Blue. Deep, rich, true denim blue. It's THE coveted color among gardeners the world over. Folks will fuss over the blue Himalayan poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia), which survives in only a sliver of the world's surface area (rejoice, Seattleites!), or they round-up regarding any number of purple-blue flowers that they (or an offending seed catalog) call blue. Here's an easy solution to the blues, or rather, not having them. Grow some "desert bluebells", Phacelia campanularia. I'm attaching a picture of a single plant from my garden this weekend, and I tossed good old Wilson the tennis ball to show relative size. You can see this isn't some tiny-flowered lobelia. The blooms are large and blue. Eat your heart out delphinium.
In mild-winter areas like here, you can scatter seed around your garden or containers any time from early through very late autumn. The seeds will sprout in the cool (okay, cool for here) weather, and grow slowly through the short days of winter and early spring, to burst into Denim Blue flowers in spring and early summer. Two nice things about desert bluebells: first, their foliage isn't half bad to look at before the plants bloom, and second, if you let a few plants set seed in your garden, you'll never have to plant them again. Live in a cold winter area? Plant the seed a week or two before your last frost date, harvest it when it's ripe, and re-plant the following spring.
In my small garden, I let them pop up anywhere they want in the back garden. Usually they appear at the feet of cacti and aloes where a little extra water gets channeled by nature, or by me, but sometimes they pop up in open areas too. The key is to recognize the seedlings (tiny oval leaves of amber with occasional chocolate flecks), and to give them an occasional drink now and then. After a season or two you'll learn how to identify the seedlings (especially when some dreadful weed that you *thought* was desert bluebells blooms right before some gardening friends come over for a visit and ask why you're cultivating henbane).
The classic combination of blue desert bluebells and orange-yellow california poppies (Eschscholtzia californica) is extremely popular here, and no matter how often you see it, it just cannot become a cliche as the colors look great together, the plants need the same general care, and they follow the same general schedule too.
So, desert bluebells are the perfect spring annual flower, right? Well, almost. No plant (or gardener) is perfect, and like almost everything, there is one, minor aesthetic downside: to get more seed, you have to let the plants go to seed. No big deal, you say? You're right, if you're only growing one or two, but if you're growing a lot of this wonderful plant, be prepared for each plant to turn into a bristly pile of brittle, brown twigs before it drops its seed. Yup, patience is a virtue, and so is having an HOA (homeowner's association) that understands wildflowers. Otherwise, grow them in your back garden only, or prepare yourself for a nasty note from your HOA when your bluebells suddenly turn brown and go to seed.
In the back garden, it's a minor issue: the plants look great before, during, and immediately after blooming, and as soon as some of the seed pods pop open, I start ripping them out, crushing open any brown or almost-brown seed pods. The seeds will sit out the long, hot summer, and re-sprout in the warm-not-hot days of autumn, reminding us that the long, warm and gentle autumn through spring gardening season is upon us again, as a gentle reminder of why we love gardening here.
Give them a try and let me know what you think. Happy gardening! Grant