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Snapdragons create a fun opportunity

John Zvirovski / The Sun Carpet snapdragons make a great border planting along the edge of a Jamestown garden.

The other day I overheard a comment made by an individual who received a flower arrangement. The individual stated that flowers were “fun.” I assumed the individual meant that flowers were beautiful with their bright mix of colors. Or it could have been that flowers made the individual feel good inside and smile. I couldn’t imagine that the flowers themselves were actually “fun.” With today’s terminology, it is hard to decipher what people really mean when they speak. In fact, when I started to think about it, the only “fun” flower that I can recall would be the snapdragon.

Snapdragon flowers have been in people’s gardens for years and years. I like to call them an heirloom plant. I am sure most people reading this column are fully aware of what they are and how they look. The flowers themselves are fun for children and adults alike. They truly resemble a dragon’s face with a working mouth. If you look really close at the flowers, you can almost make out two yellow spots near the opening that look like teeth. Just gently squeeze the sides of the flower and watch the “mouth” of the flower open up. Let go and it snaps back to its original position. Now, that is what I call a fun flower.

Snapdragons are a great annual to add to any garden. With the numerous varieties around, they will range in height — from 6 inches to nearly 4 feet. The colors come in red, burgundy, yellow, white, pink, purple, orange, copper and even some bi-colors. Snapdragons prefer a location that receives sunlight with well-drained soil for optimum growth. They are relatively easy to grow by directly seeding them in the ground in late spring. You can also transplant them from a nursery or from ones you have started early inside your own home.

We typically see three main types sold in our local nurseries as plants and as seeds.

The first variety is the dwarf type of snapdragons. These ones usually grow 8 to 12 inches in height and are covered with small stems of flowers. They are great for borders and edges or in mass plantings. The “royal carpet” and “little darling” mix are the most common of the dwarf species.

The next variety is a medium-sized plant that grows from 18 to 24 inches in height. They are great in the foreground of taller plants, but unlike the dwarf snapdragons, these produce tall, vertical flower stems. These are the types most people seem to buy in the market. They fall under the names of “liberty” or “la Bella” mix. The “la Bella” variety usually contains the pastel flowers whereas the “liberty” colors are more bold.

The last common variety is the one known as the “rocket” mix. They can grow up to 4 feet in height and are truly the most “fun” of the flowers in which to play. They produce large stems — some of which may require staking in windy locations — with up to 40 large flowers per stem. They are perfect for background plantings and really stand out with their tight, vertical form.

Another form that is not as common as the previously mentioned ones are the trailing snapdragons. They can hang anywhere from 24 to 60 inches in a container. I have found them under the name of “lampion.” Give them a try and see what you think sometime.

All snapdragons should have their faded bloom stems removed to encourage more flower stems to grow for a continuous bloom. No garden is complete without these wonderful flowers present.

At this very moment I just want to run out into the garden and squeeze a few snapdragons to bring a quick smile to my face. This is truly my definition of a “fun” flower.

Please be aware that all parts of this plant, including the flowers and seeds, are toxic if ingested. I hope this doesn’t take the fun out of the flower, but some supervision should be present when allowing children to marvel at these incredible garden wonders. Like they say, it’s fun until somebody gets hurt. With gardening, it should always remain fun and exciting. Until next week, happy snapping.