If you plant annuals in early May, water and douse them with fertilizer, most will perform in flower and leaf until October. Which is when we're outside to enjoy them.

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ANNUALS ARE the bling, the splurge, the high heels and dangly earrings of the garden. Because annuals complete their life cycle in a single season, breeders turn out lots of exciting new patterns, colors and textures every year.

Look at it this way: If you plant annuals in early May, water and douse them with fertilizer, most will perform in flower and leaf until October. Which is when we’re outside to enjoy them. And annuals never haunt you with their carcasses. They’re supposed to die at first frost; our climate suits them only for five months of the year. So indulge, play around with annuals to your heart’s content. Here are a few new ones to tinker with:

White Flower Farm is introducing the new, award-winning ‘Cobra’ dahlia from Europe. It’s compact, doesn’t need staking, branches widely and is covered in deep-golden-orange flowers trimmed in orange-red. It looks as if it would easily fit into beds and borders without being too froufrou to consort with other plants.

Is anything more quintessentially summer than sunflowers? Kids love them, birds love them, too. The new ‘Solar Flare’ sunflower from Burpee has a huge, dark center eye, ringed in mahogany petals tipped in golden yellow. It grows quickly from seed sown directly in the ground, reaches 5 to 6 feet high and blooms for weeks; if you sow the seed sequentially, you’ll have ‘Solar Flare’ warming your garden from July through frost.

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Old-fashioned sweet alyssum has proved to attract more pollinators than any other kind of plant. And these fragrant little mounds of flowers are so easy to grow. They bloom all summer and obligingly seed themselves about. There’s a new variegated version out this year; Lobularia ‘Frosty Knight,’ with gold-and-green-dappled leaves that show off the white flowers. Plant a few to restore or enhance the health of your garden by drawing in bees, butterflies and all kinds of beneficial insects

You grow Begonia T. Rex ‘First Blush’ for its spectacular leaves; the pretty little flowers are a bonus. It does well indoors or out, which means you can pot it up and bring it inside to winter on the windowsill. I love these begonias in containers by themselves or mixed with flowers. ‘First Blush’ is especially flamboyant, with silvery lavender leaves glossed in raspberry. The T. Rex series is vigorous and grows large, like its dinosaur namesake.

It’d be worth a move to the tropics to have caladium, or elephant ear, grace your garden year-round. At least we can grow these pretty curiosities for a few months of the year. The new ‘Stardust’ caladium grows a foot tall, with pristine white leaves trimmed in green. They look as if made for a moon garden. Be sure to give elephant ears as much sun, warmth and water as you can.

Another annual for foliage rather than flower is coleus, which used to be passé and is once again covetable. New this year is Coleus Signature ‘Religious Radish’ with coloration as startling as its name. The leaves are scalloped and splashed in dark burgundy and mottled in varying shades of pink. Coleus do best coddled in containers, but also look great trimming out walkways or borders. Feed and water coleus, give them some afternoon shade, and they’ll be the stars of your summer garden — especially this new showboat.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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