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Why Not Grow ’Em Big?

Most bedding plants fall into the group of short to medium in height. Taller varieties are frequently overlooked due to the idea that they should be positioned only near the back of the garden. However, as well as providing traditional backdrops, screens and hedge-like looks, with careful planning, more stately species can be used amid lower-height plants. Tall plants like cannas can look great among shorter plants like petunias. Putting taller plants into the centre of a container surrounded by trailing plants adds interest.

The ornamental Purple Majesty Millet has the ability to withstand drought and disease making it a low-maintenance favourite. Large cattail-like seed spikes grow 30 cm (one foot) above the dark foliage on 1.2-to 1.5-metre (four-to five-foot) plants. The deep-purple foliage makes a striking contrast when planted close to lighter shades like silver dusty miller or yellow marigolds.

Many taller annuals in the amaranthus family are known for impressive flower tassels and outstanding leaf colouring. Love Lies Bleeding grows 90 cm (three feet) tall and sports trailing ropes of rich-red blooms from the ends of many stems, creating an attractive background plant and providing material for cut flower arrangements.

Velvet Curtains amaranthus is similar in size to Love Lies Bleeding with strong, thick stems on 90-cm (three-foot) plants. The similarity stops there. Instead of pendulous rope-tasselled blossoms, the flowers on Velvet Curtains grow straight upward, and feel as soft as velvet. Hot Biscuits amaranthus has beautiful long-lasting burned-cinnamon-orange 30-cm (one-foot) plumes from July to October, being one of the main conversational pieces in our sunny garden each summer. I plant three plants in a triangle shape with the points 30 cm (one foot) apart to form a group of three bushy plants. They grow to 120 cm (four feet) tall and the finished product is an enormous annual plume-like shrub.

Another often forgotten, old-fashioned tall plant is Only the Lonely sylvestris nicotiana. The large 150-cm-(five-foot-) tall plant has foliage with many side shoots on solid, thick stalks. Each side shoot bears a candelabra-like cluster reaching 30 cm (one foot) across with up to 30 long, tubular, star-shaped blossoms. Similar to other nicotiana varieties, Only the Lonely is delightfully fragrant at night. Remember to put a strong stake in the centre before planting out, as this one needs support, or plant around the base of a bird feeder pole where you can use the pole for support. Hummingbirds love the nectar.

A large annual will make a stunning impact in the garden. The best part is that if you don’t care for their performance, being annuals, they can be tidied up in the fall and something else grown the following year. My guess is they will become a favourite for years to come.

– Lillian Deedman writes from Killarney, Manitoba

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