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Garden Journal

Despite their one-season show, annuals have plenty to offer your garden

  • Eine Dahlie der Sorte "Siedlerstolz" blueht am Donnerstag, 30. August 2007, in Erfurt auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" . In den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter durch Regenschauer abgeloest werden. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)  --- A dahlia blooms at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Garden Construction Exhibition) in Erfurt, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. At present the weather is changeable in Germany, first the sun shined and then it rained. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

    Eine Dahlie der Sorte "Siedlerstolz" blueht am Donnerstag, 30. August 2007, in Erfurt auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" . In den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter durch Regenschauer abgeloest werden. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) --- A dahlia blooms at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Garden Construction Exhibition) in Erfurt, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. At present the weather is changeable in Germany, first the sun shined and then it rained. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

  • Dahlien bluehen zum kalendarischen Herbstanfang auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" am Donnerstag, 21. September 2006, in Erfurt. Auch in den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter weiter andauern. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) --- Dahlia bloom at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Gardening Exhibition) in Erfurt, eastern Germany, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2006. Weather forecasts predict nice autumnal weather in Germany for the upcoming days. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

    Dahlien bluehen zum kalendarischen Herbstanfang auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" am Donnerstag, 21. September 2006, in Erfurt. Auch in den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter weiter andauern. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) --- Dahlia bloom at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Gardening Exhibition) in Erfurt, eastern Germany, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2006. Weather forecasts predict nice autumnal weather in Germany for the upcoming days. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

  • Eine Dahlie der Sorte "Taratari Rubi" blueht am Donnerstag, 30. August 2007, in Erfurt auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" . In den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter durch Regenschauer abgeloest werden. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)  --- Dahlia named 'Taratari Rubi' blooms at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Garden Construction Exhibition) in Erfurt, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. At present the weather is changeable in Germany, first the sun shined and then it rained. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

    Eine Dahlie der Sorte "Taratari Rubi" blueht am Donnerstag, 30. August 2007, in Erfurt auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" . In den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter durch Regenschauer abgeloest werden. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) --- Dahlia named 'Taratari Rubi' blooms at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Garden Construction Exhibition) in Erfurt, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. At present the weather is changeable in Germany, first the sun shined and then it rained. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

  • Eine Dahlie der Sorte "Neuekazi" blueht am Donnerstag, 30. August 2007, in Erfurt auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" . In den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter durch Regenschauer abgeloest werden. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)  --- Dahlia named 'neuekazi' blooms at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Garden Construction Exhibition) in Erfurt, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. At present the weather is changeable in Germany, first the sun shined and then it rained. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

    Eine Dahlie der Sorte "Neuekazi" blueht am Donnerstag, 30. August 2007, in Erfurt auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" . In den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter durch Regenschauer abgeloest werden. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) --- Dahlia named 'neuekazi' blooms at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Garden Construction Exhibition) in Erfurt, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. At present the weather is changeable in Germany, first the sun shined and then it rained. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

  • **FOR USE WITH AP LIFESTYLES** This photo taken May 18, 2009 shows  white-eyed blue flowers. One favorite self-sowing flower, twinkling up at you each spring with its starry, white-eyed, blue flowers, is forget-me-not. Nurture and plant it once, and a new crop of seedlings appears each spring -- reliably and without your helping hand.(AP Photo/Lee Reich)

    **FOR USE WITH AP LIFESTYLES** This photo taken May 18, 2009 shows white-eyed blue flowers. One favorite self-sowing flower, twinkling up at you each spring with its starry, white-eyed, blue flowers, is forget-me-not. Nurture and plant it once, and a new crop of seedlings appears each spring -- reliably and without your helping hand.(AP Photo/Lee Reich)

  • Eine Dahlie der Sorte "Siedlerstolz" blueht am Donnerstag, 30. August 2007, in Erfurt auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" . In den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter durch Regenschauer abgeloest werden. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)  --- A dahlia blooms at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Garden Construction Exhibition) in Erfurt, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. At present the weather is changeable in Germany, first the sun shined and then it rained. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
  • Dahlien bluehen zum kalendarischen Herbstanfang auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" am Donnerstag, 21. September 2006, in Erfurt. Auch in den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter weiter andauern. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) --- Dahlia bloom at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Gardening Exhibition) in Erfurt, eastern Germany, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2006. Weather forecasts predict nice autumnal weather in Germany for the upcoming days. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
  • Eine Dahlie der Sorte "Taratari Rubi" blueht am Donnerstag, 30. August 2007, in Erfurt auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" . In den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter durch Regenschauer abgeloest werden. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)  --- Dahlia named 'Taratari Rubi' blooms at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Garden Construction Exhibition) in Erfurt, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. At present the weather is changeable in Germany, first the sun shined and then it rained. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
  • Eine Dahlie der Sorte "Neuekazi" blueht am Donnerstag, 30. August 2007, in Erfurt auf der Erfurter Gartenbauausstellung "ega" . In den naechsten Tagen soll das spaetsommerliche Wetter durch Regenschauer abgeloest werden. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)  --- Dahlia named 'neuekazi' blooms at the horticultural exhibition 'ega' (Erfurt Garden Construction Exhibition) in Erfurt, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. At present the weather is changeable in Germany, first the sun shined and then it rained. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
  • **FOR USE WITH AP LIFESTYLES** This photo taken May 18, 2009 shows  white-eyed blue flowers. One favorite self-sowing flower, twinkling up at you each spring with its starry, white-eyed, blue flowers, is forget-me-not. Nurture and plant it once, and a new crop of seedlings appears each spring -- reliably and without your helping hand.(AP Photo/Lee Reich)

