The return of outdoor living


The first week of May is time for patio perfect and deck delight as outdoor living returns to Western Washington. Many plants can now be left outdoors overnight especially if under the protection of a covered porch or patio. Don’t be fooled by a few sunny days and think that cold sensitive basil, coleus, tomatoes or cucumber plants can handle nights outdoors. Even if we don’t have a late frost, it is the cold rains and chilly nights that will cause tomato plants to pout, cucumbers to crumble and basil to bail out on living. If you don’t have a protected warm spot for these heat-lovers wait until mid June before you allow night time sleep outs.

This week color from exciting new plants is as close as your local nursery and here are three growing stars competing for the title of “New plant with the most colorful personality”

Bonfire Begonia

Bright orange, bodacious and bountiful.

I love this new angel wing begonia because it heats up our gray days. Small plants become large specimens in weeks and the dark green leaves make the perfect background for the arcing stems of orange blooms, attractive to humming birds and humans alike. Beauty is one thing, but the Bonfire Begonia is also aflame with good manners and a laid back attitude. Full sun? No problem. Mostly shaded? You‘ll still get plenty of blooms. I have grown this adaptable plant in window boxes in the shade and in clay pots in the sun with great results.

Now here’s the best part about this fiery new plant. If like me, you are a dirt cheap gardener — in our climate the Bonfire Begonia can over-winter to return year after year. It grows from a tuberous root that if kept only slightly moist all winter (just drag your pots under cover and close to the house to keep them from freezing) will survive to sprout again year after year. It’s like this Bonfire Begonia has an eternal flame.

New Ivy Geraniums

These take the heat, with blooms that can’t be beat.

All members of the geranium family pump out the blooms in our climate and I am fond of those with decorative foliage, but for maximum color in window boxes and hanging baskets that must bear the heat of sunny afternoons, the ivy-leaf geraniums are the easy answer. New crosses between the zonal and ivy geraniums have produced better branching and more flowers with names like the Galleria and Caliente series. If you don’t want to worry about combining different colors and types of plants into mixed containers but just want lots of blooming color for your sunny patio or deck then plant this new type of geranium. Use ivy geraniums either in single pots or in groups of three to five to overflow your deck or patio with bountiful color.

Calibrachoa

Million bells with a thousand uses.

These little charmers look like mini petunias and come from the same family but in our often rainy climate calibrachoa hold up better in the weather and offer much more interesting color combinations.

The first of the calibrachoas were known as “Million Bells” and they woke up the plant world along with millions of container gardens with their striking, bi-colored blooms of deep purple and carmine red accented with bright yellow centers. A new variety called “Dreamsickle” blooms in delicious shades of peach and orange.

The garden gossip on the calibrachoa is they can’t handle growing in the damp ground and much prefer the perfect drainage of pots and containers. The smaller leaves and flowers make them rather dainty plants that are easily overpowered by the more traditional petunias. Grow them in pots with foliage plants like heuchera and sweet potato vine or mix them with coleus for sophisticated combinations that will highlight their intensely colored blooms.

There are plenty of more new plants available this week at local nurseries including new dwarf and ever-blooming hydrangeas, a new hardy fuchsia called ‘Flamingo Fever’ and a rainbow of new heuchera varieties including a trailing Tiarella called “Oregon Trail.“ All are plants that love to grow in Western Washington.

Marianne Binetti is a syndicated columnist.