Annuals A - Z: All About Annual Flowers & Plants, by Graham Rice

Discovering Annuals, by Graham Rice

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Annuals A-Z

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Gazanias have a rather mixed reputation. Undeniably colourful, their sparkling flowers have the unfortunate reputation of closing in dull weather - a reputation which, in the case of older varieties, is entirely deserved. This has led some gardeners simply to pass them by, turning to boring old marigolds when they need plants in this colour range. What a mistake.

Two things have happened which should dissuade all but the most stubborn from this view - and if you're that stubborn you don't deserve this book. The first is that with the Talent Series we have plants with soft grey foliage so that even when the flowers are closed the plants still have great value.

The second event of significance in the development of seed-raised gazanias is that a plant breeder in California started visiting his gazania trials in the middle of the night. This was not a sign that in his quest for the ever-open gazania he had finally abandoned control of his own reason - on the contrary.

In their native South Africa gazania flowers close up in poor weather to protect the pollen from moisture. This mechanism is triggered by low temperatures, poor light or by a combination of the two. Plant breeders have been working intensively on developing gazanias in which this mechanism is less prominent, allowing the flowers to stay open longer in cooler, duller climates.

Older varieties like the 'Sunshine Hybrids', 'Sundance' and 'Harlequin' were effective outside only in bright sunny weather, and on the rare occasions when they were brought into the house as cut flowers, the constant warmth ensured the flowers remained open.

Visiting the gazania trials in middle of the night revealed individual plants which closed up that little bit less than their neighbours. These were then checked during daylight hours, and the best incorporated into the breeding programme. The result was the Daybreak Series, whose flowers really do stay open longer than other gazanias.

'Daybreak Red Stripe' is especially startling, recalling the best of 'Sundance' and 'Harlequin' in its boldly striped flowers but with the addition of newly introduced long flowering habit. It makes an impressive planting with the cuttings-raised Oenothera 'African Sun' alongside, or Bidens 'Goldie'; it's important to plant gazanias with low growing neighbours as they flower so much less well when overshadowed.

The colour range has broadened too although I see little point in the pinks and cream which have now appeared in the Chansonette and Mini-Star series; they always look slightly dirty. The more familiar yellows, orange shades, chestnut and gold, in some cases striped in contrasting shades or with contrasting marks at the base of the petals, are far more effective.

Although gazanias make splendid mixers in sunny containers and in intimate plantings in small sunny corners, they also make spectacular ground cover. On sunny banks along the drive or at the front of a property facing a road, sweeps of 'Talent' gazanias may cause passing drivers to swerve in shock and astonishment - so avoid this planting if you live on a bend.

Gazania A-Z
©copyright 1998 Graham Rice. All Rights Reserved. All Images Digitally Watermarked.

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