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Winners from my 2009 garden trials

Left to right: Snow Princess Lobularia, Flirtation Orange

Left to right: Snow Princess Lobularia, Flirtation Orange Diascia, Augusta Blue Skies Nierembergia and King Tut Cyperus papyrus. Photo Credit: Proven Winners photos

Proven Winners plants (Handout photos)

Since March is such a turning point in the garden -- starting out icy and barren and going out, well, like a lamb, this is the perfect time to reflect on last year's garden and make plans for spring based on what worked and what did not.

Generally, I'm not big on annuals, except for in containers by the front walk and on the porch. But I was so impressed with these plants that I absolutely have to tell you about them.

Proven Winners' Diascia hybrid Flirtation Orange (Twinspur) potted up with Nierembergia hybrid Augusta Blue Skies (Cupflower) and Lobularia hybrid Snow Princess (Sweet Alyssum) combined beautifully in my deck planters and hanging baskets around a strange new Egyptian grass -- and they bloomed pretty much straight through to frost. Once you find a winning combination, you stick with it, and these are going to be my go-tos for the foreseeable future.

The Flirtation Orange grew in gorgeous flower-covered 10-inch-tall mounds in the center of boxes and bloomed on and off into December. They didn't need deadheading, and the rich orange color made an easy transition from spring to summer to fall accent. The plant tag categorized it as an annual except for in zones 7 to 10, so, though I'm skeptical, I'm hoping it returns.

Snow Princess served nicely as a spiller in the same containers, also blooming through a hard frost. Occasionally during heat waves, the flowers would turn brown, and I feared the plant would succumb to a sunny death, but it always bounced back with no lasting ill effects.

I let Augusta Blue Skies trail down alongside Snow Princess, and they both complemented Flirtation beautifully. I lost this one a little earlier, maybe around Halloween, but still, that's nothing to complain about.

The pièce de résistance was Cyperus papyrus "King Tut" (Egyptian papyrus), an annual grass that I planted in the center as a "thriller." Such a shame this grass is an annual here (it's hardy in Zone 10, which would be Miami), or I'd have it all over my garden. The compliments didn't stop until it I yanked it out sometime around Christmas.

SunPatiens® Variegated Spreading Salmon (Handout photo)

SunPatiens® Variegated Spreading Salmon, above, was another standout among the plants that had a trial run in my garden last summer. Three little plants in cell packs spread to take over a 6- or 7-foot area and filled in to about a foot tall. True to their trademark name, these New Guinnea impatiens thrived in the scorching sun and after the first week received absolutely no supplemental water from me. They kept right on going through frost, too. They'd also work in hanging containers.

Bonnie Plants are sold in 100 percent biodegradable pots that can be planted directly into the soil. (Handout photo)

Another winner, which isn't a plant at all, oddly enough is packaging. I love the workload- and environmentally friendly biodegradable pots from Bonnie Plants. The company grows mostly vegetables and herbs (there are some flowering plants on the retail list, as well) in peat pots. While I'm aware of a movement against using peat in the garden (critics contend that though it's a renewable resource, it takes forever to renew), as far as I'm concerned there's no contest when they're up against plastic pots, flats and trays that are an environmental burden to produce as well as dispose of.

When you bring home a Bonnie plant, just peel off the plastic rim, loosen up the bottom a bit and then stick the whole thing in the ground, pot and all. The container will disintegrate, allowing roots to grow through the peat and out into the soil. This is actually a three-way win situation, because in addition to the disposal and time-saving aspects, transplant shock is greatly reduced because you're not disturbing the roots and the plant doesn't have to acclimate to a different soil structure, texture, temperature and moisture right away. It stays nice and cozy in the only home it has ever known until it's ready to branch out.

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