Amazing annuals: crepis, cuphea and celosia

I am desperate to get past C in this alphabetical list so here are three to complete the set.

Crepis are dandelion-like plants from North Africa and the Med into Northern Europe. Most are yellow-flowered ‘weeds’ that need not detain the attention of gardeners. But one that deserves a place in the garden is the pink-flowered Crepis rubra. Despite the name it is not red but pink, and a very pretty flower. There is something very satisfactory about dandelion flowers and there are a few true taraxacum species that are shaded with pink. But here the pink is pure and unsullied, as gentle and alluring as the pink-flowered chicory, or candyfloss (cotton candy) but on a much neater plant. This is an annual that really needs sowing where it is to bloom and the young leaves are long, pale green and notched just like a dandelion or chicory. The plants send up a long succession of blooms on long stems and, at its best, is beautiful. The plants do not last that long and are in flower for six weeks or so before they exhaust themselves.

I have posted before about cupheas but mostly those with a long floral tube and insignificant petals, commonly called cigar plants. Here we have Cuphea blepharophylla, named for the eyelashes around the leaves! This is an annual that can be raised from seed, with some care, and available with petals in shades of red, crimson and/or purple. The blooms are dense enough to make a good show and they keep on blooming all summer into autumn. They need warmth and shelter to do well and are perhaps best in patio pots than left to tough it out with thugs in the border but they are worth experimenting with. I have my packet ready in the box and will be having another go with them next year.

Worldwide, the African celosias have a great future as foods rather than as ornamentals but it is as exotic garden and pot plants and extravagant cut flowers that we know them best. Closely related to amaranthus, their name comes from the Greek for burning, because of the flame-like flower head. Although they are grown all over the world, they need sun and plenty of warmth to do well and they struggle outside in Ireland. Here they are worth planting in a polytunnel for cut flowers. The seeds germinate easily with a heat of about 20c but they need constant warmth to get going. In addition to the fluffy-headed type there are cristate, cockscomb forms which are appealing to some. In all forms the colour range is extensive and the texture of the flowers is silky and very tactile. The plants last in bloom for many weeks, even months.

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