This year the big fashion in landscape design is color, color and more color. Maybe everyone’s tired of the dull dreariness of the recession. Maybe there is just a really good selection of colorful hybrid flowers appearing from the breeders. It doesn’t matter. What matters is how you can add color to make your garden pop.
Annual flowers grow from seed, bloom and set new seed all in one season before dying. Perennial flowers grow, bloom, set seed, and rest before coming back for successive years. Because annual flowers do not have to save energy to grow year after year, you will usually get more flowering from annuals than perennials. Unlike perennials, annuals will have to be replaced on a regular basis once they finish flowering. But that means you can keep changing out your spent flowers with exciting new annual plants.
This makes annual flowers perfect for addling big splashes of color to your garden. Ways of getting the most out of your annuals is to create whole annual gardens in areas where you want to draw lots of attention like entryways or small planters. Another excellent use for colorful annuals is to fill in between young perennials that need to be widely spaced to allow for future growth. Annuals can brighten up those empty spots until the perennial is big enough to fill the space and offer blooms of its own.
You can get wonderful effects with annual color by planting a garden of all one color, use reds, whites, and blues for national holidays, paint your garden with all pastel colors or stick to a family of warm colors (reds, oranges, and yellows) or cool colors (blues, purples, and pinks). Designing with annual flowers is like painting your garden with color accents!
Check out all the amazing shapes, forms, sizes, and colors available in annual flowers. There are new culltivars being offered each year and you can find everything from velvety black pansies to tall, willowy bi-colored cosmos, to extra-frilly marigolds. You can find annual color to brighten shady areas like impatiens or Torenia (Wishbone flower). Plant colorful annuals to bask in hot summer sunshine like cheerful snapdragons or stately sunflowers. The good thing about annuals is that you can grow plants that may not like some of your seasonal weather. Since they will only be around for one single season, you don’t have to worry about their being able to survive all year round like with perennials.
Some annuals add color with brilliant foliage like the outrageously patterned coleus, or the electric chartreuse of the sweet potato vine. Most of the colored foliage plants tend to burn in hot, bright sun so giving them a little shade where sunshine can burn.
Other annual plants will spill over walls, hillsides, or fill in gaps. These plants are useful for hanging pots, too. Try Alyssum or Million Bells. Million Bells (Calibrachoa) are related to petunias and are often called miniature Petunias. They have been bred to produce a wide range of sparkling colors from brilliant hues to deep tones to soft pastels.
Climbing annuals are a handy way to quickly create screens. Twine sweet peas or climbing nasturtiums up unsightly fences to turn eye-sores into celebrations of spring. Wallpaper a boring chain link or chicken wire fence with taller climbers like the hyacinth bean or the Scarlet Runner Bean that produces decorative red blooms and edible beans.
If there are just too many choices for you to decide upon, set aside a garden area where you can plant a mixed garden of annual flowers to create a riot of color just for fun. You can buy individual seed packets, small pots or flats to plant your own or use native wildflower seed mixes. Another idea to fill a small area is to use different colored low annual plants to create designs, patterns or even pictures.
Annual gardens do require some care. If you want them to bloom their longest, they should be regularly deadheaded (the spent flower heads snipped off before the plant loses the last of its energy forming seeds). You can hire services to continually replace your annual displays at the end of each season, do it yourself, or use annuals as fillers until their perennial garden mates spread out to fill the area. Annuals can play many roles in the garden. Use them where they will best fit into your garden and lifestyle.
Garden experts claim this is the year annuals will explode in popularity. You can create a fashionable garden easily no matter where you live. Just select the annual flowers that will do best where you want them planted, give them sufficient water, deadhead faded blooms, and design them where they will give you the biggest bang for your buck.
The colors you choose for your garden will help set the mood. Cool colors like blue and purple add a sense of calm and restfulness to the garden design. You can use blue-flowering plants to contrast with brighter, warm reds, yellows and oranges, or to blend with cooler purples, pinks and whites. Or you can plant a completely blue-flowering garden as a design statement. Blue flowers in pots can create an effect of their own. Here are some deep purple and true-blue flowers that do well in hot summer climates like the chaparral.
