These 3 plants will color a garden in spring

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Planning your garden color for the spring and summer is one surefire way to ignore the deep freeze that has recently been gripping much of the country. I thought about writing about outdoor fireplaces, but they were no match for these extremely cold temperatures. Planning where to add some 'Gold Rush' rudbeckia, however, will warm you up mentally and get you thinking about the season around the corner.

'Gold Rush' is a new double gloriosa type of daisy or rudbeckia selection courtesy of Ball Flora Plant. This one captured the attention of everyone at trials across the country, with its large blossoms that show splashes of burgundy finishing mostly golden yellow. This is a unique plant in that it is vegetatively propagated, while most rudbeckia hirtas in the in the market are seed-produced.

The plants reach 24 plush inches in height with an equal spread. For 90 days this will be the showiest plant in the garden, attracting butterflies and admiring glances from your visitors. If you keep it deadheaded, your bloom period will be extended. This is a must-have choice this spring.

It seems this is the year of the striped petunia. To be honest striped flowers have never really been my cup of tea, but 'Rose and Shine,' also being introduced from Ball Flora Plant, is just too pretty to ignore. You would have to consider this a novelty type petunia that will really have an extreme wow factor in mixed containers.

The plants will reach about 16 inches tall with a spread of a little more than 20 inches. The base color of the flower is predominately creamy white, but then you have a deep burgundy star of narrow stripes radiating outward from the center. This alone would make for a winning petunia, but there is much more. Along the margins of the burgundy star are hot-rose colored swatches that look almost hand-painted. This petunia is absolutely stunning.

Lastly is a new gaillardia or Indian blanket series, 'Galya Spark.' This is a hybrid of a U.S. native gaillardia, but its breeding is courtesy of Danzinger in Israel. 'Galya Pink Spark' caught my eye, but in trials from north to south and east to west everyone had his or her own favorite color. They all ranked very high, including the coveted Flame Proof Award at the Dallas Arboretum.

The Spark series, which is considered double, is mostly treated as an annual -- although you might get a couple of perennial-like years in zones 8 and warmer. But even as an annual in colder regions, it will bloom like there is no tomorrow. They will reach about 12 to 15 inches tall and as wide, and they need well-drained soil and plenty of sun. This is one plant that has no appreciation for overhead irrigation. In matter of fact, established plants are extremely tough.

There are several colors, one of which is sure to fit your palette. In addition to brightening your landscape, you will also notice that you are playing host to a variety of butterflies -- just another reward for growing the 'Galya' Spark series of gaillardia.

Don't let the cold get you down. A glorious warm season of gardening is just around the corner, and these new flowers will help make the landscape absolutely sizzling.

Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden."

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