Frequently it’s the little things in life that add surprise and pleasure to the daily routine, and nowhere is that more evident than in the garden.
Although most gardeners seek out the big, showy flowers that flaunt bright colors for a brief season, at the same time it’s the smaller reliable ones, the workhorses, that quietly provide the background and foundation for the splashier ones.
Sometimes these are groundcovers, which may have little bloom, but have an interesting form and texture. More often they will be small annuals with persistent long-term flowering — and maintaining extended bloom in the summertime extremes of a Lowcountry garden is much to be desired.
A short list of small but dependable survivors would include the following. Several of these are recommended in Jim Wilson’s valuable reference for our area, “Bulletproof Flowers for the South,” which is his metaphor for resistance to extreme heat and humidity. Sound familiar? Mr. Wilson was a long-time host of PBS’s “The Victory Garden.” The recommendations are affirmed by the personal experience of successfully growing them.
The first has to be the sturdy and cheery melampodium, a small but productive plant whose yellow flowers light up the garden from spring to frost. No deadheading, no maintenance, no coddling, just stand back and admire.
Torenia is another little known small wonder. Sometimes called wishbone flower, it was formerly available only in an undistinguished blue-ish shade, but new cultivars such as Clown Mixed Colors have transformed it into multi-colored rainbow shades. Although small enough to be used as ground cover, it performs far beyond that limited image and will probably reseed to surprise you.
Globe amaranth or gomphrena has been around for a long time, but still deserve attention and space in your garden as a low-growing, colorful filler. Its perky pink, white or purple globular heads bloom continuously with little or no maintenance. Its resistance to high heat and humidity is a given and it grows equally well in the ground or containers.
Zahara series zinnia is a new cultivar introduction, a very attractive, sturdy and floriferous low-growing zinnia in a wide range of stunning, strong colors, including even some unusual bicolors. Not your grandmother’s zinnia, they should be sought out.
Dahlberg daisy should be better known as its small yellow ray flowers are appealing in a container border where they drape gracefully over the edge. On a former garden tour, it was the plant most inquired about.
Sedums make excellent groundcover/fillers and come in multiple forms, textures and shades of green and/or white. Other choices include creeping herbs such as lemon thyme or golden marjoram, which will add scent to the mix. Inquire at your garden center and discover more about these useful plants.
Finally, if you are confused about the plant newly marketed as lobularia, it is simply our old friend sweet alyssum. Who knew? Don’t even think of asking!