Countdown to SPRING

Get your garden ready; it’s almost showtime.

MULTI-HUED ZINNIASThe reader/gardener has been promised new beginnings, so let’s begin. But not randomly nor recklessly in the feverish enthusiasm engendered by consecutive days of balmy weather. Since it is generally accepted that March 15 is the last day of frost expectation in the Lowcountry, one should delay planting tender annuals before that date.

Caladium bulbs should not be planted until the soil warms up considerably or they will not prosper – approximately April 15-30. A little planning and forethought at this point will pay off handsomely.



  • The shape and size of your garden – does it have its own place in the overall landscape as well as its own character? To be effective, it should. It is after all a garden, not a collection of plants impulsively purchased because they looked pretty at the time.
  • What already exists in the way of perennial flowers and shrubs that will be growing and blooming during the spring, summer and into fall?
  • What is needed to fill out and enhance established plants, which will continue to spread as the garden develops?
  • What is peak blooming time, as well as declining time, of plantings in place?
  • What is the ultimate size, shape and texture of the existing elements? All three are very important to create a harmonious whole, and we are frequently reminded that the whole should always be more than merely the sum of its parts.

ANGELONIA, WITH ANGEL WINGWithin the above brief guidelines, one can play and plant an entirely new and individual combination of older tried and true plants, plus exciting newcomers on the spring scene. It is the better part of gardening wisdom to play it safe and include both.

There is much from which to choose. We can start with zinnias, one of the most traditional of all garden annuals, although continually enhanced through new cultivars and crosses. Zinnia elegans ‘Apricot Blush’ is a new color breakthrough, apricot-
rose through salmon blush, on a tall 3½-foot and multi-branched plant, which requires full sun to reach its splendid potential. In the same color range is the smaller Zinnia angustifolia x elegans ‘Apricot Profusion.’

The “Profusion” series indicates the best of both species, including exceptional heat and mildew resistance, plus non-stop bloom on two-foot plants. Profusion Knee High zinnias rise to 20 inches, thus taller than the typical 15-inch height, but flowers are the same size and the plant develops into a more open character. Some cultivars are Profusion ‘Coral Pink’ and ‘Double Cherry.’ In addition, look for ‘Cut and Come Again’ with candy bright, free flowering blooms plus Heirloom ‘Persian Carpet,’ disease resistant with small flowers, its name promising a mosaic of warm colors.

Heliotrope arborescens ‘Marine’ is worth a try although not frequently seen in Hilton Head gardens. An old fashioned favorite with dark blue-green pleated leaves and velvety purple, fragrant blooms, it wants sun to partial shade in well drained soil.

Globe Amaranth or Gomphrena, should find a place in every garden. New cultivar ‘Mardi Gras’ is a glowing mix of red, apricot-orange and carmine clover-shaped blossoms. Old-fashioned and easy to grow, they are small but very productive fillers.

Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ is everybody’s new favorite, admired in several garden tour landscapes. Growing in partly sun to shady situations, it performs better in sun, becoming more compact and intense in color, and blooming from early spring until first frost.

BEGONIASPentas, salvia ‘Victoria and angelonia are dependable flowering plants, given full sun. Begonias, especially the dragon winged ones, cannot be beat for longtime bloom and ease of cultivation. New cultivars are the Sundevil series Red, Rose Pink and White, plus ‘Bonfire’ and ‘Bellfire,’ late bloomers.

Melampodium, small, yellow and cheerful, is a dependable annual for the deer-challenged, whereas formerly despised coleus has taken root in all gardens for its dramatic blending of luscious foliage colors. Tantalizing names of new cultivars include ‘Big Red Judy,’ ‘Lancelot Velvet Mocha and ‘Lifelime.’

For inspiration, attend the “Charleston Gardens by the Sea” garden tour, Sunday, March 9, where 10 gardens on Church and Bay Streets will be open from 1 – 4 p.m., concluding with a cocktail reception at Alkyon Arts, 120 Meeting Street. Call (843) 953-7691 for ticket reservations. Group rates are available.