- Bachelor's button or cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)--Blue, pink, rose-red, and white blooms top silvery, gray-green 12- to 30-inch foliage. These long-stemmed favorites make wonderful cut flowers. Their blooms can also be dried. They prefer rich, moist soil but will tolerate both drought and poor soil. Most of the seed comes in mixed colors. 'Blue Boy' is one solid colored selection that has powder-blue flowers and grows about 2 ½ feet tall.
- Cleome or spider flower (Cleome spinosa)--This underused annual can grow up to 5 feet, depending on selection. The flowers are pink, lavender, and white, with long whisker-like stamens that resemble spider legs. The unusual blooms, which attract butterflies, look great on the back side of a border. Cleome is a reseeding annual that will come back year after year. 'White Queen,' 'Cherry Queen,' and 'Violet Queen' are dependable selections.
- Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)--This carefree annual boasts charming blooms in two dazzling color ranges: pastel pink, rose, and white; and radiant yellow, orange, and tomato red. They grow 2 to 5 feet tall, depending on selection, and work well in flowerbeds, butterfly gardens, and containers. They're tolerant of dry conditions. Sonata Hybrid is a popular mix of rose, pink, and cherry flowers that grows around 20 inches. Bright Lights Hybrid grows 3 feet tall and has yellow, gold, and scarlet-colored blooms.
- Sunflower (Helianthus sp.)--These radiant giants can be quite versatile. This large family of annuals ranges in size from a towering 12 feet in height to a knee-high 15 inches. They also come in a wide range of colors sporting burgundy-red, creamy white, orange, and yellow flowers that can be as big as a dinner plate or smaller than a saucer. Children have great fun planting sunflowers seeds and watching them grow. The dried blooms become instant bird feeders, attracting hungry birds to feast on the flowers' seedheads. Popular selections include 'Mammoth Russian,' 9 to 10 feet tall with yellow flowers; 'Chianti,' 4 to 5 feet tall with red blooms; and 'Vanilla Ice,' 5 to 6 feet tall with pale yellow flowers.
- Tithonia or Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia)--This is one of the most heat- and drought-tolerant annuals. Tithonia produces blooms that are brilliant yellow and vibrant reddish-orange. 'Torch' is a selection that grows 4 to 6 feet tall and works well on the back side of borders. 'Sundance' and 'Goldfinch' grow to about 3 feet tall. 'Fiesta del Sol' reaches 2 to 3 feet tall and grows full and bushy. Its brilliant 2- to 3-inch, velvety–orange blooms attract butterflies as well as hummingbirds to the garden.
- Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)--These old-fashioned plants are unpretentious yet unforgettable. They come in a wide array of vibrant colors ranging from chartreuse, lavender, and orange to pink, red, white, and yellow. There is even a candy-cane mix. These colorful petals are striped or flecked white. The cactus-type zinnias have interesting quilled petals.
Zinnias are the ultimate cut flower because the more you cut, the more they bloom. 'California Giants' is a tall selection that grows 3 feet tall or more and is perfect for big arrangements. Cut and Come Again Hybrid is another long-stemmed choice, growing 24 inches tall. Lilliput Mix grows 18 inches tall, has pom-pom blooms, and is great for cutting. Thumbelina Hybrid is a tiny zinnia that grows only 6 inches tall. Whether you like them big or small, there's a zinnia for you.
"Sowing Success" is from the Southern Living 2004 issue of the Spring Garden Guide.