7 Annuals & Tender Perennials That Will Change Your Garden


First of all, what the heck is a DWU? I just made that up. It’s from the common reference book phrase “deserves wider use.” That’s what’s said when a plant has ornamental or edible value and does really well in the garden, but for some reason people don’t plant it much.

As with most plant lists, this list could be much longer, but I’m aiming to offer a sampling of plants that are sufficiently different from each other in color, form, and usage, and which are also fairly new to nurseries, not seen as often as they should be in gardens, or are just too stinking’ cool to leave out—TSC, for short. I’m full of acronyms, apparently.

Funky Pink Begonia

Funky Pink Begonia / Proven Winners

First out of the gate is Funky Pink Begonia. File this new because even though begonias are nothing new under the sun, it’s a newer hybrid. Funky Pink has a trailing habit that makes it excellent for hanging baskets and container gardens. It erupts with masses of lovely, fluffy, double-form shell-pink blooms through summer. Breeding for begonias has been unbelievable in the last 20-plus years with more and more fabulousness being introduced regularly. If you like Funky Pink, look for varieties in the following series: Glowing Embers, Million Kisses, Rise Up, Bellagio, Sparkle, Bon Bon, Angel Falls, and more. Most of these varieties are heat tolerant (thank you, plant breeders) and do well in dappled shade or morning sun with afternoon shade.

Senecio Angel Wings

Senecio Angel Wings / Concept Plants

Next up, is a hot little mama that looks so cool. Cool because of its broad leaves of silvery-white and velvety, inviting texture. It’s Senecio Angel Wings, which is related to the well-known dusty miller. Next to its silvery leaves, hot colors pop, while cool colors harmonize. The sharp color contrasts, and huge leaves of Angel wings make it a plant with major wow factor. While it’s perfect for mixed plantings, this is a plant that can take the spotlight alone, too. Full sun and good drainage is best for this plant.

Petunia Evening Scentsation

Petunia Evening Scentsation / All America Selections

One plant I would put in front of Angel Wings, or anywhere I could find a spot for it, would be Evening Scentsation petunia. I know most of us have heard of petunias but this one is fragrant both during the day but especially at night. Plant it near an outdoor seating area where you can hang out on a summer evening and enjoy it. The color is splendid—a glowing twilight periwinkle blue with a bit of lavender. It just speaks of champagne and moonlight.



Abutilon has been around for ages, but deserves wider use. Also called flowering maple due to the shape of its leaves, abutilon produces lovely flowers that remind us of hibiscus but cupped downward into a bell-shape or a flared skirt. Flower colors include candy pink, buttery gold, apricot, white, and pale yellow. Some are actually hardy enough to come through winter, and some are best grown as annuals or in pots and brought inside for the winter. They actually make decent houseplants.

Springing up like a delicious bouquet of bright red gumdrops is ‘Strawberry Fields’ globe amaranth—though they do look like strawberries, too. There’s so much to love here: heat and humidity tolerance, prolific flowering on strong stems, long-lasting blooms, and wonderful visual contrast next to many other flowers because of the unique shape. Plant in full sun in a well-drained soil or at least in an area that tends to stay dry.

Firebush Lime Sizzler

Firebush Lime Sizzler / Southern Living Plant Collection

Lime Sizzler firebush heats up the landscape with striking foliage and pretty flowers. This newbie struts out into the summer sun with shocking gold, chartreuse, and green variegated foliage tipped in cherry and topped with clusters of dark coral tubular flowers beloved by hummingbirds and butterflies. It is pollinator friendly, heat and humidity tolerant, with a handsome compact, bushy habit. Grow it in the sunny, summer border where it will look wonderful next to plants with burgundy foliage or purple flowers.

Begonia Rex / Tina Mast

Begonia Rex / Tina Mast

If you’re into the unusual, you must try a few Rex begonias. While some begonias are known for flowers, these are all about leaves. Leaves that are varied and fascinating, that glimmer with iridescence, and are swirled, flecked, dotted, and painted with burgundy, green, pink, red, and silver. Some look like fabulous nautilus shells, others are shaped like maple leaves or little dragon wings. Plant these in shade where they will steal the show. Grown in containers, they can be brought indoors for winter for enjoyment and safekeeping from the cold, and then taken outdoors again in late spring.

Tina Mast is communications director for Homewood Nursery & Garden Center and gardens in Wake Forest. She can be reached at or 919-847-0117.

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