Unusual Annuals

Unusual Annuals

Part of Ep. 1002 Spring Games

Looking for something different to put in your garden?  Landscape manager Mark Dwyer introduces some uncommon annuals at Rotary Gardens in Janesville.

Premiere date: May 22, 2002

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Looking to try something a little different in your garden this year? We're going to look at some uncommon annuals at Rotary Gardens in Janesville. And I'm with the Landscape Manager, Mark Dwyer. Mark, thanks for letting us join you.

Mark:
Sure.

Shelley:
I'd like to start by looking at some of the plants you've got in this beautiful container. This is very nicely done.

Mark:
Thanks, Shelley. Actually, the first thing we do with a container is consider textures in the way it's arranged. In this case, what you can see is a central plant, or a back plant, with a vertical element, a nice height to it, tapering down to a central plant. Now, all the plants in here are planted for mainly foliage. And as you taper down, you see a trailer coming off, cascading off the end of the pot.

Shelley:
So, we've got a really nice design to keep it interesting with the foliage, that's also the texture, the shapes, not just the leaf color itself, then.

Mark:
Right. The primary interest is foliage.

Shelley:
Let's look at some of the plants you've got in here. This looks like a variegated corn, almost.

Mark:
It looks a lot like a corn. Actually, this is called Variegated Giant Reed. It's a neat grass, that in this pot, will obtain a height of about five feet. But out in the bed, in full sun, it would get over eight feet tall.

Shelley:
Be careful where you put it.

Mark:
Right.

Shelley:
And what's this? The leaf actually looks a little bit like a maple.

Mark:
Well, with the five-pointed leaf, it looks a lot like a maple. That's incorporated into its common name, which is Flowering Maple, or Abutilon. This is actually one called Speckled Flowering Maple, and its primary interest is its leaf.

Shelley:
Not these pretty flowers?

Mark:
Well, the flowers are neat, a neat bell-shaped flower, but they hang in the interior of the plant. So, the leaves are the main interest.

Shelley:
And with the yellow on them, you can see them from more of a distance, too.

Mark:
Right, they show up at dusk and it goes well with the grass.

Shelley:
This is not hardy, like our maple trees.

Mark:
Right, it's a sub-tropical.

Shelley:
And this is a sweet potato vine, isn't it?

Mark:
Right. This is a variety called Blackie. It's a neat trailing or cascading plant that does well at the edge of a container such as this, or even in a hanging basket.

Shelley:
Now, you said normally, this cascades right down to the bricks.

Mark:
It's been trimmed by woodchucks, if you can see toward the bottom there. They keep it off the bricks for us.

Shelley:
See, that's nice. A question that I have to ask-- People have asked me and I don't know the answer. These are sweet potato vines, so they have the tubers like the edible ones. Can we eat this?

Mark:
Well, the short answer would be yes, they are edible. But through the cultivation process, they're not real tasty. They're very mealy. And it's not recommended for consumption.

Shelley:
So, if I was stranded on a desert island, I could eat them if I had to, but they're not going to taste good. Now, I know the sweet potato vine and the flowering maple are readily available. But some of the things we're looking at today are harder to come by. Where would you recommend I start looking?

Mark:
Well, at the gardens, we do a lot of looking through catalogs. The Internet provides a lot of information on new varieties, and just keeping an ear out.

Shelley:
And we always try to provide a source list on our Web site, too, but I know that some of these are a little bit more of a challenge. Now, this one, I may have to do some searching for. What is that? They look like little miniature carnations.

Mark:
Yeah, that's a nice, delicate plant. It's called Tassle Flower. And we put it here, not only for its red color, but the delicate touch that it lends to this border.

Shelley:
These are beautiful. And it stays about this height?

Mark:
It stays that height. And it's these airy sprays of red, instead of an overpowering massive red. it's a nice addition to the border.

Shelley:
Do you have to deadhead it to keep it, though, with this display?

Mark:
We haven't had to deadhead it. It just keeps branching off the original stem. It's a reliable bloomer, May through September.

Shelley:
Great. Now, here's something else with incredible foliage. I don't think we even care about the flowers. What's this?

Mark:
That's an Amaranthus. It's called a Fountain Plant. And this is a variety, Illumination. And you would really understand the reason it's called that at dusk. You can really see the bright new growth coming out of the center, giving that luminescent pinky-orange color. The leaves age to green as the plant gets taller.

Shelley:
So, it looks like it glows in the dark. At dusk, it actually almost does.

Mark:
It really does, yes.

Shelley:
Wonderful. Is this one of the edible varieties that I've heard about?

Mark:
It is an edible variety. Actually, another name for it is Chinese Spinach. And the new, tender growth is used in salads or as a stir fry.

Shelley:
The young leaves, then.

Mark:
Right.

Shelley:
This would be a wonderful addition to any garden. That's beautiful. Thank you, Mark.

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