Posts Tagged Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

2015 Review of Renee’s Garden Seeds: Part II

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

As I promised in my post yesterday, here are the results for the other varieties from Renee’s Seeds that I tried this year. These varieties were less successful in my southeastern piedmont garden than the ones I described in my previous post.

Grade B

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’ — B

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

I think perennial dianthus varieties are lovely, but in my garden, they only seem to be happy in early spring and late fall, when temperatures are cooler. I’ve had one variety — name long forgotten — that I always forget about until it pushes up bright green growth in early spring, followed by some lovely petite pink blooms. The description for Lace Perfume was so evocative that I tried it.

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

I sowed these seeds quite early in the greenhouse. They germinated well and grew into sturdy little plants that I transplanted into two different beds. Some went into the bed beside my front walkway, and the rest went into the bed in my vegetable area, where I also planted the digitalis and rudbeckia trial varieties for 2015.

As with the zinnia variety I described in the previous post, I was disappointed that this supposed mix — described as producing flowers “in rose, lilac, soft pink, white, and many delicate bicolors” — did not yield the promised color diversity. I got pinks and mauves in a bicolor format.

Dianthus 'Lace Perfume'

Dianthus ‘Lace Perfume’

But I would have been content with these colors if the variety had delivered the other big promise described on the seed packet: “A new, highly fragrant dianthus…with a heady, spicy/sweet clove-like fragrance that wafts seductively in the air.” There was no wafting in my garden. Even when I put my nose on top of a bloom, I smelled a whole lot of nothing. After such a build-up on the packet, I was disappointed.

Despite these disappointments, this is a very cool-looking flower that drew inquiries from any visitor who saw it in bloom. But my southeastern piedmont climate is just not what these flowers need. We get too hot too quickly, we stay that way a long time, and we generally have either too much or not enough rain.

My test plants agreed. They bloomed freely and looked lovely until mid-May, when the weather turned hot and dry. I watered them to keep them alive, but the heat caused them to stop blooming. When the weather cooled in the fall, they began blooming again. Then the deluges of December hit us. Blooming stopped, and the plants looked increasingly ragged, but they didn’t melt into brown goop like their digitalis and rudbeckia test-mates.

Frost-damaged dianthus flower

Frost-damaged dianthus flower

Conclusion: My guess is that these plants will overwinter successfully and start growing in early spring. If they do return, I think it’s only fair to give them another chance in the new growing season. We all know perennials usually take three years to really start looking good. Maybe my first-year plants were so heat-stressed they just gave up on perfume production. I’m giving this variety a B, because I want it to deliver on its promised perfume. The flowers are quite striking and deserve another year to prove their worth.

Basil ‘Scented Trio’ — Grade B

Cinnamon Basil

Cinnamon Basil

Basil has many varieties, and I’d grow them all if I had room. The subtle differences in form, color, fragrance, and flavor are delightful. But when I order a seed packet of a single variety, I end up with way more seeds than I can use. So when I saw this variety listed, I was pleased, thinking that finally I could have some of each of these lovely aromatic basils without having to order them separately. The trio includes Cinnamon Basil, Mrs. Burn’s Lemon Basil, and Red Rubin Basil — a purple-leaved variety. All make fabulous additions to salads and even sweets, and all of them produce numerous flowers beloved by pollinators.

Seed germination was excellent, but variety representation was not. I ended up mostly with the lemon basil, which is lovely, but I would have preferred to have more cinnamon and purple basils among the seedlings that germinated. The lemon and cinnamon basil transplants thrived all summer. The purple basil transplants limped along with less enthusiasm, which was a shame, because nothing makes a bouquet of flowers pop like a few sprigs of purple basil.

Red Rubin Basil in foreground, Mrs. Burn's Lemon Basil in background

Red Rubin Basil in foreground, Mrs. Burn’s Lemon Basil in background

Conclusion: This mix gets a B, because of the uneven representation of seedlings it produced. One way Renee’s Seeds could avoid this issue would be to enclose each variety in its own little packet within the bigger Scented Trio seed packet. I would still receive a smaller number of each variety, and I could better manage their germination/seedling process. And perhaps they could consider replacing Red Rubin with another, more vigorous purple-leaved variety; other better options do exist.

