tulip AkebonoFor instance, my favorite tulip this spring was a recently introduced double Japanese type called 'Akebono'. I loved everything about it, including the pale yellow--flushed with rose--color, the thin red edge, even the curly green cowlicks at the base of each flower.

We actually came close to losing the tulips, as an unusually mild winter propelled all our plants into too-early growth. Then, of course, came the forecast for a hard freeze. Although I couldn't do much about that freeze decimating our tree and shrub blossoms, I resolved to save the tulips, as their blooms will generally get "burned" by such low temperatures too.

That was when I spotted the pile of old tires beside the garage. Although I usually deplore their ugliness, they looked very good to me that day! I piled them in ramparts around the small bed of tulips and threw some burlap over the top. The dark tires absorbed heat from the sun throughout the day and released it at night, so the tulip blooms remained unscathed.

Osteospermum ecklonis 3D Silver DaisyI waited until those frosts were over to plant a new African daisy--white with a crested lavender center--that had stopped me in my tracks at a local greenhouse. Although it did take a brief break in the hottest part of the summer, Osteospermum ecklonis '3D Silver Daisy' has been blooming almost nonstop since I planted it.

I put it in a container, which may have helped, as osteospermums seem to like somewhat dry conditions. Because the centers of the '3D Silver Daisy' are packed so full of petals, half-open flowers did look a bit odd at times, but still exquisite.

Also exquisite, the flower in the thumbnail is Anthropodium milleflorum or "pale vanilla lily," which I started from seed last year. The posies are actually smaller than they look in my photo, and carried along the length of an arching stem. So small, in fact, that it took me a while to notice that the plant was blooming!

Although the flowers supposedly have a strong vanilla scent, I couldn't detect it unless I held them very close to my nose. But, due to my chronic allergies, my sense of smell is less than acute. I imagine the scent is probably stronger in hot dry climates such as Australia, where the plant originated.

As the tuberous vanilla lily is only hardy to zone 8, I have to keep it under grow lights indoors over the winter. But I would recommend it to those of you in the south, as those tiny flowers become fascinating when viewed up close.

rudbeckia triloba Red SportSpeaking of small flowers, I started Rudbeckia triloba 'Red Sport' from seed last year. It never got big enough to bloom that summer, so I promptly forgot about it. When a plant began to shoot up at the front of my flowerbed this spring, I suspected it might be a weed. Apparently I had overlooked the fact that this particular rudbeckia can grow as tall as a hardy hibiscus.

Fortunately, I left it in place, as its tri-lobed lower leaves didn't look like any of our local weeds. Of course, they didn't look like typical rudbeckia leaves either, which is what threw me off. Once the plant began to produce red buds, I nearly slapped myself in the forehead. "Oh, that's what it is!"

petunia exsertaEven though small, 'Red Sport's' flowers swarm in large numbers. The plant's main defect seems to be its height. I found out too late that I should have staked it, as a strong storm eventually blew it flat, breaking off most of the stalks.

A generous trader sent me seeds for Petunia exserta later than I usually start petunias. I was so excited to get them, however, that I planted them anyway--in a container on the porch rather than under the grow-lights. And most of them promptly damped off! Fortunately, one survived and is now blooming.

I'd never heard of this species type, which was discovered in South America just a few years ago, before the trader mentoned it to me. The plant has longer buds than most petunias, and a flaring shape. The blooms on my plant don't look as "curled under" as some photos I've seen of petunia exserta. So it's possible that mine crossed with another petunia somewhere along the way. Although its color and form are supposed to attract hummingbirds, I can't really say, as most of them had already left before it started blooming--no doubt heading for South America themselves.

In some ways it was a depressing growing year, due to those late freezes and my not having enough time to give to my plants. So I was grateful to these particular flowers for reminding me of what I especially love about gardening--the element of surprise!