Annual Events – Part 1

Rudbeckia hirta 'