American idols

These seed-grown flowers perform well in Western gardens

Each year, the All-America Selections program identifies praiseworthy seed-grown flowers and vegetables. Among the 2004 AAS winners we tried last summer in the Sunset gardens, two stood out, flourishing in full sun.

Alcea rosea 'Queeny Purple'. This dwarf hollyhock grows only 2 to 3 feet tall, making it suitable for containers or small gardens. Started indoors from seed in February or March, the plant blooms abundantly its first season. The 3- to 4-inch-wide double blossoms have frilly edges and puffy pincushion centers.

Celosia plumosa 'Fresh Look Red' and 'Fresh Look Yellow'. Talk about long bloom: This sultry pair flaunted its vibrant flower plumes from early summer to mid-October. Reaching 18 to 24 inches tall, the plants need no deadheading. The soft, feathery plumes can be cut for fresh bouquets or dried for everlasting arrangements. Avoid overhead water.

Look for seedlings of these plants in garden centers this spring, or order seeds now from Nichols Garden Nursery ( www.nicholsgardennursery.com or 800/422-3985) or Park Seed ( www.parkseed.com or 800/213-0076).

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