Battle of the freebies



In May I received a box of plants from Proven Winners—mainly calibrachoa and verbena, in pinks, blackberry, and purple. I also received several flats of homegrown seedlings from a neighbor, intended for the public planters of Allentown. After finishing the planters, I had leftovers—zinnias, tall ageratum, petunias, coleus, and marigolds—that hung around in their plastic cells until I finally took pity and stuck them into containers here and there. Those who know my gardening habits will not be surprised that I still managed to spend a few hundreds on annuals in spite of all this largesse.

Now, toward the end of the season, I am surprised to find the Proven Winners still going strong—they were in bloom when they arrived, so I figured they’d run out of steam some time in August. Not so. I never fertilized any of them and merely deadheaded the verbena when I thought of it. I am not surprised to find my neighbors’ plants in fine form. The tall marigolds are especially handsome—classy single blooms with frilled petals, but I also love the ageratums, which make superb cut flowers, and the green zinnias. My neighbor has a way of culling through his seed catalogs to find the interesting varietals of common flowers that meet with upturned noses from most garden geeks.

And now it is these humble bedding plants that are providing most of the color in my back garden. Sure, there are still phlox, chelone, eupatoriums, and a few others, but these are the only plants that still have the same bright colors they exhibited in early July.  I now find myself planning to plant more of Bob’s marigolds and ageratum next spring. Looking forward to marigolds! Who knew?

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I get my verbenas and zinnias from the compost dumpster at a local independent nursery. (Shh–don’t tell.) Also got a few tomato and pepper plants. It’s a popular place. The last time I was there, someone was reading a newspaper in his car at the parking lot and asked what was going on — he’d seen a half a dozen people stop by and poke around the dumpster in half an hour.

    The nursery seems to dump anything that’s not looking great, so all it takes is a little water and TLC to revive anything that’s decent looking. Of course, most of the time all I see is lumps of dry soil with dead plant material attached — probably because those half-dozen other people got there before I did.

  2. I love annuals! As a longtime gardener, I think that people disdain annuals as expensive (not renewable) and somehow not sophisticated, like perennials. Wrong!!! As a designer of gardens, I am always telling people that most perennials only bloom for a couple of weeks and require maintenance, like dividing and cutting back. But annuals, once getting started, require little care and are blooming machines. More “bang for your buck” in my book. For fall, I really depend on their continued color, while other perennials are bloomed out and looking crispy. The ageratum pictured, Blue Horizon’ is one of my favs for great color and for cuts. No perennial even comes close. So, Hooray for the humble bedding plants!

  3. Talinum paniculatum ‘Kingwood Gold’ is a wonderful annual I grew this year, thanks to Nancy Ondra’s seed largess last fall. Its fleshy leaves are a golden chartreuse and stay handsome all summer and fall. It sends up airy stalks studded with tiny pink flowers that turn into tiny orange seeds. Stunning plant, and very eager to germinate.

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