Dill ‘Dukut’ — B

I love dill. We use it in many dishes throughout the year. I decided to try this variety because it was described as “especially sweet-tasting.” I grew it beside another variety I acquired elsewhere. That other variety was noted for its vigorous growth of foliage. Dukut got left in the dust by the other variety. It grew OK, I guess, but not vigorously, and the leaves didn’t taste any sweeter to my palate.

Conclusion: There’s nothing egregiously wrong with this variety, which is why I gave it a B. But I don’t think I’d grow it again, because I need a more productive variety to satisfy our dill cooking needs. I have no photo of this variety. Sorry about that, but dill plants look pretty much the same to me.

Daisy ‘Chocolate’ — C

Who can resist a flower described as having “a tantalizing chocolate scent that perfumes the sunshine with a continuous show of deliciously fragrant butter-yellow little blossoms?” I know I couldn’t. This is apparently a wildflower out west (Renee’s Seeds is in California), and is advertised as deer-resistant. I didn’t test that, because I transplanted my greenhouse-started seedlings into the trial bed within my enclosed vegetable garden, mostly because it was the only spot I had left.

It took this small-flowered perennial a long time to bloom, and the flowers are tiny. As soon as the first one opened, I was down on the ground trying to catch a whiff of its advertised chocolate scent. For about six weeks, I thought the packet spiel had misrepresented this flower. But one really hot summer day in late June/early July, I was in the vegetable garden tying tomatoes when I suddenly got a whiff of dessert — chocolate dessert — maybe dark chocolate brownies, or a decadent fudge — something with a whole lot of yummy chocolate fragrance. Sure enough, these little yellow flowers must have needed a hot, dry spell to persuade them to unleash their super power — chocolate!

Daisy 'Chocolate'

Daisy ‘Chocolate’

Conclusion: This variety gets a C. The plants were unimpressive, the flowers were short-lived, and the fragrance only appeared on hot, dry days. I’m thinking this California wildflower can’t handle the humid climate and intermittent downpours that my southeastern piedmont garden offers. The December deluge seems to have melted these plants into nothingness, but as with the other test perennials, I’ll wait until next spring to see if they re-sprout.

Sage ‘Italian Aromatic’ — D

Sage 'Italian Aromatic' in late May

Sage ‘Italian Aromatic’ in late May

Advertised as “an improved culinary selection” discovered in Italy, I was curious to see how this variety would compare with the culinary sage in my garden that has persisted about ten years through all kinds of weather. The newcomer was no match for my old faithful plant.

Sage 'Italian Aromatic' leaves in November

Sage ‘Italian Aromatic’ leaves in November

It germinated well and produced vigorous seedlings, which I transplanted into the far end of my chive bed, which was empty. The plants grew strongly and well until about September. As humidity grew and rain became frequent, this new variety contracted a fungal disease and began dropping leaves. By the time the December deluge hit, it was barely alive. It did not survive. My old reliable sage plant is still plugging along.

My old reliable sage in November

My old reliable sage in November

Conclusion: I gave this one a D because it did well for a while, but it is clearly not adapted to my growing conditions. As for its supposed superior flavor, blind taste tests between my old plant and this variety yielded no significant differences. The leaves on this variety were more narrow than those on my old plant, but the fragrance and taste were pretty much identical.

Cerinthe ‘Pride of Gibralter’ — F

I will grow anything once. You never know until you try whether a strange-sounding plant might just be the coolest one you’ve ever grown. So when I read the description for this variety, I was intrigued: In vogue in plant lover’s circles, this fascinating annual’s indigo-violet flowers dangle gracefully from bronzy-blue bracts above succulent rounded leaves.

Sounds interesting, yes? Maybe in California. In my garden, the stems grew tall, the bluish-green leaves covered the stems, and the flowers never looked like the ones in the pictures on the web site. In those pictures, the flowers are large enough to extend beyond the leaves they emerge from, and the purple color contrasts well with the leaf color. The plants in those photos are unusual-looking, but in an interesting way. Mine were so ugly I yanked them out and tossed them in July.

The first flower buds appeared in mid-June, but they never managed to open and extend the way the catalog photos showed.

