Expressway: Garden also-rans get a season in the sun

New Guinea impatiens are available at Atlantic Nursery New Guinea impatiens are available at Atlantic Nursery in Freeport. (April 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Barbara Alper

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It's an unusual spring for gardeners. A blight of downy mildew on impatiens has robbed flowerbeds across Long Island of this most popular annual.

Remember last year's yellow leaves, fallen petals and decimated plants? This year, their absence is apparent in gardening centers. Though I did spy some rogue flats of impatiens at The Home Depot in Freeport. When I mentioned this to the owner of my favorite neighborhood nursery, Abby's Parkside Nursery & Florist in Wantagh, he said: "They'll die."

If impatiens were perennials, they would be the perfect flower: no deadheading necessary, an intoxicating array of colors, blooms until first frost. In years past, those pretty little petals and nonstop buds ensured bushy borders of color down my driveway and floral rainbows in my backyard beds.

This year's gardens will look very different.

At area nurseries, the less popular flowers seemed to vie for attention with attitude. Similar to the shy girls who find themselves at the prom with all the cheerleaders home sick, the blight has brought the wallflowers onto the dance floor.

Snapdragons snap to attention as I meander down tight aisles, begonias beg for approval, celosia sense their day in the sun (and partial shade), New Guinea impatiens dare to dream they'll finally surpass sales of the more beloved Impatiens walleriana.

Like puppies jumping up on their hind legs with tails wagging, the flora and fauna seem to fan out, stems arched, vines outstretched. No longer playing second fiddle to flats of impatiens, the masses of flowers can stake their claims in the market this season. That six-pack of vibrant coleus practically thunders: "Who's the Sheik of Shade now? No spores on me!" The others compete for attention: "Pick me!" "Plant me!" "I'm drought tolerant!" All with the promise: If you buy them they will bloom.

It's a jungle out there.

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