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forgotFOR SOME CRAZY REASON, this Roy Lichtenstein parody (once a popular T- shirt), right, popped into my head the other evening when I saw the vivid bed of annuals at LongHouse Reserve, Jack Lenor Larsen’s extraordinary East Hampton sculpture garden.

The explosion of color, designed by Dennis Schrader, owner of a North Fork nursery and co-author of Hot Plants for Cool Climates: Gardening with Tropical Plants in Temperate Zones (Timber Press), is made up entirely of plants that were seeds a few short months ago (or tubers in the case of the banana-leaf-like cannas), and will be compost (or dug up and stored away) by November.

So if right about now you’re saying, “I can’t believe I forgot to plant a garden,” take heart. You can have a midsummer floral fantasia with cannas, coleus, verbena, and other hot-colored annuals in three months — by next July, anyway, provided you start in April. In fact, with annuals on sale now, you can have one instantaneously.

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I also enjoyed the creative entries in LongHouse’s yearly container competition, below.

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Fish-shaped containers set in shells and blue glass…

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A mannequin as planter…

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Simple ferns and ivy in a hollowed-out tree stump…

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An abundance of succulents crammed into one pot.

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THIS FROM Fine Gardening magazine’s website…I’m going to Montauk to eat lobster. Happy 4th, everyone.

Q: I just moved into a house built in 1740 and was hoping to put in some annual and perennial beds that reflect that era. Could you recommend some historical plants that would fit with the character of the house? 

A: Dr. Denise Adams, a landscape historian and horticulturist in Dillwyn, Virginia, responds: A 1740s garden in Connecticut would have emphasized plants of a utilitarian nature, as opposed to strictly ornamental flowers. Herbs with decorative flowers or foliage performed both functions, such as chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), valerian (Valeriana officinalis), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus), and thyme (Thymus vulgaris).

Discussing the vagaries of New England weather 80 years earlier, John Josselyn reported that “lavender is not for the climate.” Roses were also grown. Some very early varieties include the sweetbrier rose (Rosa eglanteria), Rosa ‘York and Lancaster’, and the Four Seasons rose (Rosa ‘Quatre Saisons’).

Among perennials and annuals for mid-18th-century New England gardens, you might use single hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), money plant or honesty (Lunaria annua), gillyflowers or pinks (Dianthus plumarius), double balsam (Impatiens balsamina), native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), gasplant (Dictamnus albus), fleur-de-lis (Iris pseudacorus), sweet iris (Iris pallida), Maltese cross (Lychnis chalcedonica), white lily (Lilium candidum), and lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis).

For spring beauty, American colonists relied on bulbs, as we do today. Eighteenth-century selections include the diminutive hoop-petticoat daffodil (Narcissus bulbocodium), poet’s narcissus (N. poeticus), Van Sion daffodil (N. ‘Van Sion’), “muscary” or grape hyacinth (Muscari botryoides), crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis), and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis).

~ SOURCES FOR ANTIQUE PLANTS ~

Old House Gardens – Heirloom Bulbs
536 Third St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
734-995-1486
www.oldhousegardens.com

The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants
PO Box 316
Charlottesville, VA 22902-0316
804-984-9821
www.monticellocatalog.org

Perennial Pleasures Nursery
PO Box 147
63 Brickhouse Rd.
East Hardwick, VT 05836
802-472-5104
www.perennialpleasures.net

Select Seeds – Antique Flowers
180 Stickney Hill Rd.
Union, CT 06076-4617
860-684-9310
www.selectseeds.com

Pickering Nurseries, Inc.
670 Kingston Rd.
Pickering, Ontario, Canada L1V 1A6
905-839-2111
www.pickeringnurseries.com

Illlustration: Jennifer Blume

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After a week

ABOUT A WEEK AGO, I PLANTED UP the two boxes attached to the front windows of my garden-level apartment in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and I’m pleased with how they turned out.

I had planned to shop a local plant sale, but couldn’t wait: I ended up going to Lowe’s “just to see” what they had, and buying everything I needed there, a monochrome mix (white flowers only) of perennials and annuals.

