Sunday, April 25, 2010

Yes, I am a Recovering Perennial Snob...

but please don't tell anyone.  I admit at one time when I was a young sprout myself, I was proud to say only perennials could be found in "my" garden.  As my gardens have aged along with me, we have both become more relaxed.  I have learned to embrace the beauty and need of annuals in my perennial garden; but I rely only on self-sowers and know, the easy annuals.  These annuals add a relaxed feeling to the gardens and are wonderful fillers.  Like Diane Linsley, I now refer to my garden as a cottage garden rather than a perennial garden...besides, it sounds more romantic.

Of course, two of my favorite easy annuals are spring bloomers.  Could it because it is now spring?  Larkspur is the annual that opened my eyes to the beauty of easy annuals.  Who would not love a beautiful flower that starts as seeds sown in the fall.  Now that's my kind of gardening.  According to Greek legend, Achilles' mother requested that her son's armor be given to the most heroic Greek warrior during the Battle of Troy. To the dismay of the brave warrior Ajax, the armor was awarded to Ulysses. Dejected, Ajax threw himself on his sword, and small blue delphiniums or Larkspurs sprung from the blood that fell to the ground. Delphinium petals are marked with the Greek letters AI, the Greek cry of mourning.

Forget-me-not is another easy flower I welcome in the spring.  The famous forget-me-not story involves a German knight gathering blue flowers for his lady love along the banks of the Danube. He is said to have scurried down the bank to gather the flowers just as a “freshet” (flash flood) roared down the river. As he was swept away forever, he tossed the bouquet to his lady with three immortal words, “Forget me not.”  While romantic, forget-me-nots are rampant reseeders, so be sure to tear out some plants before they go to seed to control or throw the seeds where you would like more.

Come summer these flowers will become my favorite easy annuals:
  • Cleome, more commonly known as the spider flower, is an old- fashioned flower that attracts humming-birds.
  • Calendula is one of the few easy seeds that demands to be covered lightly in soil.  I love the new lemon-colored calendula.
  • Cosmos is one plant that doesn't mind being crowded.  I opt for the smaller cosmos so they do not overpower my perennials...after all, I'm still a perennial lover at heart.
  • Sweet alyssum  There is a reason this flower is called sweet...the aroma on a hot summer day is one to remember.
  • Scarlet flax.   I discovered scarlet flax three years ago.  This is one easy annual that demands attention.

    Reseeding annuals fall into two categories, hardy and half-hardy.  Half-hardy annuals need warmer temperatures to germinate and are best sown in the spring after the last frost date the first year.   Hardy annuals can usually be sown in the fall.  It is important to know what type of annual it is  before sowing.  Two excellent sites, Self-Planting Gardens  and Wildflower Information, give some great tips on self-sowing.  I frequently purchase from  Wildseed FarmsSelect Seeds, Swallowtail Garden, and American Meadows. These sites also offer a wealth of good information.

    While I tend to remain true to those easy annuals I have already mentioned, I will generally try some new flowers each year.  This year my new annual is Gomphrena Fireworks.  Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of self-sowing is that I never know what flower will show up in any one spot.  Usually it will turn out to be a spot that is better than one I would have picked myself...just as it is in nature.


        1. Thanks Kathy. It's always great to hear some ideas on annuals to brighten up the inbetween times.

        2. I love saving seeds - you've named all my favorites, and introduced me to a few more. I'll hafta come visit in the Fall with my collection basket...

          Wildseed Farms is my one of my favorite catalogs. The meadow in the Wildlife area was initially seeded with their NE mix, augmented with annuals.

          We started a flat of the lemon Calendula for the plant sale this year, and Alyssum is an excellent plant to use in container gardening. It is also good for attracting beneficial wasps to your garden.

          Last bit of trivia - according to Dr. Goldman of Renfrew, Larkspur was grown in Kitchen gardens of the 18th and 19th century, to collect the seeds to use as a treatment for head lice! Don't try this at home - all parts of the plant are poisonous!