marigold was introduced to North American gardens after the Revolutionary War,
and for many gardeners, it’s been a downhill slide ever since.
get a bad rap, but marigolds and zinnias, nasturtiums and Nigella bring to our gardens and
containers a long season of color,
form and interest. Let’s look beyond the overstuffed marigolds and pansies that
have flowers so big they can’t raise their heads to fun, old-fashioned and underused
maroon-black flowers of the South African native Scabiosa atropurpurea—or one of its cultivars
such as ‘Ace of Spades’ or
‘Black’—are flecked with white. It’s a summer bloomer, but can reflower if
deadheaded. It gives the same effect as the chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus), which is an annual for
us, and worth
the money for a gallon-sized pot each year. (Or, if you plan better than I do,
two or three four-inch pots in spring.)
consider those plants annuals, but they are perennial in warmer climates.
Nowadays, that means you might get them to winter over, along with South
African pelargoniums and tender daisies including Osteospermum and Arctotis.
True annuals are those that grow, flower
and set seed all
in one year. The perfect annual for me—besides the fantasy of a nasturtium
unbothered by aphids—is one that reseeds. I can always pull out the ones I
don’t want, and the seeds always seem to do a better job than I do at picking
out the right spot to grow.
it was with the eerie green flowers of Nicotiana
langsdorfii, which I
planted once, and then saw it come up the next year in another part of the
garden. Annuals that reseed often find their own best combinations, and the
color of N. langsdorfii gives this tobacco plant the ability to
combine well with shades of purple, such as the Scabiosa
goes well, too, with another Nicotiana: N.
mutabilis, which has
delicate, pendulous flowers that open white, age to pink and then rose.
gardeners have taken to the tobacco plants. Nicotiana sylvestris
grows quickly to five feet high or more. It produces large leaves and extremely
narrow, tubular white flowers that release their perfume at night. At a garden
in Portland, I saw it used as an annual hedge, thickly lining the property
along the sidewalk.
near Philadelphia last year planted the similar (true) tobacco plant N. tabacum ‘Burly’, which
looks much like N. sylvestris, in an area called The Serpentine, and
it looked as if a river of plants was flowing through.
lovely little reseeder is the poached egg flower, also called meadow foam (Limnanthes
douglasii). This California native blooms in
spring with flowers that have yellow centers surrounded by white; the ferny
foliage stays low. By midsummer, you can pull up the plants, but be sure to
give them a shake to release the seeds. You’ll see the plants come up in fall
and overwinter in preparation for next spring’s bloom.
blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), another Western native, will seed
around, too. It comes in a deeper blue in ‘Penny Black.’
annuals you wish would reseed. Christopher Lloyd always appreciated what he
called “that happy gang of thugs” in the garden at Great Dixter. When we
visited, we were delighted to see the intense red flowers with black spots of
the ladybird poppy (Papaver
vines give the garden a vertical boost. The rambunctious cup-and-saucer vine (Cobaea scandens) is aptly named, because
flower (white is also available) is cup-shaped and its calyx looks like the
saucer. It can make quick work of covering a trellis, growing to 20 feet in a
season, when started early and planted in full sun.
cypress vine (Ipomoea
quamoclit) can grow to
20 feet, but definitely needs the warmth to do it. My mother remembers her
mother growing this annual vine with its deeply cut leaves and scarlet, tubular
flowers for quick cover—in southwestern Arkansas. We share the Zone 8 status,
but it’s oh, so much warmer there in summer.
canary bird vine (Tropaeolum
peregrinum) is a quick
grower on a smaller scale and easy to grow in our climate. This nasturtium
relative may reach 12 feet; its whiskery yellow flowers are a delicate touch to
problem with the reputation of annuals is how we use them in the garden. There
are better ways than dinking them out in thin, stretched out rows. There’s
bedding out—the practice of using masses of shockingly colorful plants in huge
swathes to make geometric patterns or swirls. It surely reached its peak in
Victorian times, and is carried on today in Victoria, B.C. I will never do it
in my garden (it would have to be miniature bedding out), but I can’t help
admire the zing it gives summer.
are exceptional mixers, and can be tucked into perennial and mixed beds. For an
ever-changing look, fill containers with a single kind of plant, and then mix
the containers around when you want a new look.
those marigolds? I go for the single varieties: little ‘Lemon Gem’ with yellow
flowers, or ‘Harlequin’, a cultivar from the early 1800s with pinwheel
to my garden this year is a different take on love-in-a-mist: Nigella hispanica
Bride’. It has white petals, a
ruffle of dark stamen and then a deep, dark purple top hat.
A slightly different take on zinnias can
be found, too:
peruviana, which is said to be mildew-resistant. It has single red flowers on
Where are you
going to find all those fabulous annuals for your garden? Often it’s easier to
find seed sources, but occasionally you may find a nursery that specializes in
unusual annuals. Check out your favorite nursery to see what specialties might
be tucked away on a table full of annuals. Try something new (or old), and it just
might become a favorite.