Thursday, July 30, 2015

Gardening With Annuals

I can't think of a better way to provide a dramatic splash of living color than with the simple beauty of colorful annuals! I was honored this week to visit a lovely garden planted almost entirely with annual plants. Each year, Bill Kresge creates a garden from seed to bloom with spectacular results. Like most gardeners, he begins planning for the new garden season during the winter when he peruses the seed catalogs and places his seed orders. He begins sowing flats of seeds in early March, starting with pansies, and cares for them in an impressive greenhouse behind his home. Bill starts approximately 1,200 plants from seed each spring. Back in May, I toured his greenhouse and he showed me his seed-started techniques. I learned a lot.

Bill's greenhouse when I visited in May
Some of the 100+ plants started this year.
Bill is never happier than when working in his greenhouse.

What are annuals? --

Annuals are fun and flamboyant flowering and foliage plants that germinate, grow, flower, produce seed, and die -- all within a single growing season.
-- Lynn Adams, 100 Easy Annuals

Perennials, on the other hand, live for three or more growing seasons and usually have a short blooming period. Bill does grow some perennials, which he also starts from seed. The three or four hibiscus plants of different colors at the front of the house are perennials that he grew from seed ten - twelve years ago.

Hibiscus just beginning to bloom. The pink one is 'Disco Belle Raspberry'
Marigolds and zinnias are among the stars of this garden.
Marigold Targetes erecta 'Gardland Orange' and Marigold 'Lofty Lady'

I must confess I do like the orange and yellow combination -- orange on its own, not so much. The Zinnia 'Zahara' series are impressively resistant to powdery mildew. I put them on my list for next year.

Zinnia 'Double Zahara' and Zinnia 'Zahara Yellow'

I fell in love the stunning rustic color of the coneflower 'Chim Chiminee.'

Coneflower, Rudbeckia hirta 'Chim Chiminee'

Near the front door, a bed of snapdragons gives a cheerful welcome. I admired the fulness of the plants -- my snapdragons don't branch like these. Bill advised me to pinch off the tops of the seedlings by as much as 1/3 to encourage branching. Great advice! I guess I've been too wimpy with my pinching off.

Nearby, the large angel's trumpet with white blooms is just one plant. Bill grew the single dahlias from seed, not tubers.

Clockwise from top: Angel's trumpet Brugmansia, single dahlias, and Angelonia.

I admired the non-climbing Morning Glory for it's pure cobalt blue petals and distinctive markings. Blue is a favorite color of mine in the garden and this beauty is another addition to my list for next year.

Dwarf Morning Glory Convolvulus 'Royal Ensign'

The foundation bed along the greenhouse contains an unusual annual chrysanthemum 'Primrose gem.' They have sweet primrose 'buttons' with a golden eye. Bill ordered the seeds from the Thompson and Morgan catalog 7 years ago. He sowed a portion each year and it is amazing that the seeds were still viable after so long. Unfortunately, he used the last of them this year. Thomson and Morgan, while still functioning in England, seem to have gone out of business here in the U.S.

Chrysanthemum coronarium 'Primrose gem'

There are lots of varieties of zinnias in the bed across from the greenhouse.

Zinnia bed

I needed to touch the velvety cockscomb in one of the foundation beds. I should grow this for my grandchildren who adore lambs ears for that reason. I added it to my list.

Cockscomb celosia cristata

Three more blue favorites of mine ...

Dwarf pincushion flower Scabiosa columbaria 'Blue Note'

The agastache was full of honey bees, but none would stay still long enough for me to photograph them.

Hyssop Agastache 'Golden Jubilee'

Balloon Flower Platycodon grandiflorus 'Komanchi'
At last, I manage to take a photograph of one of the many bees in this garden.

There are many advantages to growing annuals. Here are a few.
Annuals are ...
  • long blooming, flowering early until the first frost.
  • relatively inexpensive.
  • easy to grow with the right site and soil preparation.
  • temporary, so you can change your landscape every year.
  • versatile with many sizes and colors.
Annuals are hard to beat for showy, season-long color. Some are self-seeding meaning you may have new flowers the following year without having to plant them, though not necessarily where you want them. For information on growing annuals click here to read an excellent article from Cornell and here for one from the Arizona Extension.

