If you're a first time homeowner, listen up. If you think you can't grow fabulous flowers, read on. If past failures have made you throw your hands up and retreat from gardening in general, get ready to rumble. There's a secret to great big bold flowers.
Forget all that stuff you see in catalogs that brands a plant "easy," because that's a relative term. For anyone who can't find the right end of a garden hose, "easy" may be downright complex. What you need is plants that grow even if you plant them upside down (which happens more than you think).
The lily family has produced two no-brainers that produce truly inspiring flowers. They are relatively cold hardy and when you use them together you get a full range of color.
One is the best source of blue in the garden; it is known as Agapanthus, or lily of the Nile. The other is Hemerocallis, the daylily, so named because each huge flower opens for just a single day before it withers. This second group supplies you with virtually every color of the rainbow except blue. So between the two you'll have an incredible palette to paint your garden.
Standard blue Agapanthus africanus is the more frost tender, hardy to Zone 8, which doesn't drop below 10 degrees in the winter. It is a native of South Africa and can survive considerable heat and drought. However, there are two exceptionally hardy hybrid forms that include the Headbourne hybrids and a variety called Midknight Blue. These will stand winters to Zone 6, which is minus 10 degrees below zero, allowing the vivid Agapanthus blue to extend much further north. In addition, these last two are darker blue in color than the species.
The north half of Kansas is Zone 5, where winters can go to between minus 10 and 20 degrees. The southern half is Zone 6. The higher the zone number, the warmer the climate, so plants zoned 1 through 6 are likely to survive.
Daylilies enjoy an even wider range of climate tolerance, which makes them a bit trickier to buy. The majority are hardy to Zone 4, which is to 30 degrees below zero. But you'll find individuals that won't survive below Zone 5 or 6, so it pays to check the labels and buy from a reputable grower. Certain daylilies termed "evergreen" are only hardy to Zone 7.
Daylily breeding exploded early in the 20th century. Since then tens of thousands of named varieties were developed. Every year more are being introduced, including the exotic tetraploid types that feature truly complex flower colors. The tendency is for newbies to select the common yellow and orange, but if you buy from a daylily grower you'll be able to sample the hot pinks, coral, lavender and purples. For local plant sources, check out the Topeka Daylily Club's Web site at home.wamego.net/sjamy/topdayclub.html.
Armed with your palette of Agapanthus and daylilies you can begin to plant with a vengeance. All require full or part sun with well-drained soil, although they've been known to do well in less than ideal clays, too. Each plant becomes a clump of strap-like leaves over thick fleshy roots, and out of these rise on long wands topped with blooms in a spectacular showing.
The trick to success is to plant lots of them, and they are all truly affordable. Try three to five of each color in a mass to compound their visibility. Allow these groups to drift around one another like a soft flowing patchwork. Spot them into your existing beds and borders, which injects powerful seasonal blooms where other plants have proved disappointing.
What's so addicting about these plants is that large clumps can be so easily dug up, divided or moved if you're not happy with the location. This means that you get lots of free plants in future years to spread into new drifts of color. And best of all, you get to make lots of mistakes and they'll still come back next year.