Bedding plants for the cool season

I know it’s difficult to get out in the garden this time of year, with the fleeting sun, persistent rains and the damp cold that gets right into your bones.

Still, there you are with your face pressed up against the living room window and there it sits just inches away, your garden – your debris-laden, weed-popping, branches-broken, neglected garden.

A little advice: start small. Go out and get yourself a little cool-season colour just to dress things up and do the hard stuff later.

Here’s a brief description of the cool-season bedding plants that are available now or will be, in the near future;

• Forget-me-nots (Myosotis): A biennial or short-lived perennial that often naturalizes by prolific self-seeding. Divide or thin (in the case of seedlings) these in early fall in order to maintain vigour.

Although most of us expect those beautiful sky-blue flowers, they also come in other forms with white or pink tones, and gold foliage.

Plant these long-blooming (March-June) beauties in the foreground of tulip beds, to give a marvellous layered colour look.

Some of the better cultivars include ‘Bluesylva’, ‘Rosesylva’, ‘Snowsylva’, ‘Gold ‘n’ Sapphires’ (chartreuse foliage), ‘Victoria Blue’, ‘Victoria White’ and ‘Victoria Rose’.

• Wallflowers (Erysimum): Also known as Cheiranthus, these traditional English bedding plants come in a dazzling array of colours from seed, but locally-grown varieties are limited.

That said, their sweet fragrance and long-blooming time (April-July for bedding types, longer for shrubby forms) make them highly prized among discerning gardeners.

Wallflowers are members of the Brassica family, so be sure you add lime to the soil before planting and keep an eye out for cabbage loopers, which are easily controlled with BTK.

A few choice cultivars include ‘Apricot Twist’, ‘John Codrington’ (yellow and brown), ‘Emm’s Variety’ (orange and purple), ‘Yellow Bird’, ‘Fragrant Sunshine’ and two shrubby forms, ‘Bowles’ Mauve’ and Erysimum linifolium ‘Variegatum’ (mauve with variegated foliage).

• Primula (Primula acaulis): Commonly known as the English primrose, these little beauties can be found at every corner store, supermarket and garden centre at this time of year.

Although we treat them as disposable plants, these complex hybrids (usually P. veris x P. vulgaris), which are also known as Primula x polyantha are actually hardy to Zone 5.

However, these are short-lived perennials that need to be divided every two to three years, or they’ll just fade away.

The upside of using these is their low cost, so be liberal with them in your planters or beds, and expect to do a little deadheading after the rain.

Yellow varieties are often fragrant and while they tolerate winter or spring sun, they naturalize best in areas with partial shade in summer.

• Winter pansies and violas (Viola cornuta, tricolor and x wittrockiana): Another great low-cost option to jazz-up those lack-lustre pots by the front door and obvious bare spots in the garden.

Pansies and violas come in almost any colour imaginable with flowers ranging from two to seven centimeters in size, many with contrasting black blotches.

The perennial forms such as Viola cornuta should be cut back in early summer once they get leggy, or you can simply replace them with annuals.

The larger flowered forms (Viola x wittrockiana) benefit from deadheading and bloom best when given ample sun.

Keep in mind that the Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor) love to self-seed, so keep these out of areas where this would be a problem.

Some interesting varieties to look for include ‘Tiger Eyes’ (yellow with brown stripes), ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ (white, blue, lavender), ‘Blackberry Cream’ (purple and pale yellow), ‘Red Wing’ (maroon and yellow), ‘Helen Mount’ (violet, cream, mauve) and ‘Columbine’ (white with purple streaks).

• English daisies (Bellis perennis): These are actually elaborate hybrids of those little white to pale pink daisies we see growing like weeds in the lawns of Stanley Park.

English daisies are short-lived perennials and need to be divided every two to three years in early fall.

Also, be sure to add a little bonemeal to new plantings. Those perfect little pompom blooms just keep popping from April to June and with a little deadheading, even a bit longer.

There are a lot of premium cultivars out there, but a few of my favourites include ‘Strawberries and Cream’ (pastel pink with central rose ring), ‘Tasso Pink’, ‘Tasso Red’, ‘Tasso White’, ‘Habanera White with Red Tips’ (quilled petals), ‘Pomponette Mix’ (red, rose, white), ‘Monstrosa Mix’ (huge quilled blooms) and ‘Robella’ (unique salmon-pink).

• By the time you read this I will have uploaded my most recent story, Why I Can’t Keep Seeds in the Bedroom Anymore, to my garden blog at www.soulofagardener.wordpress.com.

• Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author. Email him at hebe_acer@hotmail.com.