Purple nemesia with dress whites.

Most gardeners are familiar with annual flowers such as pansies, violas, snapdragons and petunias. Midwesterners and northern-state residents plant them in the summer—but here in the desert, they can be part of our winter mix, and hold up well in potted gardens and flower beds alike.

Beyond these old favorites, I enjoy exploring lesser-known plants and mixing them up in my container gardens. I love it when guests ask: “What’s that plant?”

Nemesia is a fascinating cool-season annual with little snapdragon-shape flowers that bloom in a wide range of colors. It does best during our desert winters—though I had a nice surprise this summer, when my nemesia continued to grow and flower throughout! It did get some afternoon shade and regular water, so I am sure that helped.

The nemesia, originally from South Africa, prefers moist, well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter. The plant can grow from 1 to 2 feet tall, but they tend to stay smaller in our heat. You will want to deadhead regularly to prolong the bloom, as is the case with most of our annual flowers. When flowers do start to decline, cut the plant back to stimulate new growth, and expect your plants’ performance to slow down as the weather heats up.

Since the nemesia has such a small flower, and its flower clusters will never fill a bed with color, I recommend using the plant in pots that are closer to areas where people sit or walk. Good locations are near a patio seating area, or close to a window you pass by frequently—and make it a location that gets six hours of sun each day.

The flowers bloom in large clusters at the top of the branching stems. There’s a wide color range, including yellow, orange, pink, red and lavender-blue. I team up the plants with strong bloomers and mix in other larger flowers at the mid-height range so the nemesia is a delicate surprise, popping out among the color.

If you only have 20 minutes in your desert potted garden this week: Deadhead your flowers. Cut back to new growth or the base of the stem.

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. E-mail her with comments and questions at potteddesert@gmail.com, and follow The Potted Desert on Facebook.