Thursday, April 8, 2010

Confessions of an Annual Snob: Seven Killer Annuals Even I Love

My confession: I was an annual snob. For years I was too good for them. Leave those overly happy, Home Depot specials for the non-gardeners. Real gardeners use perennials or grasses.

But this year, I am softening. My recent interest in propagating my own plants has led me to discover a new side to those short-lived, ever-blooming plants. Perennials can be tough to start from seed, but annuals are easy. After many half-successes with perennials, I was ready for something that didn’t require six weeks of cold stratification in my refrigerator, or wait two seasons to bloom. Browsing seed catalogues, I discovered a handful of annuals—many of them heirlooms—that mix beautifully with the perennial border.

Perennial gardeners know how hard it is to get a really intense spectacle out of perennials. They bloom for such a short time. Consider adding a few of these annuals to jazz up your permanent garden.

Annuals to Interplant with Perennials and Grasses:

1. Zinnia Benary Giant Series, Zinnia: These are not your grandmother’s Zinnias. This new line of Zinnias have some of the highest quality blooms of any Zinnias I’ve seen. They seem to handle the heat better than other varieties I’ve used. The best part is the range of colors. This year, I’m mixing ‘Benary Giant Wine’ with Lavander and pink roses. ‘Giant Lime’ is another great pick that could mix well with your blue and purple perennials. The blooms are massive.

2. Emilia javanica, Lady’s Paint Brush: If you’re into the natural look like me, this plant will steal your heart. Tiny fire-colored blooms top the ends of long, grassy stems. This plant could mix well almost any low grass (Pennisetum, Sesleria, Schizachyrium, Nasella) or perennial. This year, I’m mixing it with Nasella tenuissima for a fiery effect.

3. Verbena bonariensis, Vervain: Pick up any garden magazine in the last year, and you’re almost sure to see this Verbena in it. Purple flower bunches sit on top of leggy stems, making a great plant to mix in between already established plants. Butterflies love it, and the color mixes with almost anything. Use in the middle or back of your border, as it can get up to four feet tall. If you’re lucky, it may reseed.

4. Papaver rupifragum ‘Double Tangerine Gem’, Tangerine Poppy: Did I say annual? Ok, so I’m throwing one perennial in this mix because it can be grown from seed so easily and sets flower the first year. The color on this hardy poppy is unbelievable. If you’re one of those gardeners who is hesitant about using the color orange, then this is your gateway plant to tangerine nirvana. Mix in the front of the border with grasses, salvias, or nepetas.

5. Centaurea cyanus, Cornflower: You’ve probably seen this ubiquitous wildflower happily blooming on the side of the road. It’s the quintessential annual meadow flower. Despite its ubiquity, it is rarely used in gardens. It is one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed, and mixes with almost anything. Great for the natural garden. This year, I’m mixing Centaurea ‘Black Ball’ with Briza media. Because black is the new black.

Two Annuals to that Will Carry Your Perennial Border

6. Salvia leucantha, Mexican Sage Bush: If you live in Southern California, Mexican Sage Bush is a work horse perennial. But for gardeners north of Zone 8, this annual will make your border. Growing 24-48” tall and wide, this salvia blooms all summer long. Pollinators love it.

7. Leonotis leonurus, Wild Dagga: Walking through the U.S. Botanical Garden last October, I was blown away by this spectacular plant. Growing four to five feet tall and wide, this South African annual was literally covered in orange monarda-like blooms. Pollinators really go crazy for this member of the Lamiaceae family. The plant is sold on the internet as a marijuana alternative (smoking the flowers creates a feeling of euphoria), but the flowers are intoxicating enough for me. Combine with Salvia leucantha for a truly spectacular early autumn display.

1 comment:

  1. Big fan of the verbena. Goldfinches love it. It is amazing how they cling to the thin stem to get at the seeds.


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