Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Unusual Annuals

For many years I did not have my own "bit of earth," and my only garden was a rented community plot. Out of necessity I learned to embrace transience and grew lots of annuals. Bored with growing just the usual zinnias and marigolds (although I love those as well), I experimented with quite a few unusual annuals that could be grown from seed. Here are some that were my favorites. I'm not sure I would grow many of them again now that I have permanent ground, but I had a lot of fun trying them out!

Clarkia bottae 'Amethyst Glow'
I just adored this delicate little clarkia. The soft violet purple color of the flowers complemented the ferny foliage well. This photo doesn't do it justice - the plant emanated a kind of gentle ethereal spirit in my semi-shady garden.

Helipterum roseum
This weird plant was one of my all-time favorite annuals. It is an everlasting - those pink petals are really dry, papery, bracts. The flowers were luminous round discs that lasted a long time in the garden. They are held high on tall, wiry stems. The flowers close towards the center close almost mechanically in rain, which is kind of fun to watch (pour water over them and they will start slowly closing). In the photo above they're growing through another plant, but helipterum foliage and habit are also quite attractive, as you can see from the picture below:

Helipterum roseum foliage

Clarkia amoena 'Fruit Punch'
I love the fleeting flowers of clarkia - so romantic! I can understand why people don't grow them more often, because the flowers certainly do not last long in the garden, and the foliage is not much to talk about before or after. A great plant for a cutting garden, however.

Clarkia amoena  'Fruit Punch'
Here are several colors of the clarkia, with Bells of Ireland (moluccella laevis) behind.

Balsam (Impatiens balsamina)
Now Balsam is an annual I'm surprised you don't see more often. It really has everything going for it:
  1. Grows in the shade (it's under a tree here)
  2. Flowering period is quite long
  3. Great plant habit - holds itself up with aplomb, and adds a spiky, upright texture to the garden
  4. Incredibly easy to grow from seed
  5. Self-seeds and will return on its own year after year
  6. Finally, beautifully formed double appleblossom type flowers
I had a little colony of balsam under this tree for many years and never needed to do any work with them whatsoever. Some people report that the self-seeding can be pesky, but this was not an issue for me. It's related to the more common type of impatiens for shade that you can buy everywhere in the summer, but this is an annual you can grow from seed.

Gilia capitata (the violet puffy flowers), with Calendula and California poppy 'Purple Gleam'
I suppose Gilia capitata (aka Blue Thimble Flower) is not unusual in California, where it is a native wildflower, but I had never seen it anywhere in a Wisconsin garden before. It is definitely a flower for the wild, informal border, but I enjoyed it immensely. It made a lovely companion for calendula, as shown in this picture. It did not flower very profusely for me (probably would have more flowers in poorer soil), but the twisty, ferny foliage added a pleasantly chaotic lightness to this part of the border. It blooms in midsummer and requires full sun. Very easy to grow from seed sown directly in the garden, and reseeds itself nicely.

Nemophila menziessii
This teeny-tiny plant is fleeting but charming. It is sometimes known as "Baby Blue Eyes" and you can see why. The photo above is enlarged several times - the flowers are actually only about a thumbnail's width, and the foliage is diminutive as well. The bright blue color is arresting while it lasts. This plant grew well from direct sown seed for me, but did not reseed at all.

1 comment:

  1. Clarkia is a plant I have not tried in my cottage garden. As you say, it is romantic and beautiful. Even though the blooms don't last long, it seems like a nice addition to the garden.


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