In Southern California, the cool-season annuals have arrived at local nurseries, the violas, stocks, snapdragons, sweet williams, nemesias, Iceland poppies, and lots more I’m forgetting at the moment. Some (or none) appeal to different garden temperaments. I’ve indulged in biennial Iceland poppies now and then and maybe some ranunculus a little closer to spring but often skip over this wintertime opportunity due to the flat-earth, “bedding out” vibe of annuals available locally in season. However….with 2020 seeming to constantly require massive amounts of distraction, I did proactively start some calendula and linaria from seed late summer, two cool-season annuals whose color intensity I love to set against all the surrounding leaves of silver, gold, and blue-grey . My seed-grown plants are still tiny and flowerless. The nursery professionals produced these plants that I potted up last week.
The pros’ timing for getting 4-inch pots of flowers to market is always impeccable. Livelihoods depend on it. I know they employ all kinds of growth stimulators/inhibitors and fertilizers and grow lights and climate control that I don’t. My little plants started from seed late summer may flower in March, or I might neglect to water them during this cursed rainless weather, in which case all the effort will be for naught. For now, thanks to the pros, Calendula ‘Touch of Red,’ a strain I’ve long wanted to grow, is blooming in three large clay bowls, maybe eight plants total. Amazingly cheap thrills even if only for a month.
In cool summer climates, calendulas planted in spring will stay with you right through to autumn, or so I’ve read. And that other classic winter annual for zone 10, sweet peas, can also be coaxed to bloom through summer in higher latitudes and cooler summer climates.
Whether these “pot marigolds” last through my winter is uncertain, and three months of bloom is a big ask of any annual in my experience in zone 10. Here near the coast calendulas can be prone to mildew. But for now I’m enjoying this new acquaintance with ‘Touch of Red’ — its richness and complexity of color.
With the ‘Enchantment’ linarias, they are like an ornately jeweled middle finger to the last month of this very fractious year.