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Cathy Bishop: Larger palette of flowers during cool season

Pansies, violas and alyssum are among the winter-worthy flowers.

Pansies, violas and alyssum are among the winter-worthy flowers.

I’ll be the first to admit this has been the longest “Indian Summer” I can remember in the last 30 years or so. That said, it is going to be winter soon. Visitors who arrive in our fair valley this time of year from all kinds of cold places may look at us like we’re somewhat out of our minds to consider this winter weather, but it is, and our plants know it. So we need to plant accordingly. Luckily for us, even in winter, we have a full array of plants that will give us vibrant green background, colorful flowers and even decorations like berries. No need to think it’s not the time to garden: Just plant wisely.

Annual color is at its best for six months during our cool season, when we actually have a larger palette of flowers available to us than in the summer. Best known and best loved has to be pansies. And what an array! There are few nuances of any color not represented in pansies. There are huge flowers or petite, faces or none, whiskers or ruffles, pastels or brights: What more can we ask? For very small spaces or a planting that calls for a diminutive flower, the pansy cousin viola is perfect.

For tall, stately background to give height and another layer of color to our plantings, snapdragons are great – tall spires of tubular gems, mostly vivid colors, but some pastels as well. Delphiniums are spectacular. You want blues? Oh, boy, do delphiniums have blues – sky blue, ice blue, velvet purple blue, lavender blue, blue jay blue. Plant young so you can have 3-foot-tall spires in the early spring. And we mustn’t forget stock (a boring name for such a heavenly fragrance), which has a heavy perfumed, spicy exotic scent that increases in the evening. Also consider dianthus, of which there are numerous kinds – tall clove and cinnamon scented, short mixed color bouquets, and medium, very floriferous fringed delights. Edge that all with frothy alyssum in white, rose or purple wafting its honey scent up to mingle with all the others. Now that is a garden of earthly delights, and you can’t have it during the summer (at least not in the Arizona desert).

Flowers are certainly not our only inspiration time of year. Now we can pay a bit of attention to the needled evergreens we take for granted, which laugh at any amount of cold thrown at them. And it’s not just the needled evergreens. The shiny, leafed shrubs like photinia and privet are practically begging us to notice how gorgeously a few sprigs of their healthy glowing leaves set off a winter bouquet. Our berried friends, including pyracantha, have stopped growing to offer up loads of fat, red berries. Try a few bunches in with your Christmas greens for some natural festivity.

But most of all: Don’t stop enjoying the beauty and bounty of our plants this time of year. They have so much to offer, and with weather like this we can truly enjoy them!

Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at weekendplus@tucsoncitizen.com.

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