The centerpiece of each box is a plant I’d never seen before: Juncus effusus or ‘Big Twister Rush,’ a perennial ornamental grass with some straight shoots and some corkscrew ones. They’re real eye-catchers. Here’s what else is in each box:

  • Variegated hostas (‘Minuteman’ in one, ‘Wide Brim” in the other)
  • Chartreuse Sedum ‘Angelina,’ for textural variation
  • Pansies – white with a touch of purple
  • Bacopa, with tiny white flowers which will trail
  • Variegated vinca, another trailing vine

That’s it, except for stuffing a white impatiens into one corner that looked empty. The pansies will last until July or so (they’re cool-season annuals), and then I’ll replace them with something else. I re-used the old potting soil that was in the boxes, topped up with some fresh, and mulched everything after planting to keep things moist. They’ll need daily watering when it gets hot, and I admit to using a weak solution of Miracle-Gro in my city containers.

Cost of each box: about $25.

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Upon first planting

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THAT IS THE QUESTION uppermost in my landscaping mind right now. Last year my thinking was anti-lawn, pro-groundcover and other plantings. I’ve tried to minimize turfgrass up to now (I don’t own a mower, or want to), but found that, in many cases, sprinkling grass seed was the cheapest, quickest way to get green. But now, the second of two garden-professional friends (one a writer/editor, one a designer) has nixed the notion of an island bed in the middle of the yard. They’re both in favor of a continuous greensward with plantings around it.

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A wider view of the yard as it looked in mid-April. The existing free-form island bed is an accidental central feature. The other brownish areas are where I’ve sprinkled wood chips to hold weeds down while I decide what else to do.

True, the existing island bed has virtually nothing growing in it at the moment. The spot is not as sunny as I originally thought and I haven’t focused on planting there. And design-wise, it never did make much sense. The free-form island bed in the center of my ‘shy’ half-acre is there only because previous occupants of my house, a cottage in Springs, Long Island, which I bought in May ’09, had created a huge compost heap in the middle of the yard for reasons known only to themselves.

That first fall, it seemed easier to re-shape it and re-conceive it as a flower bed than to move it entirely. The raised bed also served the purpose of concealing a concrete octagon about 3 feet wide — the cap over my septic tank — which is several inches above ground level.

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This concrete octagon, which covers the opening to the septic tank, is now buried under a few inches of soil in the existing island bed.

My garden-designer friend suggested re-grading the property, so that the level of the entire lawn would match the level of the septic tank cover, which as it stands is not a desirable design feature. That would involve a truck with some cubic yards of topsoil, men with rakes and perhaps power tools, a proper re-seeding of the area, and money. It’s not a bad solution; I just wasn’t thinking of doing any significant earth-moving back there this season.

Then my neighbor from across the road, who has lived in this arty, woodsy hamlet full-time for 30+ years, came by and, as we sipped tea on the back deck, gave me her take on the re-grading idea. “That’s very south of the highway,” she said, the big, high-maintenance lawn being a feature of prime Hamptons real estate, which this is not.

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I told her I had realized I could shovel and/or rake out the soil in the existing bed and deposit it along the western property line, above, an open, sunny area in which nothing is presently growing except some mullein, below. I could plant herbs there, and flowers (deer-resistant, of course). Maybe even tomatoes. But that leaves the problem of the concrete cap.

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Perhaps the cap could be re-set to sit on level with the present lawn? If not, said my across-the-road, neighbor, how about using it as a pedestal for a birdbath, or a tub of annuals. That, she pointed out, would be “very Springs.”

Thoughts?

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TIME FOR A MID-SEASON APPRAISAL of annuals.

Some are disappointing. I won’t show pictures of them. You don’t need to see ‘Durango’ yellow marigolds that for some mysterious reason are not thriving, despite sun and even some Miracle-Gro, or common ‘Hawaii Blue’ ageratum turning all brown at the centers (why?).

In other years, I might not bother much with annuals, but because this is my first season gardening here in East Hampton, and my perennials are still babies, I wanted some additional spots of color. And of course, I always do annuals in containers.

There are quite a few successful, satisfying plants, both in the beds and in pots. The winners are pictured here.

To all a happy 4th!

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‘Bada Boom’ white begonias, ‘New Look’ dusty miller, and caladiums, thriving in shade.

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Chartreuse coleus? Can’t find the label, but its color really pops in the beds.

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Celosia ‘Fresh Look’ – my favorite new annual. I may never go without its bushy gold plumes again.

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‘Sweet Caroline’ green/yellow Ipomoea batatas — a type of sweet potato vine. More commonly used in hanging baskets, but I’ve planted it in a bed near the front door.

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Dark rose ‘Angel Mist’ angelonia, caladium tubers, dusty miller, and a supermarket oxalis left over from St. Patricks Day, flowering white in a pot on my front deck.

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