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Gardening with annuals in Eagle County

Tom Glass
Vail, CO, Colorado
Tom Glass
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EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO ” Garden centers, one study suggests, have become the equivalent of 200 television channels offering 24 hours of … who would know? Who’s got that kind of time?

There’s probably something worth watching 24 hours a day, but it would require more time to research what that would be than the watching is worth. Researching what garden centers have to offer can be equally frustrating.

I am beginning to grasp why it is that millions find themselves watching Marie Osmond shakin’ it in a tango with a mid-life crisis. There’s one thing you can count on in this life, Marie’s going to perform like an Osmond.



Marie made the news recently. She passed out after dancing a samba on “Dancing With the Stars,” a show that puts the spotlight on the famous and once famous.

Reportedly, her first words upon regaining consciousness were, “Oh crap.” No doubt about it, Marie’s a trouper, a showgirl, a song-and-dance gal.



You may be asking yourself what is it that plant life could possibly share with Marie Osmond? Consider this …

Last week I said I would describe the benefits of planting annuals each year. Well, annuals are hothouse flowers bred to bloom their fool heads off until a frost lays them in the lilies forever. Kind of Marie-esque, don’t you think?

Annuals appear to many to be a bit out of vogue, too familiar, too common. They are the petunias and geraniums and pansies and begonias. They require working in the dirt.



From what I can see, there’s value for the public in that. But, if you were to pick up the trade publications for the past 10 years, plant mavens have focused on touting perennials, texture plants and half hardy shrubs, all but saying annuals are passe. They’re not ” they’re just waiting for new management.

For example, about 15 years ago Kirin brewery bred some life into the common petunia. The Japanese company best known for brewing beer bred a petunia now called a spreading petunia that was big ” three feet across ” and continuously blooming. Leave it to some guys brewing up some beer to find the merit in breeding a big whopping petunia.

Ball Seed Company jumped all over their efforts, came up with the Wave petunia, then added the even bigger Tidal Waves, and when things got out of control came up with Easy Waves, other horticultural companies were similarly following suit and, today, direct descendants of that breeding trail from baskets and boxes and spread all over beds up and down this valley. Personally, I kind of favor the name kudzunia, but nobody’s jumping all over that.

Most people think of annuals as annuities, a stodgy group of flowers that require you to dig a hole, which yearly benefits the owners of garden centers and the makers of spades, but, really, annuals put the color in a garden.

During that same time frame there was more than “improved.” There was “new.” About 15 years ago, a woman by the name of Evelyn Weidner sold the propagation division of her garden center in Encinitas, Cali. to her propagation manager, John Rader, who re-named the division EuroAmerican. Evelyn had spent a lifetime touring the world and collecting plants, most notably from Australia. From her walkabout she brought John plants that could take the neglect of the American gardener ” bacopa, brachyscome, and scaevola, among others. John had his hands on some real proven winners. Through a clever partnership and licensing, good plant culture, and savvy marketing they now sell $500 million dollars worth of Proven Winners yearly, continuously adding new varieties and classes of plants.

But, that’s yesterdays news. Today, David Salman from High Country Gardens in Santa Fe is continuing in the same vein and taking southwestern desert finds, some of them weeds at heart, and tweaking out new cultivars that are way beyond interesting. His breeding will make gardening with limited water a possibility. We had a calylophus this summer that bloomed its clear yellow head off. A few people got it and anyone who did loved it.

As promised, the benefit of annuals in general is that they bloom their fool heads off, and the rest of it is just part of the show. Next showing: Spring, at garden centers and yards everywhere.

Tom Glass writes a weekly garden column for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments or questions about this column to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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