The first flower buds appeared in mid-June, but they never managed to open and extend the way the catalog photos showed.

Conclusion: Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes. But in this case, absolutely nothing was gained. This variety earned the only F in my trial of Renee’s Garden seeds.

Noteworthy Varieties from Previous Trials

Two Renee’s varieties with staying power deserve a brief mention here.

Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

A close-up of flowers of Salvia 'Coral Nymph'

A close-up of flowers of Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

I wrote about this in last year’s review of varieties from Renee’s Seeds. This gorgeous annual self-sowed itself all over my front garden. When seedlings popped up in suboptimal spots, it was easy to simply dig them up and relocate them. Myriad insects of all sizes adore the flowers, and so do I. As is true of most salvias, this variety seems to thrive despite our erratic weather patterns.

Dahlia ‘Watercolor Silks’


I also grew this perennial from seed from Renee’s Garden last year. The mixed colors of this variety were lovely, and the seed packet describes it as a “perennial grown as an annual,” which befuddled me. So last year when frost killed them to the ground, I dug up the fat tubers the plants had produced, and stored them in plastic bags filled with vermiculite in my garage.

First open dahlia bloom

By spring, all the tubers had sprouted, so I re-planted them. In doing so, I discovered that I must have missed a tuber, because it was sprouting in the spot where it had overwintered. All the plants grew strongly in the spring and bloomed well, but the wet fall weather created fungus problems for them. I decided to let frost kill them, then let them overwinter in the beds where they had grown.

bumble on dahlia

But that was before I knew it was going to rain all of December. I kind of doubt the tubers will return for another year, but if they do, I’ll certainly write about it.

tiger on dahlia

Pollinators love these dahlias, and so do I. They’re a nice size — suitable for smaller spots.

This concludes my review of my 2015 trials of seeds from Renee’s Garden. Now I can turn to my pile of 2016 catalogs with a clear conscience — and just in time for a round of seriously cold weather that encourages indoor garden contemplation.

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2014 Renee’s Garden Seeds Review

Cosmos 'Sonata Knee High'

Cosmos ‘Sonata Knee High’

My apologies to my dozen or so loyal readers for my prolonged silence. A gardening-related injury sidelined me unexpectedly. I start physical therapy tomorrow, and hope to be ready for another growing season by the time it arrives.

Zinnia Berry Basket

Zinnia ‘Berry Basket’

I am overdue to summarize my experience with the free seeds Renee’s Garden provided me with as a member of the Garden Writers Association. First, I was unable to try three of the varieties I requested. The two sunflower types and a Four o’clock mix all required direct sowing. Unfortunately, my garden experienced no measurable rain for the first two months of the growing season, starting right about the time I needed to sow the seeds. By the time the rains returned, it was mid-July — not a good time to start any flower seed in the piedmont of North Carolina.

Asclepias Butterfly Bright Wings with Spicebush Swallowtail

Asclepias ‘Butterfly Bright Wings’ with Spicebush Swallowtail

However, the seeds I was able to sow in my greenhouse in early March all germinated magnificently, and I was able to transplant out a number of seedlings that performed quite well for me all summer long.

Zinnia Berry Basket mix

Zinnia ‘Berry Basket’ mix

I didn’t try any veggie varieties from Renee’s Garden this year. Here are the flower varieties I grew.

Asclepias ‘Butterfly Bright Wings’

The yellow version of Butterfly Bright Wings

The yellow version of ‘Butterfly Bright Wings’

This is a non-native, tropical species of milkweed that was described as floriferous and tender, meaning winter should kill it. When I planted this, I had not read that these tropical milkweeds are actually confusing Monarch butterflies, especially in the western US, where groups migrating south are becoming confused by these flowers. Instead of resting and then flying further south, they are laying their eggs on these tropical milkweeds, thereby disrupting the life cycle pattern of the Monarchs. I don’t think this is an issue in the southeastern US, because the first freeze kills this variety to the ground.

The red version of Butterfly Bright Wings

The red version of ‘Butterfly Bright Wings’

As you can see from the photos, the seeds I planted produced some plants with pure yellow-orange flowers, and some with red-orange flowers. The red ones were especially stunning. My plants bloomed all summer until hard frost, and grew to a height of about four feet. The plants were sturdy, requiring no support to remain upright even during thunderstorms.


