More plants are available each year for people with small spaces who want fast results, have no time to deadhead, and are delighted by eye-catching riots of colour.
All are worth watching for this spring at your local garden centre or starting from seed at home.
For instance, many perennials that normally bloom in their second year now include varieties especially bred to bloom in their first year (if you start the seed early).
That includes 2013 AAS winner, South Pacific, a red canna lily said to bloom 12 weeks from seed-planting. It will germinate quickly if you give it hot temperatures.
South Pacific is described as having six or seven stems per plant and capable of withstanding light frosts.
Another AAS winner that flowers in its first year is the echinacea Cheyenne Spirit. It fits nicely into several other trends: it’s available from seed as a mix, it’s self-cleaning so that no deadheading is required, and it’s also drought-resistant.
Freedom from deadheading is being bred into more plants. That isn’t always because spent flowers drop off. In the intensely orange African marigold Windsong, new foliage grows up and over, hiding the spent flowers. Celosia, in the Looks series, has the same habit.
Yet another trend is to breed contrasting stripes, splashes, and flecks into petals which in earlier times were available only in solid colours.
Meanwhile, where solid colours remain, flowers are often much larger and/or brighter than in the older varieties.
Even more interesting is the tendency for flowers to change into different colours on the same plant, as they age.
The 2013 AAS winner Pinto Premium geranium produces bright white young flowers, which morph through pink to rose flowers as time passes.
Then there’s the sweet pea odoratus Blue Shift with flowers that open purple but gradually become a deep, dark blue.
Following a similar trend is the Verbena x hybrida Lanai Twister – it displays three flower colours in the same plant. The florets in the centre of each cluster are red, but the outer florets are white with pink edges.
Another welcome change for container gardeners is the arrival of Cool Wave pansies, which are said to be hardy down to -28ºC (-20ºF) and exceptionally fast-spreading, even through the coolest fall weather. Cool Wave can also be grown as ground cover in flower beds, but are quite spectacular flowing down the sides of a container.
Generally, container gardeners have never had so many varieties that will welcome a home in small spaces.
Not all have to be flowers. The Fireworks ornamental pepper grows 45 to 60 centimetres (16-24 inches) tall and produces slim, pointed peppers in cream, red, purple, and orange. They are not edible.
Then there is the Florian F1 hybrid strawberry, which first displays masses of pale pink flowers that become reasonably sized, delicious fruits. It is excellent for containers, since some of the fruits hang from its runners as well as from the main plant.
A new rose that combines several trends is the dwarf seed-grown rose Garden Party which is said to grow just 25cm (10 inches) tall. It’s a multi-flora rose that can produce pink, rose, or white blooms. Garden Party will flower in its first year if you plant the seeds from January to March.