If you're a person who often "thinks outside the box," you might want to make your garden a little different than your neighbors' yards. Roses, petunias and zinnias are fine, but perhaps you'd like to turn heads with a display of more unusual flowers. Depending on your climate zone, you can create color and interest by growing some lesser-known flowering plants from foxgloves to heliconias.
This tall, flowering biennial plant produces long spikes loaded with bell-shaped flowers during its second summer. According to Texas A&M University, this plant is native to Europe but has been introduced to many parts of North America, especially the northern states on both the East and West Coasts. Because it can grow up to 4 feet tall, plant it behind shorter plants. Foxglove prefers sandy loam soil, so if your soil is clay, add compost and sand. Adding 1 gallon of any compost and 1 qt. of sand will help each 5 gallons of clay soil into which you mix them. Foxglove thrives in partly shady areas. Purchase foxglove as a bedding plant or start it from seeds by scattering the seeds on the soil surface in fall. Foxglove is a member of the genus Digitalis and is considered poisonous, although it has been used as a heart medicine for centuries.
They're not true orchids, but the so-called orchid cactus is just as lovely, and easier to grow. They tolerate temperatures down to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit. Each large flower blooms for only one night and colors range from snowy white to the deepest scarlet. Stems are flat and leaflike. Sometimes known as "queen of the night," orchid cacti will spice up your garden at night when they are in bloom. If you choose a light-colored variety, they will show up nicely after the sun goes down. These plants are epiphytes, like orchids, so they don't need much soil. If you plant them among rocks, this environment will provide the conditions they need, especially if you add a little potting soil with sand, perlite and bark to the planting area. Water frequently and do not allow the soil to dry out. This plant will also perform well in a pot.
Butterfly and Hummingbird Plants
Some flowering plants attract butterflies, hummingbirds and even unusual moths that gather nectar from the buds. When you grow plants such as Buddleia, you'll be helping your region's butterflies to survive the loss of natural habitats. You can provide food and habitat for butterfly larvae by growing host plants including milkweed (bloodflower), Nuttall's violet, sunflowers and hollyhocks. All of these attract different species of butterflies, which lay eggs on these plants and then the plants provide food for the larvae. For adult butterflies, grow nectar plants such as the blue cardinal flower, bloodflowers, Brazilian verbena, heliotrope, oriental lilies, purple coneflower (Echinacea), butterfly bush (Buddleia), Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), and black-eyed Susan. Many of these plants are medium height when they are in bloom, so plant them in the center of your flowerbed. Place your taller plants, such as hollyhocks and sunflowers, in the rear and smaller ones, such as violets and verbena, up front.
If you live in an area where the winter temperature rarely drops to freezing, you can grow tropical flowering plants such as heliconias, hibiscus, anthuriums, flowering gingers and bromeliads. If you get winter frost or snow you can grow some of these plants as annuals, or grow them in pots that you move indoors when cold weather strikes. Tropical flowering plants need high humidity and rich, well-draining soil. Some do well in partly shady areas whereas others, such as hibiscus, prefer full sun. If your winters are relatively mild and you receive only a few light frosts, some of these plants will die back to the ground but can often recover when it warms up in the spring. In fall, mulch them heavily with wood chips, sawdust or compost and watch for signs of them sprouting in spring.
Research the flowering plants that are native to your part of the country. Indigenous plants thrive in gardens that are similar to their wild conditions. They often do well in poor soil, require no additional water or fertilizer above what nature provides, and reseed themselves at the end of summer. Some flowering plants that are native to many parts of the United States include penstemons, columbines, wild iris, lupine, poppies, Virginia bluebells, desert mallow and wild lilac (Ceanothus).