Butterfly Bright Wings produced abundant seeds.

‘Butterfly Bright Wings’ produced abundant seeds.

They produced many seed pods, and the resulting seeds yielded a number of volunteer seedlings in the bed where I transplanted this variety. I’m assuming all were killed by the first freeze. I’ll let you know next spring if any reappear.

Marigold ‘Summer Splash’

I didn’t take a single picture of this variety that I liked enough to put in my blog. This variety produced larger plants than my favorite Queen Sophia marigold, and the branches broke and split early on. The flowers themselves were kind of a ho-hum yellow. Give me Queen Sophia any day.

Cosmos ‘Sonata Knee High’

Cosmos Sonata Knee High, white version

Cosmos ‘Sonata Knee High’, white version

I tried this Cosmos variety, because it is supposed to be shorter than some of the others. It may have been slightly shorter, but mine all grew eventually to a height of about 4.5 feet — not where my knees appear. As is true for most Cosmos varieties, a spell of heat and humidity combined with hard rain turned the plants into fungal mush. But during the early drought period I mentioned previously, they were very happy.

Cosmos Sonata Knee High mix

Cosmos ‘Sonata Knee High’ mix

All three colors in the mix were lovely. As is often the case, the white flowers tended to look the worse for wear most often.

Sonata Knee High magenta version

‘Sonata Knee High,’ magenta version

The pink and magenta versions stayed lovely for several days. After the fungus killed the plants, I pulled them up and left that bed empty. In September, a number of new seedlings appeared, clearly the offspring of the many spent flower heads I had snipped off to keep the flowers blooming.

Echinacea ‘Paradise Mix’

Echinacea Paradise Mix

Echinacea ‘Paradise Mix’

This is the only perennial from Renee’s Garden that I tried this year. It often takes perennials a full year’s cycle to grow large enough to produce flowers. But one of the plants I grew managed to produce the lovely bloom above. This mix was advertised as producing flowers in the red-yellow-orange range, so I confess I was disappointed when the one flower I got looked very much like my native coneflowers, only slightly larger. Very late in the fall, another seedling produced a flower bud that looked to me as if it were going to be red, but a freeze killed it before it could open. However, all the seedlings I planted out grew well throughout the season, and I’m hoping for lots of variably colored flowers next year.

Dahlia ‘Dwarf Watercolors’

A double-flowered Dahlia Dwarf Watercolor

A double-flowered Dahlia ‘Dwarf Watercolor’

Dahlias are usually considered to be perennial flowers in my area, but the seed package from Renee’s Garden called this variety an annual. I love dahlias, but most are large and take a lot of room, plus deer love them. The description of this variety was irresistible. My sowing yielded 5 plants, 2 of which were eaten by voles early in the season. Of the three that survived, one was a lovely white with pink undertones, one was a double yellow, and the other was a single yellow.

The single-flowered yellow dahlia

The single-flowered yellow dahlia

All bloomed nonstop all summer, no doubt aided by my attentive snipping of spent flower heads. I also sprayed them all summer with deer repellant. I interplanted them with two other varieties from Renee’s Garden, and because these dahlias really were dwarf varieties, they were a bit overpowered by what turned out to be larger flower varieties. But that did not prevent the pollinators from finding them.

The pinkish white dahlia

The pinkish white dahlia

After frost zapped these plants, I decided to see what their roots looked like. To my delight, all three had formed a significant number of tubers. They seemed to be in excellent condition, so I bagged them up with some dry potting soil and put them in my cool garage for the winter. I’m hoping the tubers will re-sprout for me next spring, despite their description as annuals.

Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

A close-up of Salvia Coral Nymph

A close-up of Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

I tried this annual last year and failed. It would not germinate for me in the greenhouse. What a difference a year makes. I got abundant, vigorous seedlings this year, all of which successfully transplanted, eventually growing to large (3.5 feet), multi-branched, perpetually floriferous bee magnets. For reasons known only to my camera, I didn’t get any great pictures of that bed, but trust me, they are well worth growing.

Salvia Coral Nymph looked great all summer beside my front walk.

Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’ looked great all summer beside my front walk.

Snapdragon ‘Butterfly Chantilly’

In bright sun, these snapdragons faded into the background.

In bright sun, these snapdragons faded into the background.

This snapdragon mixed-color mix germinated well, and the flowers bloomed all summer long. However, the mix did not produce colors I liked. They were mostly muted and muddy. One pure lemon yellow one was the exception. I won’t try these again.

My favorite color of the snapdragon mix, with a young Salvia Coral Nymph

My favorite color of the snapdragon mix, with a young Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’

Zinnia ‘Berry Basket’

Zinnia Berry Basket mix

Zinnia ‘Berry Basket’ mix

This zinnia mix did not grow as large as the variety I tried last year. Instead of attaining heights of nearly eight feet, this variety stopped around the five-foot mark, which was fine with me. Even so, the stems eventually began to fall over and split from the weight of side branches laden with flower buds.

A Silver-spotted Skipper enjoying a Berry Basket Zinnia

A Silver-spotted Skipper enjoying a Berry Basket Zinnia

Despite their tendency to fall over and their eventual disfiguration by humidity-enhanced fungal diseases, these flowers kept producing until hard frost. Every bloom attracted abundant pollinators, from bumblebees to butterflies.

Berry Basket Zinnia

Berry Basket Zinnia

I loved the mix of rich colors and forms in this variety. They made for fabulous instant, long-lasting bouquets of cut flowers. I would happily grow this mix again, but next time I’ll space them farther apart, and I’ll introduce a support system early on, before they start collapsing under their own weight.


Nasturtium Cup of Sun

Nasturtium ‘Cup of Sun’

I grew three varieties this year. This is my third year growing ‘Cup of Sun’. I just love it. It’s a clumper, not a climber, and in my garden, it remains politely in its place until late summer. For some reason, at that point in the growing season, it tends to go a little nuts, overgrowing anything in its path. Fortunately, by that time, most of the beds are done for the season.

Cup of Sun with Empress of India

‘Cup of Sun’ with ‘Empress of India’

I interplanted ‘Cup of Sun’ with a new variety for me — another clumper called ‘Empress of India’. It was not nearly as vigorous as ‘Cup of Sun’, but it was quite lovely, producing leaves that were more blue-green than ‘Cup of Sun’.

Cup of Sun and Empress of India

‘Cup of Sun’ and ‘Empress of India’

The climbing variety I interplanted with my pole beans this year was called ‘Moonlight’. It produced a pale yellow flower that was not nearly as vigorous or visually effective as the ‘Spitfire’ variety I had grown before. If I grow a climber again, I’ll probably go back to ‘Spitfire’.

Nasturtium Moonlight was OK but not memorable.

Nasturtium ‘Moonlight’ was OK but not memorable.

I direct-sowed all the nasturtiums when I planted my veggies, which is why they managed to become established before the early drought set in.

By the time the first hard freeze killed the nasturtiums, I was secretly relieved. They were mounding over paths and beds in all directions — gorgeous — but reminding me just a little too much of that evil southern invader, kudzu.

In summary, my test varieties this year were mostly very successful. I’d grow most of them again.

And I’m looking forward to what Renee’s Garden will be offering for next year’s growing season. Thanks, again, Renee’s Garden, for giving me the opportunity to test your seeds in my garden.

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Savannah: The Green-handed Gardener


My apologies, gardening friends, for my lengthy silence here. I am still recovering from the worst illness I’ve battled in decades — a horrible sinus infection brought on by traveling to a city with an inhospitable climate: Phoenix, Arizona. I realize many folks love it there, but I’m a creature of humid Eastern US forests. According to a good friend, that was my problem. She tells me I have “East Coast sinuses.” Even my doctor has encouraged me to avoid traveling back to the arid southwestern US as much as I possibly can.

By the time Wonder Spouse and I were flying home, I could feel the uninvited bacteria burrowing deeply into my sinus cavities. I was sipping my giant cup of iced tea from the airport Starbucks and daydreaming about my garden when one of the flight attendants interrupted my reverie. She asked if she could have the large plastic cup holding my iced tea when I was done with it. She told me she was a gardener, and she used the plastic cups to protect her young vegetable seedlings.