Verbena rigida (Rigid Verbena, Sandpaper Verbena or Tuberous Vervain) is a colorful groundcover plant that blooms in rich purple for a long flowering season. The leaves are coarse and tough with a sandy texture and the plant creeps and crawls with underground runners. Flowers are clustered in groups and grow from six to eighteen inches high. The color can be a vibrant violet. The Verbena rigida likes full sun and well-drained, lean soil, but it isn’t fussy about soil type. It thrives in high heat and is frost tolerant to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. This is an ideal plant to cover hills, slopes and open expanses. It has an informal habit of growth that will make it attractive in a natural garden. It can become invasive where happy and rambles too much to work well in a formal, controlled landscape design. In the right location, the Verbena rigida is an excellent choice for a water-wise garden, although it won’t mind if it gets regular water either. There are some other Verbenas that are also good for the chaparral garden and add blue-purple flower color. Verbena bonariensis (Tall Verbena) has a narrow, vertical habit of growth up to four feet tall and will decorate your garden with electric purple flowers that are very showy. Verbena officinalis (Common Vervain) likes a little more water and creates a low shrub of delicate, fern-like leaves with typical clusters of deep purple flowers. Then there’s the California native Verbena lilacina that has a low-growing, wandering habit on poor soils and needs low water to produce its medium to light purple flowers.
Two blue or purple herbs that look lovely in the drought-tolerant garden are rosemary and lavender. Both of these plants are perfect for places with a Mediterranean climate – their native home. They are woody shrubs that are happiest on lean soils in full sun. They also double as good sources for fragrance. There are many cultivars and hybrids to offer you different habits of growth.
Rosemary plants can be creeping ground covers or spill over a wall. Rosemary ‘Majorca Pink’ offers pink flowers and grows as a larger, sprawling shrub from two to three feet high and six feet wide. Rosemary ‘Ken Taylor’ is a neater growing rosemary shrub that stays at around two feet tall and blooms with sky blue flowers. There are many more choices in rosemary plants to fit into any design garden. All are edible and offer the typical rosemary scent and flavor for the kitchen or for crafts. All seem to love our spare soils, hot summers and scant rainfall. Give them a little supplementary irrigation.
Lavender also offers a wide selection of plants. The Lavendula stoeches is commonly called Spanish lavender and grows as a rounded shrub to about two feet tall with flowers that look like they are topped with feathers. Flowers can be magenta, purple, pink, white, green or combinations of any of these. The Spanish lavender is the most cold hardy. Other lavenders can be a bit frost shy. The favorite French lavender, Lavendula dentata will mature into a large bush of three to five feet tall and at least as wide. There are a number of cultivars with different shaped blue or white flowers and more variable heights. There are smaller varieties with different flower forms in shades of blue, purple and white. All have the typical scent of lavender used for sachets, candles and other crafts.
Rosemary and lavender are two attractive, low maintenance plants ideal for areas that do not experience hard frosts in winter. Give these plants full sun, plenty of heat in the summer, and good drainage. Rosemaries are likely to be more cold tolerant than lavenders. If you have pets, they will smell great romping through rosemary or lavender plants in your garden.
The Salvia (Sage) family is filled with marvelous plants for your garden. Edibles like common cooking sage become colorful with purple flowers and come in decorative (yet still edible) foliage with yellows, whites, purples and varied greens. Annual red, purple, white – and now pink — salvias fill in empty spots in borders. And the choices in show-stopping perennials from tiny delicate specimens to huge shrubs, moisture-loving gems to tough native chaparral denizens, soft, subtle colors to blazing intensities, are immense. I could have chosen any number of salvias to praise (and I’m likely to do so in future months since salvias are some of my favorite flowering plants). But, I decided to honor ‘Indigo Spires’ because it is one of the showier blue-flowered varieties in my garden that has made it through hot summers and cold winters. In fact, the plant can take temperatures down to 10′F (though it is a good idea to protect the roots with mulch under freezing and there will be some damage). ‘Indigo Spires’ will grow 3′ – 4′ tall and should be pruned down low at the end of the winter to assure a shapely form for the next season’s growth. The long spikes, thickly studded with rich purple flowers, can grow to 10″ long. If cut under water they are both beautiful and long lasting as cut flowers. They also retain their purple color when dried so they are great in dried flower arrangements. Cutting for either reason is a good idea since you need to cut the spent blooms off anyway or they will weight the slender stems down to the point of breakage and the plant will sprawl and look unkempt. Since the plant has a very long blooming season, you will have plenty of flowers. ‘Indigo Spires’ is said to take full sun, but I have had the most success with partial afternoon or lightly dappled shade in the hot summer sun of the chaparral. Slightly drought tolerant, the plant will take to regular watering as well. Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’ is a beauty in the mixed border or standing on its own — a true royal member of the sage family.
Most of these plants are not difficult to find at garden centers. They are showy and low maintenance and do not balk at hot, dry summers or poor soil. They will all look better with some occasional pruning to keep them in good shape. None need major soil amendments, copious water or feeding.
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