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Diggin' It

Two amazing late-season annuals

Here are two annual flowers that, amazingly, extend an Iowa's garden season by several months.

By Craig Summers Black / January 15, 2010

Melianthus major is generally called honey bush. It has what is probably Dennis the Menace's favorite fragrance.

Photo courtesy of Craig Summers Black

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Mama Nature said there’d be daze like this.

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First we get a dumped-on deep freeze with the earliest snowfall ever in early October.

Then – la-di-da – November turns out to be the Indian Summer we never had, all barefoot boy and cheeks of tan.

The December gives us whiplash. Ouch. Buckets of rain fall overnight, turning into a deep ocean of ice that immediately gets overlaid by snow and snow and more snow.

How bad was it, Johnny? Well, we got the most snow for December on record. Which is to say, Iowa got as much snow last month as we usually do all year. I’m still reeling. And digging out.

And the garden? I know it’s out there somewhere. But it’s hiding under rock-hard six-foot snowdrifts.

Be that as it may, in that warmish weather lull in November a couple neat things happened – the kind of things that encourage any gardener, transplanted or otherwise.

I usually grow Melianthus major, sometimes called honey bush, for the cool gray-blue foliage (quite architectural) and its fragrant party trick. [See first photo above.] Tell a guest – especially a kid – to crush some leaves in his hand and then smell. Their eyes pop. Yes: peanut butter!

Although melianthus is a tender perennial (hereabouts, read: annual), it survived the two-inch early snow and hard freezes with nary a woe. Hoodathunkit?

I start these plants from seed, and in my all-too-short growing season, they never reach their six-foot peak – which also means they don’t get woody. They never have a chance to flower either, alas, but they are great landscape plants in my ’hood nonetheless.

Another annual I rely on is Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’ – more glaucous blue-gray foliage, but “flowering” with an exquisite blue-purple bracts. Stunning. [See second photo above.]

Like all the other annuals in my yard, this one went pffft when creamed by the first snowfall. But then, shazam! It reseeded itself and grew as quickly as Jack’s beanstalk.

What these two little surprises meant to me was that even after my schizo forsythia went by the wayside, and even after the last of my perennials lost their luster, I still had color in my garden.

I still have color in my garden some weeks later, but the color is white.

What else I’m into this week: Our new puppy. [See photo above left.] And she’s into everything.

Editor’s note: Craig Summers Black, The Transplanted Gardener, is one of eight garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin' it. Look for more of what he's written at our blog archive. (Scroll down.) The Monitor’s main gardening page offers articles on many gardening topics. These are new URLS, so you may want to bookmark them so you can return easily. See also our RSS feed. You may want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our next contest.

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