Paste tomatoes on May 24. Photo by Wonder Spouse using my camera.

Paste tomatoes on May 24. Photo by Wonder Spouse using my camera.

Never has a flight attendant ever asked me for anything beyond a beverage order. In the most unlikely of locations, I’d found a kindred spirit — a gardener! Of course, I told her that I’d be happy to hand over my cup to her, and I shared the fact that I also gardened.

Immediately, her face brightened. She smiled broadly, told me her name was Savannah, and thanked me. A half hour or so later after all the passengers had been served their beverages, Savannah surprised me by returning to my  seat with her IPad in hand to show me pictures of her garden. I was duly impressed. As I told her, she does not have green thumbs; Savannah has green hands!

May 24 -- tomatoes and other veggies.

May 24 — Our tomatoes and other veggies.

Savannah is originally from a Caribbean country; her voice carries the slightest hint of her homeland. Now she gardens in Albuquerque, New Mexico on two acres. She has a Wonder Spouse partner too, and from the pictures she showed me, they have worked wonders in that arid region.

She uses the plastic cups like the one I gave her after she cuts out the bottoms. They protect young plants from often harsh winds, and also the voracious rabbits that are her great animal pest challenge. I was tempted for a moment to think Savannah had it easier than me — only rabbits? No deer, groundhogs, voles, squirrels, and in my case, occasional marauding beavers? But her photos revealed why the rabbits plague her garden. It was the only green spot in the photos.

May 24 -- As is their habit, the zucchinis grew enthusiastically during our absence.

May 24 — As is their habit, the zucchinis grew enthusiastically during our absence.

Savannah waters her garden from a well dedicated for that purpose. Without that water, she would have no garden. But add water and her green hands, and wow! She showed me an array of happy vegetables, some lush Caribbean herbs sent by her mother that are essential ingredients to her homeland’s cuisine, and an orchard planted in the shape of a peace symbol. Her hubby wanted it to be visible in aerial photos — and it is! She showed me a GoogleEarth shot to prove it.

By this time, I was thoroughly convinced that Savannah had some of the greenest hands of any gardener I’d ever encountered. And then she showed me her orchids. Breathtakingly gorgeous plants — dozens of them — all blooming as if they’d just been taken from a speciality greenhouse. But Savannah doesn’t have a greenhouse. Her exquisite orchids obediently bloom as house plants for her. I was flabbergasted!

Salvia "Coral Nymph" on May 24.

Salvia “Coral Nymph” on May 24.

Savannah fights an arid, hot, windy climate to create her lush landscape, but that harsh environment does make one aspect easier for her than me. She has no weeds — not because she is an attentive weeder, but because that climate doesn’t support anything remotely resembling the weed jungle that I battle constantly. I was envious — for about 2 seconds. Then my sinuses reminded me why I’m not a fan of arid climates.

Wonder Spouse has been a trooper while I’ve been stuck indoors single-handedly (or is that nosedly?) ensuring the success of the tissue industry. He’s been out tying tomatoes and taking pictures, even rising early to harvest produce before morning temperatures grow too hot. He took all the pictures in this post for me on May 24. The garden has really taken off since these photos. I’ll show you more soon. I intend to write several catch-up posts to try to make up for my prolonged silence.

But this first one had to be about Savannah — the green-handed gardening flight attendant who fiercely nurtures her charges in a hostile environment. It was a delight to meet such an avid gardener in such an unexpected location.

Thanks for sharing, Savannah. This last picture is for you — my front water garden showing off some North Carolina natives that, like me, would never make it in your climate — even under the care of your amazing green hands.

May 24 -- the water garden flourishes.

May 24 — Our water garden flourishes.

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Renee’s Garden Seeds Review: Flowers

A Raggedy Anne mix zinnia and admirer

A Raggedy Anne mix zinnia and admirer

It was a mixed-results year for my Renee’s Garden flower seed trials. Top winners included the two nasturtium varieties I tried last year — Spitfire and Cup of Sun. They were so gorgeous last year that I just had to have them back again, and they did not disappoint. In fact, they exceeded all the expectations I had based on last year’s results. More on that in a moment.



