I spend a lot of January daydreaming. I look out my office window and this is what I see:
Of course, when I come back to reality, the actual view is just a sad little annual bed waiting for a miracle that never quite happens. For the past six spring planting seasons, I have tried my best to turn this small plot of land into a show-stopper bed. And every fall, I sigh and think…”maybe next year.”
This year, I’ve decided to get some expert advice on Seasonal Color plantings. Jo Ann Prieto, Embassy’s Horticulturist and Seasonal Color Manager, took time to walk me through some of the basics of planning and planting sensational seasonal color beds. I especially wanted to spend time talking with Jo Ann because in the 6 ½ years she has been with Embassy Landscape Group, she has transformed their seasonal color department from a “yes, we can add a few annuals” operation to one of the most creative and well respected in the Kansas City area. Whether she’s designing for one of Kansas City’s premier commercial properties or for a private residence, Jo Ann strives for excellence.
Excellence for her however, is more than a good design or a striking color combination, it’s also searching out the best floral and foliage choices that can withstand our capricious weather conditions here in Kansas City. While choosing the right varieties is of primary importance, using locally sourced bedding plants also helps. Annuals and perennials grown in the immediate area are more likely to adapt to our temperature and moisture variations than plants grown in a different region, even if it's in the same climate zone.
Jo Ann works with six local growers, pouring over lists of what is on tap for the next planting season. While most of us who are hobby gardeners do our plant hunting in the spring when garden centers are bursting with blooms, professionals like JoAnn begin their searching during the dead of winter. She told me that by midJanuary, the bulk of her orders, usually about 4,000 flats and 300 tropical plants, are already at the growers, leaving only finishing touches to be added as needed.
Once she has a sense of the season’s materials, then Jo Ann can begin the real work of designing the season’s beds. The first step, she maintains, is an analysis of the site. What kind of soil–how much sun at which times of day– is there irrigation–will it be maintained throughout the season– are some of the questions that need to be explored. Then, it’s important to consider other, less obvious factors. Will the plants be protected from our hot drying summertime winds, or is the bed in an open spot? Is the bed located near a heat holding concrete parking lot? Is it in a high traffic area? With all of these elements in mind, Jo Ann takes pencils in hand and creates plans for over 350 beds, containers and plantings throughout the Kansas City area.
For her commercial beds, Jo Ann tends to favor broad swaths of big, bold colors in striking combinations. She suggested trying orange and purple, orange and rose or hot pink and orange to really make a statement. Not only do the colors pop, but they exude energy and positivity. They are happy, vibrant colors that bring excitement to aa garden. Since they seem to draw closer to the viewer, these warm colors are great for making a large space seem smaller and more approachable.
Beds that are primarily shaded during the day however, are candidates for soft, light colors. Whites, silvers, light pinks illuminate a dark area and even, at times, put off a shimmering glow. They seem to cool us down, even on the hottest KC days.
Taking cues from last year’s successes, frustrations and fizzles, Jo Ann has planned out some new show stoppers for 2023. Many of her bloom choices are familiar ones — varieties that are known to stand up to our somewhat challenging weather conditions. Sunpatiens, vinca, salvia and zinnias are her mainstays. Gazanias are another of her favorites; she loves their heat tolerance. Their downside though, is the fact that they won’t open on cloudy days. Alyssum is great for a cascading look – she especially loves the white – but wishes it was much more tolerant of our high summer temperatures. .
A newly discovered favorite of Jo Ann’s is a variety of ice plant known as red trailing mezoo. This tough little succulent had fabulous heat tolerance and grew like crazy, filling out those little open spots in summer containers. It will definitely be making an appearance in this year’s displays!
She’s also trying out a newer zinnia variety, the Swizzle series. Swizzles offer giant 4 inch double blooms on dwarf, 10 to 12 inch tall plants. They love the full sun and will bloom from early summer until fall. Swizzles are perfect for beds, flower boxes and containers.
Images provided by Park Seed.
Finally, Jo Ann is adding Silver Stream lobularia to her toolbox. Lobularia is a hybrid of sweet alyssum, but is a hardier plant bred to withstand heat, to bloom throughout spring, summer and fall and to feature a sweet, honey scent.
Having spent time taking in Jo Ann’s expert knowledge, I can say that I think I finally have the perfect solution to my sad little annual bed. I’ll have her come to Columbia and design it for me!