I’ve renamed my three garden beds in front of the house that I talked about in this recent post. Basically the names were dumb. The red, orange, purple garden will now be known as the hummingbird garden and I will try to mostly fill it with plants that attract hummingbirds. The big border was making my friend Maggie giggle. She said that every time I said it she kept hearing “big boner”. So for now I’ll just call that the mixed border. And the chaos border will be chaotic no longer! From now on the focus of that garden will be true annuals.
The garden is approximately a sixteen by sixteen foot square and it will have a few perennial plants just to give it a little structure during down times when no annuals are in bloom.
True annuals are a bit misunderstood in gardening because many gardeners live in places with freezing winters where some tender perennials can’t survive year round. These are also common starter plants for new gardeners. Plants like Impatiens, Pelargoniums, Begonias, Antirrhinums (snap dragons), and Petunias are all actually perennial plants from tropical or warm mediterranean climates. They generally can’t survive long periods of freezing conditions (though many of them can withstand light frosts and I commonly had snap dragons over winter in my old zone 6 garden).
A true annual is one that has a short life cycle. They grow, flower, form fruit and set seed, and then die. They are very common in mediterranean climates because of the prolonged drought period of summer. Plants set seed and die before the heat of summer and those seed wait to germinate and grow when the rains begin again in fall.
Nemophila menziesii (baby blue eyes) germinates and grows with the first rains of autumn or winter and then blooms and sets seed in the spring.
So when you are talking about plants like common bedding Impatiens it is more accurate to say “tender perennials” or perennial that is “treated as an annual”. The term to describe plants that die after flowering and setting fruit is monocarpic though this also describes biennial plants or plants that may live many years before flowering. True annuals live for as little as a few days, for some desert ephemerals, to a few months. You may be able to prolong the life and bloom period a bit by dead-heading and not allowing them to set seed but this isn’t always easy when a plant has hundreds of blooms at a time.
Other examples of true annuals that gardeners commonly grow are sunflowers (Helianthus), sweet peas (Lathyrus), Zinnias, and marigolds (Tagetes) though there are perennial species available of all four of those genera as well.
Platystemon californicus – cream cups
Right now most of my annuals in bloom are California natives but I have seedlings of plants from other locales newly planted in the beds to take over when these are finished. Before our last rain storm I planted out some of the plants I had started from seed this winter. Helipterum roseum ‘Pierrot’ is a South African annual, Didiscus caeruleus (syn Trachymene caerulea) is an Australian annual, and Scabiosa stellata ‘Stern Kugel’ is a Mediterranean annual.
The front half of the mixed border has some annuals too. The yellow and white daisies in the photo above are Layia platyglossa (tidy tips) which are native to much of California and the orange Ursinia anthemoides ‘Solar Fire’ which is native to South Africa.
To be honest I am not really sure what I am going to do with this bed. You can see there are a few blank spots. For some reason there was this little area of death where I lost several plants (all different species and all from different nurseries). I’m not sure what is going on there because it is high spot in the berm with fresh compost and it should be pretty well drained. Maybe I let that area dry out too much during one of the long periods of drought.
There are other parts of the border that are working fairly well design wise but right now I am at a bit of a loss as to which direction I want to go with the front of this border when the annuals are done. The shady bit near the house needs some help too. Hopefully some amazing plants will start coming up on wholesalers lists and I’ll be inspired. The reason I like to name my garden beds is I feel like it helps when you have some sort of theme. Otherwise there are so many plant options it can be a bit overwhelming. So right now “mixed border” is a bit vague and in need of some fine tuning.