Annual flower trial helps us know which flowers are best to plant

By Lyn Lang ©2015
Penn State Master Gardener

Every summer, the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County plant and nurture trial beds of annual flowers in demonstration gardens at North and South parks. This year’s flowers included dozens of old varieties that perform well in this area and thrive in full sun. Most are easily started from seed and will be featured in seed catalogs arriving in mailboxes in coming weeks.

garden in the parks

Hundreds of area residents flock to the gardens in mid-August for our Garden in the Parks event to view the gardens and vote for their favorite plant. This year, visitors chose ‘Prairie Sun’ black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) as the favorite annual. Close behind were two cockscombs, ‘Eternity Improved’ and ‘Ruby Parfait.’

Toward the end of the growing season, Master Gardeners evaluate plant performance based on beauty, vigor, maintenance required and disease and pest resistance.



Refer to this list when choosing seeds for next year’s garden

• ‘Sangria’ Agastache mexicana  – Red-purple flowers on 48-inch spikes, lemon-scented leaves.

• ‘Apache Sunset’ Agastache rupestris – Root beer-like scent, 24-inch spikes of peach, orange and rose. Winter hardy with good drainage.

• ‘Arcado Pink’ and ‘Astello Indigo’ Agastache hybrids  – 2 feet tall with purple-pink and deep blue flowers, respectively.

• ‘Globetrotter’ Agastache pallida x rugosa  – Dense spikes of lilac-pink with reddish bracts, 40 inches tall.

• ‘Angelface Dresden Blue’ Angelonia angustifolia  – 18-24 inches tall, soft lavender-blue flowers, low maintenance.

• Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) – 3-4 foot tall with yellow, orange and red flowers. Host plant for Monarch butterfly larva.

• ‘Ruby Parfait’ Celosia argentea spicata – Feathery, 26-inch spikes of ruby red. Fresh or dried cut flower.

• ‘Eternity Improved’ Celosia argentea plumosa – 32 inches tall with scarlet plumes. Fresh or dried cut flower.

• ‘Senorita Blanca’ and ‘Senorita Rosalita’ Cleome hybrid – Nearly white and purple-pink spider flowers, respectively. Compact, long blooming, sterile flowers and thornless, non-sticky, odorless foliage. 2-4 feet tall.

• ‘Gold Edge’ Duranta erecta  – Carefree 2- to- 3-foot tall shrub grown for its bright gold and green variegated foliage, has thorns.

• ‘Fireworks,’ ‘Strawberry Fields,’ ‘QIS Formula Mix,’ ‘Bi-color,’ ‘Rose,’ ‘Carmine,’ ‘Orange’ and ‘Purple’ Gomphrena – Bright, colorful bachelor’s buttons for fresh or dried bouquets, 2-3 feet tall.

• ‘Icicles’ Helichrysum thianschanicum – Mounding, 8- to- 16-inch licorice plant with narrow, silver leaves. Accent or filler in containers.

• ‘Bandana Lemon Zest’ Lantana camara – Clusters of lemon yellow and cream flowers. Dense mounding habit, 12-24 inches tall.

• ‘Derby’ Melampodium paludosum – Covered with golden yellow daisy-like blooms all summer, 12-14 inches tall.

• ‘Black Pearl,’ ‘Nippon Taka’ and ‘Numex Twilight’ ornamental peppers – Multicolored fruits in various shapes and sizes, 18-28 inches tall.

• ‘Cherokee Sunset Mix,’ ‘Cherry Brandy,’ ‘Chim Chiminee,’ ‘Denver Daisy,’ ‘Indian Summer,’ ‘Orange Fudge’ and ‘Prairie Sun’ Rudbeckia hirta – Seven tall, bushy black-eyed Susans in bold color combinations.

• Hummingbird series ‘Coral Nymph,’ ‘Forest Fire’ and ‘Snow Nymph’ Salvia coccinea  – 36 inches tall.

• ‘Black and Blue’ Salvia guaranitica – Deep blue flowers and bright green leaves, 3-4 feet tall.

• Salvia leucantha – Late-blooming Mexican bush sage with soft, fuzzy purple and white flowers, 4 feet tall.

• ‘ColorBlaze Keystone Kopper’ Solenostemon scutellarioides – Sun coleus with deep, rich copper-colored foliage, 24-36 inches tall.

• Strobilanthes dyerianus – Persian shield is 1-3 feet tall with thick, quilted purple leaves highlighted with iridescent silver.

• ‘Benary’s Giant,’ ‘Carousel’, ‘Envy’, ‘Macarena’ and ‘Pop Art White and Red’ Zinnia elegans (tall)

• ‘Persian Carpet’ and ‘Soleado’ Zinnia haageana (medium tall)

• Profusion series ‘Cherry,’ ‘Double Deep Salmon,’ ‘Double Hot Cherry’ and ‘Knee High Red’ Zinnia hybrid (short)

 Many top performers contributed to the beauty of a combination bed in North Park:

Consider these annuals for a beautiful blue, yellow, white and cream display

• ‘Pretoria’ Canna – variegated

• ‘Victoria Blue’ Salvia farinacea

• ‘Scentropia Dark Blue’ Heliotropium arborescens

• ‘Magellan Buttered Popcorn Mix’ Zinnia elegans

• ‘Profusion Yellow’ Zinnia hybrid

• ‘Dondo Blue’ Ageratum houstonianum

• Sanvitalia procumbens — Mexican creeping zinnia

The following annual species were deer-resistant in the trial gardens: agastache, salvia, asclepias, cleome, melampodium and ageratum.

The demonstration gardens could not exist without the support of our partners from Allegheny County Parks and Public Works departments, Angora Gardens and garden centers that donate plants, fertilizer and mulch: Best Feeds Garden Centers, Kaelin’s Farm Market, LMS Greenhouse & Nursery, McTighe’s Garden Center, Quality Gardens, Renee’s Garden, Soergel Garden Center and Trax Farms.


Best Bloomers of 2014

Flower Trials of 2009

Best Flowers of 2008


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