Anna Naeser: Anna’s Garden
August 9, 2008
For more than a month, a whole hillside glowing with red poppies, near the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Willits Lane on Hwy. 82, was drawing all eyes. At least I think the red flowers were poppies (possibly Papaver rhoes, the field poppy); I haven’t seen them up close.
The first time I noticed them, I did a double take. Luckily, I was sitting on a bus at the time. Such a bold, original display ” visible to the entire valley public ” cheers me up immensely. I don’t know who planted it, what the flowers are, whether the slope was hydroseeded or planted by hand, if it is irrigated or not, and what else may be growing there. But what a grand gesture!
I suspect the gorgeous display was created by annuals, those plants that germinate, grow fast, flower furiously and die, all in one season. If they were a strain of field poppy, they were like Nigella damascena, the love-in-a-mist I wrote about last week, that do best sown in fall or earliest spring where you want them to flower. But cool-season annuals have had their day, and now the brightly colored warm-weather annuals are taking their turn. These plants love the heat but are sensitive to frost, so they are started in greenhouses, to be set out eventually, when nights as well as days are warm. The fabulous selections that flew out of garden centers this spring have filled out and filled in, overflowing containers and densely carpeting flowerbeds up and down the valley.
I recently flipped through an unopened spring garden catalog and was stunned by the bedding plants on offer. I use the word “stunned” advisedly, looking for a superlative to match the superlatives lavished on the annuals (and perennials grown as annuals) that are “more” everything: more easy, more quick growing, more vigorous, more floriferous, more colorful, more long-blooming. Quite a few are foliage plants that never bloom ” the opposite side of the coin. Most of the plants are patented. Greenhouses wishing to grow them to cell-pack size for the consumer, along with their seed-grown stock, must order plugs from the growers that have acquired rights to the patent.
I am not immune to the charms of the ultra-plants. Browsing local nurseries this spring, I fell for a hanging basket of white lobelia setting off pink and white petunias “pink! ” formed in what appeared to be a huge, perfect sphere of flowers. Truly a lovely thing.
Sigh. It looked as out of place hanging from my porch as a bridal bouquet. My family laughed at me indulgently. After a month or so, creeping neglect of my perfect basket of flowers was inevitable: I forgot the essential daily watering, regular dead-heading fell by the wayside, and, of course, I never once gave it the recommended doses of fertilizer. One day the whole shebang just collapsed. My daughter Miranda rescued it with a drastic shearing and soaking, but it has never been the same. No one pays attention to it; it’s just another basket of pretty, ho-hum petunias. The growers would be aghast. It does, however, look like it belongs now.
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You can easily and quickly fill your window boxes, pots and flowerbeds with uniform, modern bedding plants. The bestsellers ” and it’s not just bedding annuals ” have had the seed-setting bred out of them. They are sterile. The flowering plants still try to attract pollinators to reproduce themselves by cranking out more and more flowers, but it is a doomed endeavor. These tireless attention grabbers are as disposable as a florist’s cut flowers ” or paper towels.
Or you can do it the hard way and grow some of the old-fashioned open-pollinated annuals, which still set seed feverishly before they die, seed that is capable of germinating and coming true to the parent. More modest, unruly, rarely uniform, with a limited bloom time like my perennials, they offer, in the words of garden writer Graham Rice, “simplicity, grace, and subtle colors.” More work, too, if you start them yourself, indoors.
The cottage garden annuals dearest to my heart are the self-sowers that design my garden for me. I suppose I am in a rut and could stand to update my repertoire, but since the volunteers pop up wherever they please, and combine and recombine endlessly with the continually evolving palette of perennials and woody plants that make up my garden, I have never lost interest in them.
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