Having things in bloom in the perennial garden at this time of the season is a challenge. The asters, anemones and hardy chrysanthemums (now called dendranthemums) aren’t yet blooming and the roses are behaving erratically. There is, of course, rich vibrancy in the great swathes of golden rudbeckia, the tall sprays of violet, purple and white buddleia, the wands of late blooming hostas and the soft lavendar spikes of perovskia but much of the richness and variety that provides a sense of abundance in the garden during the summer is receding. And so we are grateful for the annuals and tender perennials that add color and texture to the landscape at this time of year. We rely on the heavenly scented Gem Series marigolds with their tiny fragrant (edible) flowers in lemon and tangerine colors (there is a red but we haven’t tried it; maybe next year) forming nice billowy clumps, and tithonia, the so-called mexican Sunflower, with its velvety stalks and rich orange daisies. The dahlias are doing their best, but the deer seem to be always one step ahead of us and them. The same can be said for the sunflowers, adding the goldfinches to the list of predators. The zinnias are going great guns and I wonder why I restrict them to the cutting garden and don’t sow a few seeds in the borders…..hmmm, deer again. The china asters are just beginning to flower in the cutting garden which will bring a smile at the bedside table but contribute nothing to the borders. Cleome continue to do their thing, albeit in a more subdued manner, and ask little in return.
This year, on a lark/impulse purchase, we picked up some packets of seeds for pelargoniums (what many think of as Geraniums), celosia (aka; Cockscomb), and coleus and threw them into some potting soil in the greenhouse. Wow! How great is this?! These have proven to be some of the most colorful and arresting plants in our gardens. I’ve come full circle in my thinking about annuals and tender perennials. In the past I’ve thought of their use as a sort of cheating, something of a cheap (or expensive) trick to create the impression of abundance. Further contemplation leads me to the obvious; I’ve always associated annuals and tender perennials with bedding plants; the sort of thing one sees, nowadays, at golf courses or shopping malls.
How wrong I’ve been. The annuals and tender perennials can add volumes of vivacity to a perennial border at very little cost and for months of beauty. We are sold and committed, and we intend to include more of these treasures in our clients’ gardens in the future. It’s exciting to discover ways of expanding ones’ palette and finding complementary plants to create variety and freshness in a perennial border from year to year and we are going to be paying much closer attention to this from now on.