Annuals in the Ground

flowersin11It’s such a good thing that shopping centers and the like plant fibrous begonias and impatiens,  in vast quantities, so you don’t have to.  The Victorian gardening era in England produced some very inventive schemes for bedding plants.  Beautifully designed and executed, they made use of annual plants of compact habit and low maintenance.  Many of them were representational in their design-the most familiar of these would be the bedding plant clocks. Only rarely do I see bedding plants done to this level. There are those who plant oceans of uniformly growing fibrous begonias, impatiens, dusty miller and so on, without much in the way of interesting design-just lots of color.  I like color as well as the next person, but I am glad this way of planting is being done by others, so I don’t have to.

I like annuals in the ground that mix shapes and colors in a dynamic, airy way.  I like annuals in the ground that are unexpected.  Some in ground annuals can be designed to give the impression of a perennial garden-with the added bonus of a very long season of bloom.
Big growing annuals are often passed by in garden centers, as they take time to get to blooming size, and do not show well in a cell pack, or 4” pot. Zinnias, cleome, cosmos, verbena bonariensis, and nicotiana alata varieties fall into this category.


But I find their old fashioned grace and size can make for a stunning annual display.  Even shady annual areas can be enlivened by the addition of coleus, or tropicals; no shade garden is restricted to  begonias and impatiens.flowersin12

No doubt some very formal, and some contemporary annual plantings ask for a restricted plant palette, but I like to see this done on purpose.
If you garden is cottage-style, grasses, or the wispy textured verbena bonariensis added to the annual mix is charmingly meadow-like.
Grey plectranthus, the broad-leaved cirrus dusty miller, or chocolate sweet potato vine, grown in ground, is cool and contemporary looking.
Bold growing annuals in bold colors warm up, and loosen up a space. Zinnias, dahlias, green-eyed daisies, and giant marigolds read well from a distance. One of my favorite annuals, nicotiana mutabilis, is a cloud of white and pink when planted in masses; try interplanting a short growing annual to give color and interest at ground level.
There is another very good reason to plant mixed annual beds-the summer weather.  Some years impatiens grows poorly.  If that’s all you grow, it’s a poor year for your annual garden.  If you have mixed in other annuals, perhaps not all is lost. A mix which highlights the color, textures, and volumes of annual plants will keep your interest over the course of the season. A mix of heights gives you color interest from top to bottom.  Check out the annual flowers at your local nursery that are green right now, or unknown to you, or unusual to your eye; they may be promising additions to your summer annual garden.


airbeginEarth, air, fire and water; the mythology is long and varied.  My simple version: the sculpture,  which is the earth,  makes for life. No less important is air-every living thing breathes.
Air can be wind storms, or breezes. Air can be still and palpable; one remarkable things about fog is how still the air is. Air conditions influence the performance of a landscape as much as the earth.  Frost,  air laden with freezing water, sinks into low spots, and damages or kills plants. Air moving over water, off a lake, is intense air-whether we’re talking hot, cold, or strong.  Hot winds dry out  plants; cold winds make for winter burn.  Wind is a force to be reckoned with-do you need a windbreak first off-so you can garden in peace?

We had big winds and 80 degrees, today-in April, for pete’s sake.  We watered all day.  The lettuces in my spring pots had that windblown look-it was not a good look.  A straight line wind ripped the roof off my building a few years ago- in seconds. Wind makes very large buildings sway.  Windy weather affects everything in a landscape-plan on it.

I cannot figure out how to take a picture of wind-I could only photograph the debris it picks up, the petals it scatters, the rain it drives sidesways.   The unseen air  can make for airy-loose and beautiful. Good air circulation is an enemy of mildew, and a friend to root development in all plants. Airy is the texture of some trees, where you might want a view through to a far landscape element. A breeze makes for that motion that makes a meadow so beautiful.  Heavy foggy moody days soften the view and invite retrospection; a sharp crisp fall day is invigorating.  Air at great speeds can make for hell on earth.  I think this is a good description of nature- what you are least expecting,  happening on a regular basis.  Taking nature into account when you design, and when you plant,  will help you be successful.  I am interested in people being successful with their landscapes; who doesn’t enjoy what they apparently are good at?  Some success makes the inevitable failures easier to bear.  Sensational landscape design begins with an understanding and respect for the elements.  A plant you really like, that requires protection from winter winds, will prosper from the companionship of a windbreak.  Farmers plant windbreaks, maybe  you need beautiful enclosure.

Dirt Part III


Later I would discover there were other kinds of dirt besides my home dirt.  A visit to a beach was a marvel. This gritty, non-stick dirt, wholly unlike my home dirt, was restricted to two colors-wet and dry, and bore little resemblance to my home hardpan with its various greasy shades of brown, rust and blue.


The farmyard dirt at the children’s zoo was pungent, fumy.  The spongy dirt of a cedar forest floor gave way underfoot; the prints left behind gleaming with water brought to the surface.


The dirt in a vineyard seemed not at all like dirt, but like little rocks, and rocks smaller yet.
Later than this, I would make the connection between dirt and life, that healthy soil was full of worms and other living creatures. My erroneous assumption that the grass around my ranch house in suburban Detroit was a blanket to keep the dirt out of the house was actually a medium supporting life- a mildly shocking discovery. More shocking was the discovery that there are people who feel at home with dirt, and others who assiduously avoid it.  There were gardeners, and non-gardeners.  Now that I am much older, I realize that even those people who do not garden, who do not love dirt as I do, can love, appreciate and respect the beauty of a garden.  We get along fine.dirt-pt3


dirtI have been a gardenmaker of one sort or another for what seems like a lifetime. I am quite sure my first effort to learn how to walk was an effort to get outside; this had not changed much in 58 years.  Once I did get outside, I stayed until I tracked it all back in with me like a beloved blanket.  Dirt I found very appealing, as its forms were infinitely varied as were its textures and smells. Though I later learned that dirt was a substance picked up by a vacuum cleaner, and soil is what one grows plants in, the word dirt has always sounded just right to me.  My first strong memory of dirt is the mounds of it excavated to make basements for the ranch houses being built in the subdivision where I grew up in the 1950’s. This dirt retained the teeth marks of the machines scooping it out of the earth.  Its colors were iridescent; the smell of wet metal, palpably radiating, was strong enough to make my eyes water.  As fascinating as the dirt was the hole left by its absence.dirt4


As my house was the first to be built on the block, I was able to watch over and over the digging, the moving around, the spreading out, the shaping, the hauling away.

dirt2This is all by way of saying I found the dirt and the dirt sites irresistible. Beyond the perimeter of grass surrounding my new house was an earth world, amusing and wildly entertaining as simple things are at that age.   I would climb the mountains of dirt, claim possession, and listen to the sunny silence.    A convenient board would give access to what would become a basement-a place of a silence of a wholly different sort.  Ones bones felt the air echo, and the cold seemed dangerous-would anyone look for me if I could not climb back out? The dirt seemed natural and right, as it was what was wholly mine. My love for dirt, earth, compost, soil-call it what you will-has been with me ever since.