Cultivating a Culture of Gardening™

Friday, November 13, 2009




Gardening is a long road, with many detours and way stations, and here we all are at one point or another. It's not a question of superior or inferior taste, merely a question of which detour we are on at the moment. Getting there (as they say) is not important; the wandering about in the wilderness or in the olive groves or in the bayous is the whole point.” Henry Mitchell - Gardening Is a Long Road, 1998.

I love to read Henry Mitchell, how he reminds me that the products of my flower gardens are not alone what brings me satisfaction. There is mystery and intrigue along the way, elation and deep disappointment, character revealed and hopefully character developed. Then there are the lessons learned that some flowers along the way are simply over hyped hussies who shout at you from the nursery shelves and garden advertisements, but have very little to offer. Meanwhile, the hesitant, scrawny plants rescued from the bargain rack prove they are tough and resilient, and remind me that I always have more to learn from my ever changing garden beds.

There are a few of these resilient toughies that deserve careful consideration for those who find themselves low on time and conscious of frequent water restrictions. While some avid garden folk look piously down on annual flowers, these eight summer annuals have proven to be stalwarts of my flower beds. Annuals are the variety of interesting characters that gardeners can meet along our laborious horticultural road. These plants enhance the beauty of existing perennials and carry the bed with consistent color from spring until frost. Like a complementing harmony, the perennials only accentuate the melody of this annual color.

When I first saw Cuphea “Flamenco Samba” in a big box store, I turned to my co-worker and said, “We’re buying every one of these.” She looked at me like I’d just suggested we buy soil from Chernobyl. The plants were tall and spindly with barely a bloom on them. Fortunately I had seen the Cuphea Flamenco series and Cuphea “Totally Tempted” at several trial gardens the year before and knew that they were simply an ugly duckling waiting to become a swan. Once put into the ground and given a few weeks to get established, this Cuphea withstood the harshest of conditions and never slowed down in its prolific blooming until our first freeze in October. This Cuphea is a great mid-layer for your garden, though I’ve used it also to fill any entire annual bed for impact. These thrive best in hot, blazing sun.

Mention that you have a lot of Scaevola or Setcreasea to the wrong crowd and you’ll have a lot people quickly backing away from you. What sound like horrid diseases are actually two notable components of many annual beds. Scaevola aemula “Whirlwind Blue” and Scaevola hybrid “New Wonder” are prolific bloomers that crave the sunlight and heat of our Tennessee summers. “New Wonder” is great for the front of borders or trailing down a slope while “Whirlwind” has a bushier habit. Setcreasea offers the desirable purple that works so well to offset brighter colors. Purple plants are one of your blending tones to unite a variety of colors. I’ve put Setcreasea in non-irrigated beds and seen it press on through days of heave wave. No deadheading needed, but you may want to trim it back if you didn’t believe me when I call them vigorous!

No matter what your political persuasion, you’ll want to become friends with the Bidens. Bidens ferulifolia “Peter’s Gold Carpet” and “ Solaire” are two of several great Bidens varieties that offer carefree bright golden color. With strong wiry stems and light finely cut foliage, this flower is an excellent companion plant to your heavy-headed plants like lantana, geranium, or petunias. Little sunburst of yellow pop out consistently from spring until frost, paying little attention to dry hot days.

Angelonia angustifolia is slowly making its way into the annuals’ circle of superstars. Different series such as the “Angelmist”, “Carita” and “Angelface” series offer a variety of height options for placement in your garden. With a name that sounds sweet and delicate, these belie the connotations of being fragile. Angelonia is another heat and sun lover that continue upright even after those desirable afternoon downpours. Because it is self-cleaning, this flower is a great choice for the center or back of a bed that may be difficult to reach once all the surrounding flowers have filled in.

I would be amiss to leave out my new favorite white annual, Euphorbia “Diamond Frost”. When I’ve seen these in the stores, they usually are not making a good first impression. But planted in either the ground or a container, the more I ignored this plant, the prettier it looked. Planted in mass, the effect is one of a soft fluffy cloud. This plant has the similar characteristic of the Bidens with delicate looking but strong stems that work their way through heavier companion plants. Mix this with the equally heat and drought tolerant Plectranthus coleoides or hybrids for a cooler, soft look.

When you need a taller, upright annual that’s a real attention getter, go for Rudbeckia “Indian Summer”. This beauty will bloom their heads off (literally) all summer long, providing bright golden color with minimal upkeep. This is not your grandmother’s Rudbeckia!

As with most annual flowers, these varieties are all heavy feeders. A consistent feeding using both a slow release fertilizer and monthly liquid fertilizer keep these plants vigorous throughout the summer. Products with an NPK that are formulated in 1:2:1 ratio work best for summer annuals. Some products that I use on a regular basis are Miracle-Gro “Bloombooster”, “Colorburst” granular plant food, Espoma “Flowertone”, and Monty’s Joy Juice. Caring for these summer flowers are part of our gardening journey, but it’s always nice to have those plants that call for fewer detours and let us enjoy the way a little more leisurely.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home