The Annual Debate

Webster’s definition of perennial is: present at all seasons of the year; persistent, enduring. I could only be so lucky to be considered a perennial. And, in terms of plants, it’s the reason I thumb my nose at every annual in the garden center. Why go through the expense and effort of planting annuals only to have your work die off at the end of the year. They may be suitable for filling the planters, but could hardly live up to the rigors of a real garden. As with everything, however, there are two sides of the debate.

Last fall I planted pansies by the street to add some color for winter. They thrived on the heat from the street and looked amazing through June. I loved having a bright color by the street, and decided to plant marigold seeds in their place for the summer.

June 30: I was taking a picture of this mum, but you can see the pansies in the distance at the end of the sidewalk. The marigold seeds had already germinated and are visible just beyond the pansies.

The marigolds have also thrived on the heat from the street and have exceeded my expectations. Then I realized it would be even better next spring if I added pink and purple pansies to coordinate with the tulips by the gate. In fact, maybe I’ll convert the entire area by the street to an annual display of sorts, which has put annuals in a new perspective.

I’ve come to see these annual delights as knights in shining armor who save the day before dashing off to save someone else’s garden. Perennials are the ‘steady eddies’ while annuals fill the empty spots with narrative-changing color; both seem necessary for the garden to reach its true potential.

Biannual gardening competitions in Christchurch, New Zealand depend on domestic gardeners to keep this Victorian pastime alive. Generally, not having the space (and sometimes the inclination), competition gardeners tend to eschew grand and ornate designs in favor of repeat patterns – two of one plant, five of another, two, five…

But don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity. These are works of art that have been planned across many months of poring over seed catalogues, matching colors, and using lengthy mathematical calculations to establish how many of each plant will be needed. There may be twenty or more different varieties of plants, and one garden may take thousands of individual plants, each planted exactly the predetermined distance apart as satisfied by a ruler.

So the whole debate has me thinking ahead to next year’s garden and how different things could be with a few more annuals. Not necessarily the usual annuals from the garden center. Something unusual, rare. The knight-in-shining-amor kind of annual. Turns out, there’s more rare annuals than you could throw a stick at, and a million gazillion ways to use them.

Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Black Knight’

10 Unusual Annuals

fine gardening.com

Chocolate Cosmos: among the rare flowers of the world because it no longer grows in the wild.
Halifax Public Gardens, Canada
9 Unusual Flowers for the Garden, The Spruce (click on picture for article)
Bromeliad garden in Hawaii (photo courtesy: Noel Morata Photography)

You can bet I’ll be spending this winter poring over the seed catalogues, matching colors, and re-thinking how each section of the garden could be enhanced with a few well-placed annuals; though perhaps avoiding any lengthy mathematical calculations…..

Happy Gardening.

Before there were Chia Pets, there were the much larger Mud Maid and Giant’s Head of Heligan; Cornwall, England. Popular Mechanics

3 thoughts on “The Annual Debate

  1. I like that ‘black knight’! What fun you’ll have this winter. My dad was like you…but with his vegetables. He had a green thumb that I did not inherit (ie. he had a LOVE. for gardening..that’s the key)…and you do as well. Love + enjoyment of beauty plus hard work on your part. You’re following in your grandparents footsteps, Adam & Eve whose job it was to tend the garden with care and love.

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  2. The flowers of perennials are so fleeting, lasting only two or three weeks and making an ever-changing garden view. The annuals come on and endure all summer. I definitely need both and plant about 2,000 in my gardens each year, along with another 2,000 veg plants in the potager!

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    1. WOW! What an inspiration. I’ve just finished planting my back garden last year and this year missed the excitement of new plants. I’m thinking the annuals will bring back the fun of, “Oh my, where to put this or that.” 🙂 and, as you say, with the added bonus that something would actually be blooming now at the end of summer.

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