Sunday, March 8, 2009

Diary May 2006 - Annuals

In my days as a garden designer, customers often asked for all-season colour. They said they wanted colour from spring till fall and they wanted perennials only, so they wouldn’t have to buy flowers annually. In fact they said they didn’t like annuals.
Well this is actually a pretty tall order to fill! First of all, perennials, for all their reliability of returning year after year, usually bloom maximum 2-3 weeks and then revert to foliage the rest of the time. Many books and magazine articles give ideas on how to have 3 season colour, but sometimes circumstances such as hot dry summers (which we’ve had lately) force the late-bloomers to bloom early and by mid-summer, the garden looks a bit sparse and empty!
This is why it’s important to use annuals as fillers for the garden. There are hundreds of annuals to choose from but surprisingly, the ones that many people think are boring and mundane - impatiens, geraniums and petunias - are unbelievably reliable!! Please check my Favourites link to see a full list of my favourite annuals. Many of them can handle both sun and/or shade, many are drought-tolerant and most flower from the moment you plant them in May to the day in November when you yank them out.
These days, annuals are available at nurseries, farms, road-side stands and grocery stores. Annuals can also be started from seed. I have had an amateur’s luck growing some plants from seed. I’m a bit lazy when it comes to doing this – I don’t sterilize pots, I don’t do many of the small jobs that would keep seedlings healthy, but despite errors and neglect, I found the following sprouted easily from seed and did well when planted outside: Snapdragons (Antirrhinum), Swan River Daisy (Brachycome), Candytuft (Iberis), Cosmos, Morning Glory, Flowering Cabbage and Kale, Lupin, Love in a Mist(Nigella), Marigolds, Nasturtium, Nicotiana, Painted Tongue (Salpiglossis), Scabiosa and Tomatoes!

Some of the newer annuals to crop up in the last few years are worth a try: California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) in shades of pale and dark pink; new hybrid Dianthus that produce double, lightly scented lacy flowers; Osteospermum (African daisies); Supertunia Petunias and double impatiens. Try ones you’ve never tried before: Gazanias, Calendulas, Daturas, Larkspur, Dahlias and Nemesia.

Decide on a general colour scheme or specific colours for certain areas. Always, always match the plants to their surroundings. If you are planting close to the house and your house has warm brown or gold coloured brick, mortar, siding or paint, go with warm plant colours – yellow, orange, gold, cream or beige. If you plant cool-coloured pinks, mauves, lilacs and blues, they will clash! Remember – warm with warm and cool with cool.
Another good rule to remember is to plant in “drifts”: plant all your dark purple petunias together, then a big groups of pale pink geraniums, then a lovely section of white geraniums. Don’t plant one petunia, one geranium, etc. It’s hard for the eye to focus if the colour is scattered.
Another of my other personal pet peeves is the candy-cane effect: I’ve seen people plant clumps of begonias up the side of a driveway in a long strip: red, white, red, white, red, white. Ugh.
Imagine each section of the garden as a “photo-op”: would it look nice if you took a picture? Combining annuals with perennials, shrubs, evergreens and grasses is the best way to having an eye-catching garden and a long season of colour.

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