This post features some of the biggest and brightest on the Prairie Star list. These large plants offer leaf textures that have been hard to come by for your flower bed, but now you can easily add height, heft and great textural variety to your flower bed designs. Add a few plants with giant leaves to add a little tropical flair, graceful arching grasses or deeply lobed foliage for a lacy texture.
There are two Hibiscus cultivars on the Prairie Star list, 'Maple Sugar' and 'Mahogany Splendor.' These large annuals display a vibrant dark red color through their maple shaped leaves. They can be planted in a cluster and left to grow large to make a great screen or backdrop. Another creative use from the Sedgwick County Master Gardeners was to prune the plants like standard topiaries - what a neat addition to an annual flower bed!
These tropical beauties aren't new to the gardening scene, but the cultivars keep getting better and better. There are many different flower and foliage colors and heights to choose from. We love the new All-American Selections Winner, 'South Pacific Scarlet' which is the first hybrid Canna from seed. It is on the compact side, growing about three feet tall in our trials and displays lush green leaves and red flowers with a touch of yellow.
If you want some extra color in the leaves, Canna 'Tropicana' is a cultivar with very colorful striped foliage. It is taller, reaching a height of almost 6 feet by the end of the season. Fertilizer this plant regularly with a little bit of nitrogen to keep adding more of the brightly-colored new foliage.
Grasses are a great accompaniment to annual flowers. They bring a soft texture to the landscape, plus if it's a large grass planted here in Kansas, you get kinetic motion - the wind is always swirling the blades of grass or the seed heads. Sitting back and watching the plants dance is a meditative way to enjoy all nature has to offer.
Grasses can be perennials, too, like the Eragrostis 'Wind Dancer' and Molinia 'Skyracer' below. The slightest breath of a breeze will set wind dancer in motion. Skyracer has a very interesting plant form with a shorter base and a floral spike that "races" way up to the sky!
Ornamental Millet 'Jade Princess' is an uncommon plant that has chartreuse foliage and enormous furry seedheads. It's a great plant for children's gardens, because everyone who sees it wants to pet it!
Colocasia is a good foliage plant with a unique look. We have grown them in both sun and shade with good results. Below is 'Coffee Cups,' with upward cupped leaves as the name suggests. It is a very interesting plant to watch during a light rain. The leave "cups" fill with water and then tip over to pour the water out, only to refill again and steadily repeat the process. It's almost like a water feature in an oriental garden. Another vigorous one for landscape use is 'Heart of the Jungle.' It readily extends out stolons, 'pups' of new plants creating a loose open clump.
We run the annual and perennial flower trials for Kansas State University