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Annual forecast
New colors, foliage and herbs spruce up container gardens

By PATRICE PELTIER

Annual flowers can provide limitless opportunities for the garden lover because they offer vibrant color to every garden no matter where that garden may be. You can have a whole garden in a single pot or design a grouping of pots to create a focal point on the deck or in your yard. The beauty of annuals is that you can replant those pots throughout the growing season, adding new colors and varieties all season long.

Garden designer and landscape consultant Carol Johnson, owner of Nature’s Design in Cedarburg, often uses containers to dress up the entrance of a client’s house. "With huge urns and containers, you can change the look and feel of an entrance. It adds so much beauty," she says.

As an added benefit, containers offer a way to garden without a lot of bending and weeding, says Mary Rasmussen, co-owner of Sandy Bottom Nature Center in Delafield.

If "container garden" conjures up mental images of a pot with geraniums and a spike, think again. "Now, it’s combination plantings — a mix of colors, textures, flower sizes and foliage," explains Steve Kolowith, owner of Bayside Garden Center.

Calibrachoa, a plant that looks like a mini petunia, is popular for its trailing habit, Kolowith says. Watch for three new colors this year: Calibrachoa MiniFamous Apricot, Million Bells Cherry Pink Calibrachoa and Caberet Purple Calibrachoa. Two new series of mildew-resistant zinnias — Magellan and Profusion — will also be popular container plants this year, Kolowith predicts.

Containers themselves are also big news, according to Mike Manke, senior landscape architect at Lied’s Nursery in Sussex. Although you can still find terra cotta pots, planters are now available in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Lightweight, durable materials in shapes to match many architectural styles offer new, easy-care ways to reflect personality and style, he says.

Foliage is in

"It’s not just all flowers anymore," says Kolowith. Plants grown largely for the interesting texture, shape or color of their foliage are capturing the attention of gardeners.

"Foliage is the big thing this year, particularly the larger, heavier textured plants," agrees Manke. The bold leaves of tropical plants such as Elephant’s Ear (Colocasia) and Cannas add pop to containers as well as garden beds, he says. Watch also for the punctuation of purple, spiky leafed plants like Pineapple Lily (Eucomis) and Cabbage Palm (Cordyline).

If you like practicality with your pizzaz, try adding herbs to your containers or mixing them in to your flower beds, advises Rasmussen. She likes the silvery, gray foliage of lavender or rosemary plants, the trailing habit of creeping thyme. Adding a little basil or parsley can help fill out a planting as well as providing a handy source of fresh herbs for cooking, she notes.

Using herbs in containers and flower beds offers the bonus of fragrance, points out Johnson. "As you walk by, you might just brush against the plants or even rub them between your fingers to enjoy how nice they smell," she says.

Relying on foliage, rather than flowers for color and texture, has its advantages, Manke says. For one thing, the foliage color is continuous. For another, he notes, "It reduces the amount of deadheading you have to do."

Made in the shade

Impatiens are the mainstay of shady annuals. This year, as always, there are new colors and varieties to try. Watch for new trailing types such as Fanfare Bright Coral impatiens and Fanfare Fuchsia impatiens. The Fusion series recently introduced the first yellow impatiens. This year a total of five colors are available in these orchid-like flowers — from yellow to sunset shades to bright orange.

But the big news is how many other choices there are for sun-challenged places.

Check out the flamboyant, heart-shaped foliage of Rex Begonias to add splashes of red, maroon, silver, green and white to shady places. "Caladiums are great in the shade because you can get such nice color," says Rasmussen. A variety of veins, speckles and borders can color your world with red, pink, green and white.

Although it isn’t just for shade anymore, coleus is also a way to add color, Kolowith says. There are so many sizes and colors available, you can make a colorful coleus-only combination or mix them with impatiens. For large leaves, he recommends the Kong series.

Color, color everywhere

What are the hot new colors this year? After polling the experts, it seems that every color is in.

To Johnson, the big news is that there are so many new varieties and colors continuously being introduced. "It used to be we had petunias and geraniums," she says. "Now we have a huge selection of plants, and they’re constantly coming up with new ones. The colors are almost limitless. You can go any way you want."

She is especially looking forward to using three 2007 All-American Selection winners in containers this year: Opera Supreme Pink Morn petunias, Pacifica Burgundy Halo vinca and Holy Molé peppers.

"Pinks and purples will be big this year," says Rasmussen. She’s expecting the so-pink-it’s-almost-red Cherry Pink Million Bells (Calibrachoa) and the new Soprano Purple African Daisy (Osteospermum) to be big hits.

Manke predicts calming tones of blue flowers will be popular this year. He also expects copper, bronze, burgundy and gold earth tones to be hot — especially in foliage plants. "Lime green and fuchsia are becoming passé," he notes.

Bright colors — especially oranges and purples — will be popular this year, according to Kolowith. Yet, he doesn’t expect any one color to be the "in" thing this year. "There are so many plants, so many colors out there," he says. "There’s something for everyone."