In conclusion, annuals allow the gardener a chance to experiment with color, height, texture, and form. If you make a mistake it's only for one growing season -- my kind of flower.
Do you grow annuals in your garden?

I've shown only a small sampling of the variety of blooms in Bill's stunning garden and hardly did justice to it. My thanks to Bill and his wife Gale for sharing with me.

Happy Gardening!
Pamela x

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  1. wow... amazing! lots of flowers and so colorful. that's a huge hibiscus, I think the size is such as common hibiscus, but I'm surprised when I see the last picture! awesome...
    This week I sowed cosmos, celosia, impatient, marigold and morning glory.
    Happy gardening!

    1. Summer is going by very fast here, Endah. I guess it's just starting in Indonesia. Enjoy!

  2. Very inspiring, must make notes for next year.

    Another fun and velvety plant is Tithonia, Mexican Sunflower. The flowers and leaves are not the tactile part. The stems leading up to the flower are marvelously velvety and smooth. They are so easy to grow but need an early start.

    1. That's new for me, Jean. I'll look for it. Thank you.

  3. Annuals certainly give a lot of bang for the buck. Their vibrant colors cannot be denied. That being said, as a lazy gardener, I rely on perennials and shrubs as the backbone of my garden. Their bloom periods may be shorter but they offer visual interest throughout the year. I do grow some annuals most of which reseed themselves freely in my garden. I second Jean's recommendation of Tithonia. It is a wonderful plant, much loved by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. And me!

  4. Pam what a wonderful post full of color and cheer to remind us of all the annuals to grow. I do love to grow annuals from seed and now know how to get my snapdragons to grow better...thanks for that. I need to order some zinnia seed. And I should plant more annuals in the garden too and not just in containers. Of course I would love that greenhouse there...what one could do with a green house....the annuals and perennials would be endless.

  5. Beautiful display of annuals, Pam. I like how he grew them in the greenhouse. It is often forgot to cut back seedlings to encourage fuller growth. I am rather brutal on cutting back, and always do it when plants are very young, even those getting there first buds. Gotta go to make room for bigger, more floriferous plants!

    1. That's exactly what Bill said -- to cut back when very young.

  6. Lamb's ears ... on my list.
    Orange and red poppies are kindly selfseeding themselves.

    1. I don't much like the flowers on lambs' ears, Diana, but the leaves live up to the name. I don't have poppies -- should put them on my list, as they had a presence in my mother's English garden.

  7. I do grow annuals, but never to that extent, and I sure don't start them from seed indoors! Gorgeous, but so much work! Here's my little tip for snapdragons. Only grow the Tall Ribbon Mix variety. They aren't as picky about the hot weather, and bloom all summer long. This year, they reseeded themselves freely, and I almost didn't need to buy them again. Now this is a must have for me.

  8. Wow! I would so very much to take a tour of his greenhouse and get some tips! I'm still learning how to use my greenhouse effectively. I do some grow annuals from seed, and I love the ones that reseed themselves. This past year I grew petunias, million bells, alyssum, and a few others. I also direct seed some, but they don't always germinate for me that way (probably too many birds eating the seeds.) Love that dwarf morning glory!

  9. Oh, this is so much fun to see. I am kind of hopeless when it comes to annuals. I don't know why! But I manage to get a few things to do well. This is inspirational! Thanks for sharing.

  10. A very colour full garden. I can see the appeal of annuals. I don't grow many and for all I do grow not worth while growing from seed. I usually pick up a few plugs early in the year.

  11. I feel annuals are absolutely crucial for constant summer color, to fill in when the perennials are between times. My goodness, last year, I had marigolds from Memorial Day until almost Halloween! And I love the self-seeders--pay for them once, reap the benefits again and again!

  12. Pam, so many people have an issue with annuals. I like to combine permanent planting along with annuals. Back in Aberdeen we made a big thing of them in our front garden, it used to make me smile as I would drive round the corner to our street and be blasted with an explosion of colour. I love Bills garden and his impressive greenhouse.