By Charles Fenyvesi
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, June 8, 2000; Page H12
The next time you drop by a nursery to ogle the young flowering annuals and perennials, think of the blooms as imagery: bells, cups and stars.
If bells beckon you, the lily-of-the-valley represents an unsurpassable tradition. Dangling from their stalks by a slender stem, the delicate bells come in sprays of immaculate white and are shielded by straplike leaves that serve as ground cover until mid-to-late fall. (The pink variety known as Rosea, a mutation that might occur in anyone's back yard, is not as vigorous as the white bloomer.)
Lily-of-the-valley's scent is sweet but not cloying. Cut a spray when about a quarter of the blooms are open. Indoors, the bells will spread their perfume for several days.
If you are looking for bells as large as the smallest espresso cup, Campanula carpatica comes in pure white or a lovely blue with a trace of lavender. (The white variety reseeds more reliably than the blue.) Some nurseries and mail-order houses sell the campanula variety Resholt; it is worth growing as a ground cover because it is even more vigorous than other campanulas.
All these bells can handle partial shade and prefer moderately rich and reasonably well-drained soil, though for the best display, you should add manure before planting.
Cups are inviting, and few can equal the lure of single-flowered, old-fashioned hollyhocks. Claude Monet succumbed to their charm, and hummingbirds find them irresistible. The cups, crowded all around the stalks, keep coming all summer long, and their gradations of color, especially in the garnet to deep maroon and almost-black range, are unique. While technically biennials, single-flowered hollyhocks tend to reseed, especially when soil is porous and rain sinks the seeds into the ground. Many gardeners collect the seeds in jars, plant them in early spring and offer seedlings as presents.
Another source of numerous cups is oenothera, or evening primrose, an American native. The cultivar Fireworks has canary yellow petals, red stems and buds, and a fine fragrance. It blooms in early summer and often again in the fall. The rose-hued variety is known as sundrops. One of them, Oenothera speciosa "Rosea," blooms profusely from June to July with three-inch cups .
If you want stars for your garden, the possibilities are as plentiful as in the night sky. With six or eight petals, a single-flowered clematis shines as convincingly as Venus. This year, nurseries offer more clematis cultivars than ever. The blues, reds and whites (and bicolors) are stunning; there is one for shade as well, Sugar Candy, in screaming candy stripes.
Aster means star, a name earned by its flawlessly radial symmetry. Wonder of Staff is a reliably hardy hybrid. Up to 30 inches tall, it does not need staking. It is perhaps the longest-flowering aster, a star well worth bringing down to the earth.
© 2000 The Washington Post Company
Previous Article Back to the top Next Article