It is a fact that my current garden is heavy on pinks, blues and purples so don’t hold your breath waiting to see lots of photos of yellow flowers! My Georgia garden started out leaning that way also until I realized that the more mid range tones were just about invisible against a beige painted brick house which stood some 150 feet off the street. Gradually the foundation beds in that garden became a riot of purples, blues, oranges and golds with a bit of white thrown in to calm everything down. As no husband of mine (to date, at least) has said, “Go ahead, honey, just take the garden down to dirt and rebuild it however it tickles your fancy.”, I have had to play the color hand I have been dealt in terms of mature flowering trees and established, healthy shrubs. I expect that is more the rule, rather than the exception, and I am fortunate to have a partner who may not totally get my vision but at least pretends to and will help execute most of my garden schemes!! Once you know what you have to work with you can then build on that palette with the addition of new shrubbery, annuals, perennials and ground covers. With each selection you add not only color but also texture and a variety of shapes to your garden. As garden areas mature and fill in you may find less need to add plant material just to cover bare places and shift your focus to adding plants whose particular blossom, foliage, scent or other characteristic really delights your soul!
The most visually pleasing gardens contain layers of plants whose characteristics complement and contrast each other. Once the upper layers–trees, large scale shrubbery–are established, remaining areas can be planted in perennials and annuals. As the perennials mature to larger clumps and drifts you may find less and less need for the seasonal exercise of “planting the annuals.” Annuals and plants treated as annuals play a very important role in mixed beds and borders. Individual perennials, by their nature, have very specific flowering periods and although some can be headed back for additional bloom flushes they often do not put out the prolonged show we all hope for. Even with thoughtful planting of a variety of perennial groupings you can hope to always have something looking great but never expect to have everything looking great all at one time! Annuals add flower power to areas where the perennial show has passed or is yet to come. Better yet, reseeding annuals add the hope of another season of plants even if not in exactly the same place you put them the year before!
We are coming up on 8 years in our current home and I am still building the layers in this garden. I have reached the point where I don’t routinely add seasonal annuals just for the gardening exercise. The first year we were here I plant 22 flats of pansies in November and untold more flats of other cool season annuals then repeated that with different selections again in April. Last November with continuing drought, a cabin in the mountains and mid 60s knees I planted only one–in the most visible area along my front walkway. I can still sleep at night.
I do plant a few interesting annuals every year. The additions are more the result of enjoying the trip to nurseries far and wide to see what’s new than they are to fill bare spots. I have learned that bare spots rarely stay that way for long. Not infrequently I have forgotten something I planted in a spot a couple of years ago and it miraculously reappears as if it knows I am thinking about putting a shovel to its resting place. Here are three annuals I am enjoying this year:
SALVIA PATENS ‘BLUE ANGEL’
Salvia patens is commonly known as Gentian sage. In truth, this salvia is a what is called in the botanical world a ‘half-hardy perennial’. Half-hardy perennials are treated as annuals in areas whose winter temperatures exceed the plant’s natural tolerance to cold air or soil. In its environment of origin, central Mexico, it grows and flowers year round. In all but our mildest central California winters it has perished in the cold. There are many cultivars of Gentian sage and according to garden resources ‘Blue Angel’ is one of the smallest in stature at just under 2′. Because my efforts at overwintering these gems have failed and I am always starting with new plants I rarely see foliage exceeding 12-16″. However, the gorgeous striking clear blue parrot beak like bloom makes treating it as an annual ok with me. The larger photo shows the fully open flower and the lower right shows the bloom just getting ready to open. This is one of the salvias that prefers moist but well draining humus enriched soil and some shade. Recently I have read that Gentian sage has an easily dug tuberous root which makes it a good candidate to pot up and spend its winter in a sunny room. I am going to try it!
AGERATUM HOUSTONIANUM ‘BLUE HORIZON’
Ageratum is summer annual so well known and loved that most people use its botanical name instead of its common name, Floss Flower. Most commonly seen are the dwarf cultivars such as ‘Blue Danube’ and ‘Blue Blazer’ which at 4-6″ high edge literally thousands of garden beds ever summer. ‘Blue Horizon’ will grow to 30″ in perfect conditions of rich, moist soil and morning sun only. These plants went in from a 6 pak in late May and are about 20″ tall to date. The powder puff flower heads are about the size of my fist. This ageratum’s tall sturdy stem makes it an excellent cut flower. The availability of these taller cultivars in my local garden centers has been sketchy at best. I am going to try a a taller white variety from seed next year–I’ll let you know how it turns out!
SALVIA COCCINEA unmarked variety but I believe it to be ‘Coral Nymph’
So I feel as though you need some relief from all the blue! This salvia is very commonly found in garden centers and big box garden departments. It is so ubiquitous that often times the grower does not even feel the need to identify it. I bought several 6 paks in May marked ‘salvia pink’. This sage is technically a perennial but is grown as an annual in all zones. As is the Gentian sage, salvia ‘coccinea’ is native to Mexico. I have had some success at these plants wintering over and they also reseed prolifically. The foliage mound remains quite low at about a foot but the flower stems rise to the sky and wave in the wind. The blooms are a magnet for every hummingbird and bee around, including the huge bumblebees we have so many of this year. Not easy to photograph a moving bee on a moving plant with an iPhone but I think you can get the idea. To get the most continuous bloom deadheading is an essential but easy task as the spent stems can be snapped off with your fingers. This sweet little ballerina of a quasi-annual is a great choice for a novice gardener–I just don’t think you can fail with her!