The other big winner this year was a zinnia: Raggedy Anne. These are old-fashioned zinnias that produce long stems, making them ideal for cutting to use in indoor arrangements. I’ve had trouble with such zinnias in the past. Usually the heat and humidity of typical North Carolina Piedmont summers are too much for them. They bloom for a bit in early June, then succumb to fungal diseases and drought. Not this year.

My zinnia patch on July 10.

My zinnia patch on July 10.

Two factors likely played pivotal roles. First, the weather this past summer in my region was atypical. We never hit 100 degrees, nor the high 90s, even during the dog days of the season, and we never went into drought. I haven’t had a summer growing season without drought in over 15 years. I had truly forgotten what adequate rainfall can do for a garden — and, alas, the weeds — but that’s another story.

A more typical zinnia form.

A more typical zinnia form.

The other likely contributor to the success of the zinnias was the compost mix Wonder Spouse and I added to the vegetable/flower beds in the spring. This stuff was truly black gold; all the plants reveled in the nutritional bounty of this supplement.

Colors and forms varied; all were lovely.

All were lovely.

How happy were the zinnias? I started one batch early in my greenhouse, transplanting them out in late April. They were blooming by mid-May, and they didn’t stop until our first freeze killed them in mid-October. And they eventually grew as tall as the sunflowers I tried this year — well over 7 feet high. These were sturdy-stemmed plants that lifted abundant, constantly produced large zinnia flowers to the sky without any support from me. I actually had to stand on a stool to cut the final flowers before the cold got them. They were amazing.

Too gorgeous for words!

Too gorgeous for words!

So pleased was I with the transplanted bunch of Raggedy Annes that I direct-sowed the remaining seeds in the package. This is usually highly risky, but the abundant rainfall ensured nearly 100% germination. Then I had two tall patches of rainbow-colored flowers, most 3-4 inches across, in shades of cream, orange, yellow, and pink. Forms varied from more cactus-type flowers to what I think of as traditional zinnia shapes.

They were still growing strong when this shot was taken on August 22.

They were still growing strong when this shot was taken on August 22.

They made wonderful cut flowers too, lasting at least a week indoors. I was able to create several lovely zinnia-based arrangements that I presented as hostess gifts at various events over the season. I’ll probably try this variety again, just to see what kind of results I get during a more typical growing season. Although, maybe, if I’m very lucky, adequate rainfall will become typical of my summer weather again. How great would that be?

As for the nasturtiums, the rain and compost gave Spitfire the enthusiasm of that notorious southern invader, kudzu. Seriously, after the tomatoes and beans surrendered to fungal diseases in August, Spitfire vines took over those trellises. Paths were swallowed, orange, subtly fragrant blossoms dangled in abundance from rounded leaves the size of saucers. I was actually relieved when the freeze turned them into mush, fearing I had unleashed a monster.

Nasturtium 'Spitfire' was almost terrifyingly productive.

Nasturtium ‘Spitfire’ was almost terrifyingly productive.

Last year, the beautiful nasturtium, ‘Cup of Sun’, surrendered to the drought by early August. This year, it continued to flourish until the freeze. Cup of Sun isn’t a climber, so it remained a much more polite plant, confining itself to the beds where it was planted. I love the subtle variations in color in this variety.

Nasturtium 'Cup of Sun'

Nasturtium ‘Cup of Sun’

Having proved their worthiness across two vastly different growing seasons, I suspect these nasturtiums will remain a part of my vegetable garden for the indefinite future. I may not even need to plant them next year. I noticed seed pods all over the garden. I direct-sowed both nasturtium varieties when my soil had warmed enough to plant the bean seeds. They took it from there without any further aid from me.

Nasturtium 'Cup of Sun'. Both varieties make lovely little cut flower arrangements, preferably in smaller rooms, where their subtle fragrance can be appreciated.

Nasturtium ‘Cup of Sun’. Both varieties make lovely little cut flower arrangements, preferably in smaller rooms, where their subtle fragrance can be appreciated.

Because I like variety, I decided to try a sunflower seed mix from Renee’s Garden this year. I chose Sunflower ‘Royal Flush Bi-Color.’ Direct-sowed seeds yielded 100% germination in my moist compost-enriched garden. Plants shot up straight and tall, topping out at about 6 feet.

