Designing with AnnualsHow to use annual plants and flowers to add personality to your garden
As garden centers start to fill up with enticing displays of annuals, it's easy to grab everything you can and think about where to plant it all later. If you want a cohesive design (face it, we all know that looks better), here are a few essential tips for designing with annuals:
- Before you get in your car to go plant shopping, evaluate the areas in your garden where you want annuals. Measure the size of the spaces, know the sun and shade patterns throughout the day, think about how the areas will be viewed and take stock of what plants are nearby.
- In a bed of strictly annuals — unless you're buying a mix of plants that is intended to go together, as with some pansies — stick to larger quantities of a few types of plants, rather than the overbusy look of a few of everything.
- Not all plants need to have flowers to be great additions to the garden. Foliage plants such as coleus, Persian shield, 'Magilla' perilla, Joseph's coat and copper leaf add color and texture whether used as filler or focal point.
- Color combinations can complement, contrast or match. Too much contrast can be jarring, and too much of the same color can be monotonous. Use several colors in a limited palette that work well together for a cohesive and pleasing look. Arrange samples on the ground at the garden center to see if they will work — chances are, if they look good together in a flat, they'll look good in the garden!
- Repeat colors and forms to lead the eye through the garden.
- Use a variety of textures to give the garden energy. Too many plants with either a fine or a bold texture can be boring to look at.
- If you're tucking annuals into a perennial bed, keep in mind the ultimate sizes of the annuals and the perennials so that none of the plants are later overwhelmed by their neighbors.
Learn About Annuals
Annuals come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some produce amazing flowers, while others are all about striking foliage. Take a look at these popular annuals to decide which plants to try in your own garden:
A black-eyed Susan amped to the max. Heads of narrow, quilled golden petals look like a cheerleader’s pom-pom. Blooms summer through fall, 18 inches tall. Hardy to Zone 5a.
Thompson & Morgan
Cosmos bipinnatus Double Click 'Rose Bonbon'
This brand-new version of an old-fashioned annual flower gets high marks for pure romance. Part of the mixed-color Double Click series of double cosmos from Thompson & Morgan, this pretty-in-pink form is the first single color to be released. Rosy pom-pom blooms sit atop sturdy 2- to 3-foot stems. Like other cosmos, ‘Rose Bonbon’ is an easy-to-grow, long-lasting cut flower. tmseeds.com
New Guinea Impatiens
One of 22 varieties in the Celebrette Series, ‘Coral Light’ has a kickin’ combination of large coral flowers hovering over dark-edged foliage midstriped with a blaze of more coral. Needs some shade, but laughs at heat and humidity. Grows 8 to 10 inches tall and 10 to 12 inches wide. Annual. simplybeautifulgardens.com
Masses of wine-red flowers on airy three-foot stems nod in the slightest breeze. A classy new flowering tobacco from Floranova, more compact than its ‘Tinkerbell’ cousin. Annual.
Osteospermum Summertime Series
From German grower Dümmen comes a cornucopia of fruit-inspired African daisies, with tasty names like Blueberry and Cranberry. Purple and fuchsia petals have an iridescent look, with dark violet-blue centers. Typically used as an annual.
Your typical sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is one huge flower on a towering stalk - not exactly vase material. But breeders have selected a host of cultivars that produce multiple smaller flowers on shorter, branching stems, perfect for cutting. ‘Jade’ is a unique color - pale green - which goes with everything in a bouquet. Each 4-to-5-foot plant produces loads of 4-to-5-inch flowers. anniesannuals.com, burpee.com, territorialseed.com
Bellflower 'Champion Pink'
An award-winning collection of Canterbury bells (Campanula medium), the Champion Series includes pink, blue, light blue, white and lavender. Though the species is biennial, this series can be grown from seed as an annual, blooming the first year, with upward-facing bell-shaped flowers more than an inch long. Each plant can have up to 10 stems, 2 to 4 feet tall. soquelnursery.com
Beefsteak Plant 'Blazin' Lime'
A cultivar of Iresine herbstii, which is also disturbingly called chicken gizzard and bloodleaf, ‘Blazin’ Lime’ is the new sister to the popular ‘Blazin’ Rose’. Sports lime-green leaves with cream-yellow veining on fuchsia-pink stems. Puts on the best show in light shade. Heat tolerant. Grows 1 to 2 feet tall. Annual. simplybeautifulgardens.com
Solenostemon 'Chocolate Mint'
Solenostemon 'Chocolate Mint' is a rich new coleus with mahogany velvet leaves edged in chartreuse. For just a hint of black, try racy ‘Fishnet Stocking’ coleus, with an inky tracery of black-purple veins over lime green. burpee.com, chocolateflowerfarm.com, parkseed.com, veseys.com
Coleus 'Pink Chaos'
Hot-pink leaves with ruffled, variegated borders edged with a thin line of light green make Solenostemon ‘Pink Chaos’ look like an explosion of neon paisley. Grows 6 to 18 inches tall. Can be perennial in Zones 10 to 11, but elsewhere is an annual. Available from Garden Crossings, Proven Winners, and Sunny Borders Nurseries.
Talinum paniculatum 'Limon'
With waxy, sedumlike foliage and airy heads of tiny pink flowers like baby’s breath, jewels-of-opar is a contrast in textures unto itself. Leaves are that ever-popular glowing chartreuse. Zones 9-11.
Setcreasea 'Grape Ape'
Think purple heart is old hat? Try this new version from Hort Couture with oversized, deep-purple leaves to 3 inches wide. I stumbled on one at a garden center in Atlanta, and it was love at first sight. The graceful way it trails from its container inspires me to try it in a hanging basket.
Pseuderanthemum 'Black Varnish'
This high-gloss tropical foliage plant is such a deep shade of maroon that it's nearly black. Use it outdoors in the summer as an accent plant in a sunny border or container in which it can reach 4 feet. And it can easily be nipped back to keep it comfy in an indoor spot.
Begonia 'Black Taffeta'
Big, black, star-shaped, textured leaves with a red reverse on this Terra Nova introduction give it high drama in the shade garden in summer and in a container in a bright room. Pink flowers chase away winter doldrums. It's hardy in Zones 10-11.
Kale 'Crane Red'
One of the most-striking and long-lasting cut flowers isn’t even a flower. The foliage of ‘Crane Red’ ornamental kale forms a tight cluster, rose veined with a rosy-purple center, at the end of a long, sturdy stem, looking like an oversize rose blossom. The Crane Series (which comes in several colors, including bicolor and white) was bred specifically for cutting, taking the popular cool-season annual kale to new heights, up to 2 feet tall, with heads up to 7 inches wide. germaniaseed.com, gurneys.com, parkseed.com, tsflowers.com
Capsicum annuum 'Medusa'
Hot plus cool equals a jazzy ornamental pepper that’s not pungent, so it’s safe to grow around kids. Indoors it makes a wild “hairdo,” spring through Christmas, of twisty narrow peppers in ivory, yellow, orange and red. Also look for child-friendly ‘Chilly Chili’.
We have just moved from Baltimore to this land of mild winters. I’ve been told I can plant seeds for annuals right now - instead of waiting until spring - to get flowers early next year. What kinds should I try?
I filled a large flower bed with the new Wave petunias last year, and they made a terrific show at first. But near the end of the summer they just quit. The plants still looked healthy, but the flowering stopped completely.
Get more gardening advice.