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By John Schofield
With the opportunity to create a wide range of colors each year, it is difficult to understand why flower borders formed of hardy annuals are not more popular. It is true that these beds involve quite a lot of work, in relative terms, but this pales into insignificance when you see the superb results and gain the opportunity each year to experiment with new varieties and their positions within a border.
Do not underestimate the power of these plants! Yes, they do take a little more work than most – there is digging to be done in winter, soil preparation in spring, seeds to be sown, seedlings to be thinned, and so on – but nevertheless they will bring superb results to your garden very quickly and you will have great fun re-arranging your groups of annuals over the years. The seed companies produce countless different varieties each growing season, so you will never have to look very hard in order to come up with new ideas for visual effects in your borders. Here are some classic color combinations:
These introduce shape and texture variations to borders, and are ideal for filling gaps around existing plants. Preferably, they like well-drained, fertile soil in full sun.
– Agrostisnebulosa (cloud grass): Tufted and wispy, to about 38cm (15m) high. It combines well with the hardy annual Echium lycopsis (purple viper’s bugloss).
– Hordeumjubatum (squirrel grass): Soft, plume-like, light-green heads about 45cm high. It cohabits well with dimorphothecas.
– Lagurusovatus (hare’s-tail grass): Fluffy, white flowers about 30cm (1ft) high. Grow it with the hardy annual Clarkia elegans.
Groups of annuals to consider
Mainly yellow: For a principally yellow annual border, sow yellow-flowered annual lupins in front of Helianthus annuus (sunflower), which reveals large, yellow flowers with brown or purple centres. To create a striking color contrast, sow the crimson-flowered Amaranthus caudatus (love-lies-bleeding) on either side. Pink, scarlet and red medley: For brilliant red and pink contrasts, sow two large patches of scarlet annual poppies (Papaver rhoeas and popularly known as the field poppy) and red, low-growing nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) at the front of the border, with the pink-flowered Agrostemma githago ‘Milas’ in a large, kidney-shaped area behind both of them. Cottage-garden corners: Mixed annual borders are ideally suited to cottage gardens, so try a medley of Malcolmia maritimci (Virginian stock), Iberis umbellata (candytuft) and Clarkiapulchella.
The Virginian stock has sweetly-scented, cross-shaped flowers in white, pink, red, lavender and purple; candytuft has clustered heads of white, red, or purple flowers; clarkia bears dainty sprays of flowers in white, crimson, or violet. A scented and pastel-shaded study: Sow Matthiola bicornis (night-scented stock) in a group with the silver-leaved border plant Stachys byzantina (lamb’s tongue), the half-hardy Nicotianaalata ‘Dwarf White Bedder’ and the hardy biennial Dianthus barbatus ‘Giant White’. As well as having a delicate and subdued appearance, this group of plants produces a range of scents that are an absolute feast for the nose! Brightening a low wall: Where a low wall borders a garden, sow a trailing form of Tropaeolum majus (nasturtium) to sprawl over the top and to mingle with shrubs such as Cotoneasterhorizontalis, a deciduous shrub with branches that have a herringbone appearance. The cotoneaster offers the bonus of bearing thick clusters of round, red berries, for added effect.
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