Helen Chesnut: New sunflower, vining petunia surprise hits in last year's garden

Among the seed and garden catalogues that I’ve used regularly, over many years, one of the most engaging is from T&T Seeds. It’s always an easy-reading pleasure to leaf through, and each new issue brings interesting introductions. Already I’ve turned down the top corners of numerous pages in the 2021 edition and highlighted items to be ordered.

Last year, two new T&T annual flowers were a particular delight in my garden. A dwarf sunflower called Choco Sun was one of the easiest, fastest-growing and sturdiest flowers I’ve ever grown.

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The seedlings grew quickly into bushy little transplants that were a treat to handle. They settled without setback into a plot in the front garden, where they grew into 120-centimetre high, multi-branched bushes that bore a profusion of lemon-yellow flowers with broad, chocolate-brown centres. These sunflowers would be an ideal gardening project for children.

The other, equally strong-growing T&T flower that put on an impressive show was a new kind of vining petunia called Tickled Pink, which I transplanted into a deep windowbox-style container.

This petunia grows to around 180 centimetres long, less in the confines of a container. It can be grown as a hanging plant, cascading from a basket or other container. The plants can also be grown to climb a trellis or frame, contained inside a wire support such as a tomato cage, or allowed to grow freely in a garden plot as a flowering ground cover.

The flowers are very beautiful — large, electric dark pink, and delightfully fragrant.

The 2021 T&T catalogue has added a companion to Tickled Pink. Tickled Blush is described as having the same vining habit and similarly large, fragrant flowers, but in a pale pink that matures to a darker blush shade.

I plan to grow Tickled Blush plants to locate against wire fencing that supports a Peaches & Cream honeysuckle. The pale pink petunias should look good reaching up into the honeysuckle stems bearing burgundy red buds opening into creamy white and pink flowers, which are also deliciously fragrant.

I noticed with interest last summer that a “wild petunia” I grew bore smaller flowers the same colour as Tickled Pink, but on spreading bushes. This wild form, Petunia integrifolia, was equally easy-growing and proved to be a useful, perpetually blooming “filler” in garden beds. The seed source is J.L. Hudson (JLHudsonseeds.net).

Here are a few more items of special interest in the 2021 T&T Seeds catalogue.* Sweet Thang cabbage is a non-heading cabbage with thick, sweet white veins and dark green leaves. It is described as better tasting than collards or kale.

* Asian Delight is a new, award-winning pak choi (bok choy, white Chinese cabbage) that I’ll grow to compare with my preferred variety Joi Choi.

* Natacha escarole produces large heads of greens with creamy, blanched hearts. I like the mildly tart notes the leaves add to salads.

* Little Red and Little Orange peppers are very compact plants that produce sweet, thick-walled peppers. Ideal for containers.

* Amirallo Gold is a new Rudbeckia, just 33 centimetres tall, that has won both American and European awards for the large gold and yellow blooms on compact plants well suited for containers.

* Fun for Kids & Grown-ups. Two pages of easy, colourful things to grow, like multicoloured carrots, beans, beets, radishes, miniature pumpkins and lettuces, plus freaky “gremlin” gourds.

* Dry seaweed. An economical way to acquire seaweed fertilizer. I use it for all my indoor seeding, and for mixing with fish fertilizer to make a transplanting solution.

Mixing It Up 2021. “Roots, Shoots and Leaves” is the theme of the virtual Mixing It Up in the Urban Garden Conference on Saturday, Jan. 30, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The day will include five speakers, connections with vendors, gardeners’ chat rooms, Victoria Master Gardeners’ silent auction and more. The speakers and their topics:

* Richie Steffen: Plant Picks For Our Changing Climate.

* Dr. Linda Gilkeson: Addressing Climate Change from the Roots Up.

* Ron Carter: Trees Now and Forever.

* Bianca Bodley: No Yard? No Problem! — Gardening in Small Spaces.

* Dr. Drew Zwart: If Leaves Could Talk: Want to know what’s best for your plants? Listen to their Leaves.

Registration is open now at Mixingitup.org. Cost is $55. Zoom coaching will be available before the conference Full details on the talks can be found on the site.

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