Annuals shine in an otherwise neglected garden
August 26, 2005
The sun had not yet touched the border when I did my first morning tour around the deck after a two-week absence.Still in slippers, coffee mug in hand, purring companion at my ankles, I looked around me as hard as I could at the beauty surrounding me in every direction. How marvelous to come home from wonderful places and find I live in the most wonderful place of all!Still, I was expecting my garden to look a bit sad and neglected especially since circumstances had prevented me from spending much time in it beforehand. Part of the garden does indeed look unkempt, and unfortunately it’s the part most people see. While I was away, though, the annual flowers came into their own, and the border next to the house looks pretty good, framed by flourishing vines.I don’t have many annuals. Satiny magenta daisies of Cosmos bipinnatus with their tufted yellow eyes are set off by fine-textured foliage. Dainty mounds of signet marigolds, Tagetes tenuifolia, are flowering profusely. The petite orangey flowers have darker centers the color of California poppies. In contrast, the primary-colored zinnias and dark-eyed golden sunflowers have stiff, thick stems and coarse hairy leaves. The zinnias stand rigidly at attention while the rangy, wild sunflowers lean this way and that.Houseplant geraniums started in the greenhouse, held in reserve to fill unexpected bare spots and set out before I left, are blooming in cheerful colors.In late spring, the luxuriant new growth of all vines trained up the deck posts was lopped off so the house could be painted and a new deck built. I hated to do it, but the vines, well and deeply rooted, rushed to replace their lost stems and leaves. The new deck rail is made of sturdy wire fencing in a square grid. I had this idea of dangling lengths of twine knotted to the railing for the elongating stems to climb until they could reach the wire. It might have worked if the wind hadn’t wound them into ropes and the cat hadn’t fished them up. In the end, I tied them to the bottom wire. Several months later, the silver lace vine is happily twining its stems clockwise around the wire, while the clematis and woodbine spiral their tendrils around it in tight green scribbles.The silver lace or fleece vine, Polygonum Aubertii, was supposed to be so vigorous it could cover a shed in a single season. It has beautiful, supple stems 12 feet long and the new growth is a lovely rhubarb red. It took awhile but mine grew very large and the main stem became a trunk. I didn’t dare prune it for fear of killing it, until a storm pulled the whole overgrown plant to the ground and I had no choice but to cut it down. The next spring it grew like crazy. It blooms on new wood and it is in its glory right now, frothing with creamy flowers that won’t quit until winter.A Rocky Mountain native, Parthenocissus inserta, locally called woodbine, also known as Virginia creeper, has large, handsome leaves that turn red in fall if the weather is right and clusters of glossy blue-black berries. When it gets hot, the leaves may become pale, speckled and papery, but no permanent harm is done, and I can live with a bit of cosmetic damage.Dutchman’s pipe, Aristolochia macrophylla, named after its peculiar but negligible flowers, has distinctive leaves. Large and rounded, they hang flatly from twining stems in extraordinary scalloped layers. This vine would make a great screen. I planted it near the front door, where I can admire it and ignore the many shoots sprouting in the border yards away like bindweed.A sensible person would only plant Dutchman’s pipe where the roots are confined, or not at all.The verdant foliage of the vines that sets off the bright flowers of the garden and dresses up our plain rectangular house will act as a privacy screen and noise baffle when the deck railing is overgrown. It makes the porch feel more like a secluded arbor than a patio. Though south-facing, the patio is significantly cooler than the north side of the house in the summer and warmer in the winter, when the leafless stems of the dormant vines admit the low slanting rays of the sun. Stellar’s jays feed on the woodbine berries and smaller seed-eating birds raid the silver lace vines for their papery seeds. Both at ground level and from the deck, the vines contribute to an illusion of seclusion and remoteness, which makes me feel comfortable in the middle of town. Even if the whole garden had gone to pot, by widening my view just a little, I would still find it wonderful.Anna gardens in Basalt with her husband, Gerry, and dog, Maggie. She’d love to hear from you at email@example.com. Please put “Anna’s Garden” in the e-mail subject line.
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