Plant of the Month – March, 2011
Laurentia ‘Avante-Garde’. Photos by Jimmy Turner.
AT A GLANCE
Latin name: Laurentia ‘Avante-Garde’ series
Common name: Laurentia or isotoma
Plant type: Warm-season annual
Blooming season: April until first frost
Flowers: Currently three colors available: blue, pink and white
Foliage: Soft, textured mounds of light green
Mature height: 12” tall and 18” wide
Spacing: 8 – 10”
Exposure: Full sun
Water usage: Medium
Sources: Local nurseries
‘Avant Garde’ pink
Do you have the garden blues? Looking for something unique for your garden? Well, if you are searching for blue-colored flowers for your Texas garden, then you probably are singing “the blues, ‘cause there just ain’t much too choose from!” There is plumbago, and then there is plumbago, and not really anything else. A few years back, we received Laurentia ‘Avante-Garde’ to trial at the Dallas Arboretum. The producer claimed that the fern-like mounds of foliage would be liberally dusted with star-shaped flowers all summer long. Any annual with soft feathery foliage that comes in pastel shades of blue, pink or white is usually fodder for the compost pile the first hot day in April. We were so surprised at how well ‘Avante-Garde’ did for us that we tried our best to kill it again the next year during one of our hottest summers on record. Once again it was a shining star in our trials.
This seed-grown annual will quickly grow from a 4-inch-pot size in early April to an 18-inch-wide mound dusted with 1-inch wide flowers that top out at 12 inches tall. We have found that it really prefers full sun and well-drained soil. If you live on sandy soils, then you have it made, but if you are like the Trial Garden and have sticky clay, I highly recommend searching for some expanded shale to till into your soil. Trust me, once you’ve amended your garden with that product, you’ll be addicted to it!
These plants also don’t seem to have any issues with alkaline soils; the foliage is just as green as those grown in acidic gardens. ‘Avante-Garde’ hasn’t shown any pest or disease problems for us during the last three years of trials. Like all fast-growing annual plants, it should be fed regularly with a high-nitrogen fertilizer (organic or not is your choice). Though I list this plant as an annual, if you live in Zone 9 south or have a mild winter, it just may overwinter for you.
The attractive foliage and flowers of this plant make it a natural to showcase in containers or planters, especially since it can tolerate drier, well-drained soils. The blue variety of this plant is a perfect contrast for terracotta pots. I prefer it planted solo in pots to show off the natural ball shape of the plant. In ground plantings, I like to use this in masses, or dotted into perennial borders to fill in holes. In combinations. I like to pair this plant with bolder textured foliage, such as the silvery white leaves of Plectranthus ‘Silver Shield’ or a bright chartreuse-foliaged coleus. Try the contrasting color of the orange-peach leaves of ‘Orange King’ coleus. Another favorite is the silvery, strap-like foliage of Elymus glaucus ‘Blue Dune’ grass. Its growing requirements and color perfectly complement this annual. Whichever plant you pair it with, choose one that wants well-drained soils, as well.
Laurentia ‘Avante-Garde’ may look soft and frail, but it can stand up to a Texas summer and keep on flowering. This is a plant I know you’ll want to bring home with you to soften the heat of your garden. Whether you choose the pink, white or blue (to which I’m most partial), all will thrive equally well for you. This plant should be available in local garden centers in 4-inch or larger containers. If not, you can grow it easily with seed from Thompson-Morgan Seeds (www.thompson-morgan.com).
About the author: Jimmy Turner is the senior director of gardens at the Dallas Arboretum. Visit www.dallasplanttrials.org for more information on his trials.