10 Flowers That Give You Bang for Your Buck

Want a showy garden but on a budget? Check out these impressive and inexpensive blooms.
By: Karin Beuerlein
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Photo By: Photo by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image courtesy of Johnny's Selected Seeds.

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Photo By: Image courtesy of Burpee

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This classic cutting-garden annual comes in shapes and sizes that most people have never even tried. Growing from seed will allow you to experiment with more than the usual suspects you see in garden centers: there are the brainy-looking “crested” celosia shown above (C. argentea cristata), soft plumed varieties (C. argentea plumosa), and fluffy arrow-shaped types (C. argentea spicata). All are superb for adding texture in the border or the vase.

Castor Bean

This exotic stunner will attract attention in a sunny border, growing rapidly over a single season into a ten-foot-high behemoth. You can use the dried seed pods in flower arrangements, but handle them carefully, as the seeds are the source of the poison ricin; if you have kids or pets, it’s best to cut off the fuzzy pink flowers before they go to seed.

Amaranth/Love Lies Bleeding

Amaranth tops the list of ten beauties selected by Hillary Alger of Johnny’s Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com) that provide major returns for minor investment. All are widely available from garden centers, but you can also grow them from seed for pennies. Amaranth’s unique bloom shape is an exciting contrast to typical border flowers and makes a lovely filler for flower arrangements. Some varieties, like those shown, have pendulous blooms; others have spiky upright shapes.

Hyacinth Bean

Let this vine twirl its way up a fence or trellis and impress you with its fragrant, delicately colored blossoms, wine-tinted foliage and eye-catching purple seed pods. The blooms stay lovely when cut and are also edible. You can eat the beans as well, but boil them twice first because they contain toxins that need to be broken down; otherwise, dry the pods and add them to your next flower arrangement.

Monarda/Bee Balm

If you have a big space to fill, monarda will rise to the occasion. In most gardens, it spreads vigorously but not aggressively, making a towering clump of spiky crimson blooms that draw hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Chances are, you’ll be attracted to the fresh, minty scent as well — you can make a brightly flavored tea from the flowers and leaves.

Branching Sunflower

Sunflowers are the definition of showy, and there are so many interesting varieties available from seed that it’s a shame not to have at least one in your border. As a bonus, branching varieties produce lots of extra blooms for your tabletop. Hillary Alger of Johnny’s Selected Seeds likes to grow a mix of branching sunflowers together: ‘Strawberry Blonde,’ pictured above, ‘Holiday,’ ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Buttercream’ make a tasty palette.


Hillary Alger of Johnny’s Selected Seeds says zinnias are a “must-have” flower, easy to grow and impossibly cheerful. Sow an empty border with a tall zinnia seed mix such as ‘Benary’s Giant’ or ‘Giant Dahlia’ after the last frost in spring, and come July you’ll be blown away by a four-foot-tall rainbow of color that blooms its brains out. For a more compact but equally eye-opening effect, try the Profusion series.

Morning Glory

You may be wary of growing morning glories because the family is host to some thuggy plants — but the annual ‘Heavenly Blue’ (Ipomoea tricolor) isn’t one of them. Tip: Always check your state’s invasive species list to be sure. This well-behaved climber is a graceful way to garden vertically — give it a support to climb on and it will reward you with a sea of dreamy blue blooms. But don’t fertilize, or you’ll get more foliage than flowers.

Trailing Nasturtium

As the garden saying goes, your containers need a thriller (the dramatic focal plant), a filler (for texture), and a spiller (something lovely to cascade over the edges). If you’re looking for drama, trailing nasturtium is a spiller that might just steal the scene — it glows red, orange, rose, and yellow over healthy green foliage all season long. Plus it tastes nice and peppery on a salad.

Scarlet Runner Bean

This is another fast-growing vine that provides effective screening while attracting hummingbirds with its intense scarlet blooms. Edible flowers and tasty bean pods help it pay the rent — you can eat the pods fresh when they’re young or as shelling beans when they mature.

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