. He clusters the Non-Stops in pots and they bloom all summer. He mixes the colors "freely" (they come in white, pink, orange, yellow and red) and suggests fertilizing often (every two weeks). He likes to use adjacent pots of lobelia for contrast.

Lobelias

"We're way beyond Crystal Palace," is how Wendy Waldron described all the new lobelia colors. The blues are getting bluer and there are now lilacs, violets and two-toned blue and whites. "I can't keep up with all of them," she said. "They're too numerous and all are pretty with flowers bigger than they used to be." One series of colors she favors is named Fountains.

It's not too late to plant lobelias or even petunias along the coast in full sun (summer comes late to the beach), but inland the lobelias will need partial shade and petunias are better planted earlier in spring, unless you're trying them in pots.

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