Sunflower 'Royal Flush Bi-Color'

Sunflower ‘Royal Flush Bi-Color’

Flower size was moderate — large enough to make an impact, but not so large as to be too heavy to stand upright without support. Most, but not all, of the flowers were bi-colors, producing two-tone blossoms in a range of yellows, oranges, and reds.

Sunflower 'Royal Flush Bi-Color'

Sunflower ‘Royal Flush Bi-Color’

As always, the sunflowers were reliable pollinator magnets. Several bees always lingered on them, and during the height of the swallowtail butterfly population explosion, those beauties competed with the bees for spots on the sunflowers.

A more obviously bi-colored Sunflower 'Royal Flush Bi-Color'

A more obviously bi-colored Sunflower ‘Royal Flush Bi-Color’

These blossoms are supposed to be good for cutting too, but I never do it. I never seem to have that many, and unlike the zinnias, these plants die after the first flush of flowers. Still, I love their lofty enthusiasm, and most summers, they are the tallest flowers in the garden.

I enjoyed the variability of this sunflower mix.

I enjoyed the variability of this sunflower mix.

I might try this variety again, but Renee’s Garden always offers so many tempting sunflower varieties that I might feel obliged to try yet another one.

The other Renee’s Garden flower varieties I tried were not as successful. Because they were so resiliently lovely despite the drought and heat of last year, I tried Cosmos ‘Little Ladybirds’ again. They did not like the abundant rains of this past season, remaining small, blooming unenthusiastically, and eventually expiring from a fungal disease.

I tried sowing Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’ and Monarda ‘Butterfly Bergamot’ in the greenhouse. I do this successfully with many flower varieties, herbs, etc. However, despite quick germination, I could not persuade the salvia to thrive. All the seedlings eventually died of fungus problems. I had a few seeds left, and decided to direct-sow them in the garden. One germinated and managed to bloom. The flowers were lovely, the plant didn’t seem to be strong enough to stand up without support. I never managed to get a good photo of it before it expired.

The monarda variety struggled in the greenhouse, but I managed to raise about six plants to transplanting size. Monardas are notoriously susceptible to fungal diseases in my region, so I was not surprised with the problems I had with these seedlings. However, once they settled into the compost-rich garden, the plants grew tall, flowering beautifully.

Monarda 'Butterfly Bergamot'

Monarda ‘Butterfly Bergamot’

As readers of this blog know, I love purple flowers, so I was thrilled with these beauties. Alas, after three days of blooming, we got another rain. The plants almost melted before my eyes, becoming piles of green mush, victims of the rampant fungal diseases that flourished during the rain-soaked summer.

Talk about fleeting beauty! I'd have missed them entirely if I'd been on vacation that week.

Talk about fleeting beauty! I’d have missed them entirely if I’d been on vacation that week.

Finally, I’ve always been an admirer of Cornflowers. I think my appreciation began with the crayon named for this flower’s color in the big boxes of crayons that I loved during childhood. When I saw Renee’s Garden was offering Cornflower ‘Blue Boy,’ I had to try it. I was disappointed. In their defense, I suspect the rain and compost were at least partly responsible for the rampant growth of this variety. Plants grew three feet tall before they began to produce flowers.

Cornflower 'Blue Boy'

Cornflower ‘Blue Boy’

Flower size was small, relative to the size of the giant green plants, nearly disappearing. The plants all flopped over, reducing the impact of the flowers further. Perhaps a drier year would produce different results, but I am disinclined to find out.

Wonder Spouse's hand provides scale, demonstrating the small size of the flowers.

Wonder Spouse’s hand provides scale, demonstrating the small size of the flowers.

This concludes my two-part review of the Renee’s Garden seeds I tried this year. I want to thank this fine establishment for offering members of the Garden Writers Association like me the opportunity to try their products for free. Without this chance, I would never have discovered the subtle beauty of a planting of Nasturtium ‘Cup of Sun,’ or the relentless productivity of Zinnia ‘Raggedy Anne.’ Thanks, Renee’s Garden. I hope you’ll give me the chance to try a few new varieties next growing season.


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