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In between a bona fide heat wave and several rainy, cold days, we actually had a day or two of ideal late spring weather–sunny, dry, and moderately warm.  I spent a good deal of that time planting annuals in the rock garden and other beds around the house.

I love my perennials, but I also love great masses of consistent color; therefore, to me, annuals are indispensable.  Of course I must plant cosmos and cleome!  Here, in a small corner bed in the front of the house, is an adolescent Cosmos ‘Pink Popsock.’  It should grow to about 24 inches.  Cosmos 'Pink Popsock' teenagerIt shares a small bed with Cosmos ‘Sensation Mix’ and Cosmos ‘Summer Dreams.’  I started these babies from seed in my basement on April 28; they should begin blooming by July.  Hopefully they will grow well (last year’s dried out and died) and then re-seed themselves for next summer.

In another corner bed, I have planted Lantana Luscious ‘Tropical Fruit,’ with Nicotiana ‘Hummingbird Mix,’ both nursery stock.  This combination was inspired by a bed I saw last summer at the Penn State botanic gardens, with Lantana and purple globe amaranth.  Dusty Miller, Lantana Luscious 'Tropical Fruit', Nicotiana 'Hummingbird Mix'I had hoped for a bolder yellow Lantana for this bed, but my nursery didn’t stock it this year.  I also had intended to plant Gomphrena ‘Las Vegas Purple’ here; you’ll read more about that later.  Nonetheless, I think I will like the combination of the bright pink and paler yellow here near the front steps.  (The robust Dusty Miller on the border came back from last year, and though it wasn’t part of the original plan, I could not bear to move it!)

Under a rhododendron, I planted wax begonias.  If you ask me whether I like begonias, I will say no; however, they have proven, year after year, to work very well as a bedding plant in this space, and I do not argue with success!

wax begoniaI am an inveterate pincher.  After I plant most nursery stock, I clip off any existing flowers and buds.  This results in fuller, more robust plants, though it does mean waiting an extra couple of weeks for color.  In this case, I don’t even need or want the color yet; the rhododendron is still in bloom, and I feel that the begonias below would create too much visual stimulation if they were in bloom at the same time.

At the edge of this begonia bed, where the sun hits longer and stronger, I use Sweet Alyssum. Sweet alyssum

Another annual I have not been historically fond of is the marigold.  Yet, early this spring, I sowed a flat full of French marigold Tagetes patula ‘Safari Orange’ and ‘Durango Gold.’ I am using ‘Safari Orange’ as a border for a bed next to our side porch.  Some of these teen-aged seedlings (is there a proper term for a plant that’s not a seedling but hasn’t matured to bloom yet?) had a tiny center flower bud, but since I want the plant itself to grow larger, I pinched, pinched, pinched!Marigold 'Safari Orange' pre-bloom stageWhy would I use a flower I don’t actually like?  Well, as I mentioned before, I do like bright, consistent color, and these marigolds will bring a season-long border of orange to this bed of perennials.  Of equal importance, my resident wildlife doesn’t like them. If the weather is damp, slugs may attack marigolds, but last year I found a product called Sluggo quite effective against those pests.

Another reason I use annuals is to help tie together large beds.  For the rock garden, I have chosen Ageratum and Marigold ‘Durango Gold’ as border plants.  Ageratum 'Hawaii Blue'Because some of the perennials grow close to the edge of the rock garden, I cannot plant a continuous row of annuals on the border, but have rather put in several short sections of these plants from one end to the other.  Since it is such a long border, I chose two contrasting colors, blue and yellow, rather than just one.  I think this will help give the garden a less formal, more cottage-like aspect.

To further unify this bed, I have scattered small groups of cleome throughout.  Here is Cleome ‘Queen Pink.’  Cleome 'Queen Pink'

All of my cleome this year is nursery stock.  Some had already grown tall and spindly.  Can you guess what I did to them?  Nip, clip, pinch!  In some cases, I clipped the top four inches off the plant, down to a leaf nodule.  I want these babies to branch out!  new shoots on a clipped back cleomeIt’s been about a week since I clipped this plant, and you can see it is already beginning to develop new shoots along its stem and at the top.  I will eventually pinch off the original large leaf as well; it may have stressed the plant too much had I clipped it at the same time I took the top off!

At the far end of the rock garden, here is one of the many zonal geraniums that I over-wintered  in the house.  Because I wrote about it in this blog last summer, and because I actually went back this spring and read what I had written (!!!), I remembered that I really liked the combination of this purplish-pink flower and the yellow-orange Rudbeckia.  I have inserted three of these geraniums amidst the black-eyed Susans at the edge of their section of the rock garden.  I may have to thin some of the Rudbeckia in the front to give the geraniums enough space!zonal geraniumThe geraniums, as well as the cleome I also intermingled here, will provide color to this end of the rock garden while I wait for the Rudbeckia to bloom in August.

Finally, here are a few Gomphrena,  ‘Las Vegas Purple’ and/or  ‘Audray Rose.’  (It’s in back of the marigolds.)  Gomphrena is more commonly known as Globe Amaranth.  Marigold and Gomphrena 'Las Vegas Purple' adolescent plantsI was so taken with the Lantana/Gomphrena combination at Penn State that I wanted to replicate it in my own garden.  I knew from experience that I would have a hard time finding nursery stock, so I ordered seeds, which I planted on April 22.  They sprouted quickly, and then grew VERY slowly, even on top of a seedling heat mat under the grow lights.  Since it seems it will be quite a while before I see them bloom, I planted them in the rock garden instead of by the front steps, where I want to see color more quickly.  That is why I am using Nicotiana with the Lantana instead of Gomphrena.  It remains to be seen how much success I have with the Gomphrena and whether I’ll try using it again.

These are all of my in-ground annuals, chosen for their “critter resistance,” and past performance records, as well as their usefulness in providing unity and consistent color within the garden.  In my mind, they are well worth the extra work and expense to bring more beauty to my gardens!

Nicotiana 'Hummingbird Mix'