Annual flowers are the Rodney Dangerfield of the plant world – they “don’t get no respect.” Even though they supply our gardens with season-long color, just because they have to be replanted every year they get the cold shoulder from many gardeners.

Perennials are the divas, they give one outstanding performance a year and retire to the background, but annuals are the hardworking chorus line – kicking up their heels all summer long. At plant sales I’ve seen people fall in love with interesting annuals in bloom, all ready to take the plants home until they find out that what they’re buying is “only an annual.” Then they drop it like a hot potato.

If you have no annuals in your garden at all, you are missing out on one of life’s joys and a whole lot of color. Life without zinnias? Not worth living.

Some gardeners complain that buying new annuals every year is too expensive. Many of the plants we grow as annuals here in frosty Zone 5 are actually tender perennials. In warmer climates they would return year after year, but here once the temperatures dip below freezing they are goners so we treat them as annuals. If you have a good place to winter them over, they will live to bloom season after season. Geraniums are a good example. Bring them in, put them in a sunny window and not only will they bloom up a storm all winter but you can cut them back in the spring, root the cuttings, and have even more plants for next year’s garden.

Pricey plants, like calibrachoa, can be cut back and wintered over indoors. When the days begin to lengthen they will put out new growth, and begin to blossom all over again. Tender plants that grow from bulbs, corms or rhizomes, like cannas, caladiums, tuberous begonias and dahlias can easily be kept from year to year by digging up the bulbs and saving them in a cool dry place over the winter to plant again in the spring. Voila! New plants for free!

Some annuals, like poppies, cleome, verbena bonariensis and forget-me-nots, are generous self-sowers. Instead of deadheading, leave a few seed pods to mature at the end of the growing season. You can sprinkle the seeds where you want them to grow or let nature take its course. Again – more free plants. One of my favorite gardens is Celia Thaxter’s garden on Appledore Island. Based on the plan of her cutting garden found in her 1894 book An Island Garden, it is almost totally annuals.

I should have a bumper sticker that says “Warning this car brakes for garden centers.” At this time of year they are full of fresh new plants that are hard to resist. Even if you don’t buy a thing it is an education. I always come across plants I’ve never heard of before, like mecardonia – a groundcover with tiny green leaves and yellow flowers – or gray-leaved chrysocephalum, judging from the dry texture of its yellow flowers it is in the straw flower family and would look great in a hot, sunny spot.

After a little research, I found out it was once called helichrysum, which I had grown before. I hate it when the botanical powers that be change the names on us! And how about lophospermum? This hanging plant has lovely tubular-shaped flowers in either white or wine red. It looks similar to a plant I grow as a climber called asarina or climbing snapdragon. Turns out they are in the same family and both can be grown as climbers or used in hanging baskets. There is always something new to learn in the plant world.

There are many new types of coleus, some of which can be grown in full sun. The crazy color combinations found in “Electric Lime,” “Chocolate Covered Cherry,” “Kong Mosaic” or “Indian Summer” make my heart race! I had to buy one, but I will be sure to take cuttings from it in the fall to keep it going for next year.

Speaking of colorful foliage, remember iresine? It was a fashionable houseplant in the ’70s and ’80s. I know I’m showing my age, but it has resurfaced as a tender perennial for use in containers. Seeing it again was like meeting an old friend, so naturally I had to bring one home.

Fuchsia is another plant I find irresistible. I have kept a “Gartenmeister” going for years. Called a honeysuckle fuchsia, it is a smaller plant, very different from the big dangle-earring-type fuschias. The hummingbirds love its tubular orange-red flowers. “Firecracker” is a similar one with added splashes of pink, white and purple on its green leaves.

Annuals are great for filling in bare spots in your garden, experimenting with new color combinations and supplying cut flowers for bouquets all summer long. Tall annuals, such as nicotiana sylvestris, sunflowers or elephant head amaranth add a touch of drama to the landscape. Some annuals, like calendula, nasturtiums and bachelor buttons are edible, and others, like celosia, globe amaranth and statice, can be dried for use in winter arrangements.

A mixed border is just that – a mixture of plants including perennials, shrubs, bulbs, vines and annuals – so don’t be afraid to mix it up. Have fun with your garden! There is a wide world of cool plants out there to try.

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