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Pick a daisy that's right for you

Daisies at the flower show, daisies at the farmers' market, daisies in bouquets, and daisies for the garden. Which ones are you seeing, and which do you want?

As I stood near some Gerbera daisies at Plantasia, the recent garden and landscape show, I heard the comments: "Oh, I can't grow them." "Oh, daisies spread so much." Or, "are these the ones that go outside? Wow, they look like silk!"

And I realized that many of you want to know more about the flower species we call "daisies."

>Annuals, tender perennials

* Arctotis and Gazania: These South African daisies, with many hybrids, come in many colors, several with black centers. We grow them as long-blooming annuals; some tend to close slightly during the afternoon.

* Argyranthemum (marguerite daisy): It might be a little confusing to longtime gardeners because marguerites used to be part of the Chrysanthemum family. Then they were classified as Argyranthemums. And then, in the last decade, dozens of cultivars popped up as Argyranthemums. Use the floriferous pastel beauties as cool-weather annuals (fade out in the heat of summer but then come back); one popular cultivar is the "Butterfly" series.

* Brachycome (Swan River daisies): Named for an Australian river, these used to be an unexciting garden annual with small lilac flowers (a good one for providing nectar for beneficial insects at least). The new hybrids are more vigorous, with lots of 1-inch flowers; can go right through the heat of summer. If they get lanky, just shear back.

* Gerbera (Gerber daisies), also called Cobbity or Transvaal daisy: While there are many species, one from South Africa (G. jamesonii) is the one with the cultivars you may have seen at the flower show. They look like silk and have 2- to 4-inch flower heads in luscious colors. Some with longer stems are good for cutting, but the shorter ones are fabulous in the garden (except in wet summers or poor drainage.)

Big news: Wait until you see the new Gerbera Giant Spineers, first available this year, with amazing 4-inch flowers with dazzling patterns and colors!

* Osteospermum (Cape daisy, South African daisy): Great in spring baskets and late summer containers; some cease flowering in summer heat, but they are well worth using.

>Perennial daisies

You might run into a Nippon daisy (also called Montauk) -- a lovely, bushy white daisy with green centers and dark green foliage. But mostly you will be choosing among Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum X superbum).

Now hear this: The straggly but beloved field daisies or the floppy ones that took over your old garden beds are NOT the same as today's shastas. Here are just a few great daisies that are heat tolerant, sturdy and tough. Just give them sun: Alaska, Becky, Crazy Daisy, Little Miss Muffet, Snowcap, Sunny Side Up and surely more to come.

Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.

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