Fill your garden with Valentine’s Day colors -

Forget the dozen roses that will be faded and wilted in days. Instead, thrill your gardening Valentine with one or a dozen red, pink, or white blooming flowers and shrubs. For this romantic holiday, give flowers that will bloom throughout the summer — or even for years to come.
If plants are in short supply, consider ordering a bouquet of seed packets for colorful flowers. For Valentine colors, choose cosmos, hollyhock, Jupiter’s beard, larkspur, zinnia, and whirling butterfly. With a bit of planning, perhaps you can place an order for Lady Jane tulip bulbs.

Your choices could include packets of seeds, small plants, or even a gift certificate for a spring gardening shopping spree. Choose your blooms from these desert-garden-friendly annuals, perennials, shrubs, and bulbs!

Cherry sage (Salvia greggii) may be budding in February — if we had warm January days. This small shrub is available in a rainbow of flower colors, including red, pink, salmon, and purple. For holiday flair, choose Hot Lips sage, which blooms white with bright red on the “lips” of the flowers. In addition, this spring-blooming perennial is a favorite of hummingbirds — especially since its early blooming habit provides nectar for the first ravenous arrivals. Another early spring bloomer that attracts arriving hummingbirds is red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). This false yucca has been bred by Mountain States Wholesale Nursery to provide not only traditional coral-pink blooms (called red for reasons unknown to me), but also red blooms (Brakelights), watermelon-red blooms (Sandia Glow), maroon flowers (Desert Dusk), and pinkish-orange flowers (Desert Flamenco).

The delicate flowers of pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) shrubs remind me of mimosa blossoms. This dainty shrub with fine leaves and decorative seed pods is extremely drought tolerant, though it needs a warm spot on the south or west side to survive our winters. It attracts bees and butterflies.

A gardener can have blooms from March through July with various species of penstemon, which attract hummingbirds. The earliest blooming penstemon is the pink Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi). Very quickly the stately coral-colored superb penstemon (Penstemon superbus) lives up to its name with dozens of bloom spikes reaching for the sun. As the season progresses, firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni) shoots up red spikes. Penstemons can be grown from seeds.

Large drifts of whirling butterfly (Gaura lindheimeri) have flowers in pink or white on the tips of graceful arching stems that sway in the mildest breeze. While this native perennial appears delicate, it’s tough as steel. Gaura grows in most soils, tolerates low water, and thrives in full sun. Packets of seeds are easily ordered by mail or found in local garden stores.

Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber) has rose-pink bunches of star-shaped flowers in rounded clusters. This bushy perennial hugs the ground in the flower garden throughout the winter, then becomes a long-blooming powerhouse in spring. As soon as we have a few warm days, its stems stretch up rapidly with flowers to entice bees and butterflies. Jupiter’s beard grows easily from seed and is often available in packets by mail or in local garden stores.

For brilliant colors and continuous blooms, my favorite cutting flower is zinnia, which fills a garden plot or container with pink, red, and purple blooms. These traditional cottage garden flowers can withstand full sun with generous water, but will appreciate some late afternoon shade.

These flowers bloom continuously from late spring until it freezes. Packets of seeds can be ordered or found in local garden stores.
Another cottage garden favorite is hollyhock — often available in pink, red, and maroon. Look for the old-fashioned single blooms or fill the garden with the double-blooming varieties that are so fluffy they resemble carnations on massive stems. Plants are available in spring or look for seed packets online or in garden centers.

So many newcomers to Southern New Mexico believe cactus is the only plant that grows in the desert — which is far from accurate. However, in spring, we can’t ignore the brilliant red flowers that top the large clumps of claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus).
My favorite native tree, the desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), has been bred for pink, burgundy, and two-tone flowers. Every plant has positives and negatives, but desert willow ends up with more positives for me. It grows quickly in most soils and is drought tolerant. It thrives in full sun and blooms from spring through fall. Small birds stop by for the seed pods and hummingbirds dine on the flowers’ nectar.

Lady Jane tulips (Tulipa clusiana) magically appeared in my perennial bed one year. I had planted bulbs, though not tulips, as traditional tulips need colder winters and are easily destroyed by our spring winds (if they come up at all). So, likely I had purchased a bag of bulbs that had been mislabeled. What a lucky mistake! This species of tulip blooms white flowers with a red stripe every spring for weeks on end, and they have multiplied abundantly.

My favorite summer bulb is the white rain lily (Zephyranthes candida) — which also comes in pink — I can’t resist having them both in my garden. Most often, we can purchase these tiny bulbs in pots and simply plant the entire clump. However, last year, I rescued dozens of these bulbs from a landscape that was being removed and planted them as edging around all my flower beds. I can hardly wait to see the white borders in late spring when we finally get some rain.

For the price of a dozen roses flown in from Chile that will last days at best, you could gift your Valentine with any or all of these dozen blooming plants with seed packets, purchased plants, or a gift certificate and collection of photos — it is February after all, and true spring is more than a month away. Your thoughtful gift will provide joy for years to come.

Written and photography by Jackye Meinecke

Additional photos courtesy Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

Originally published in Neighbors magazine.

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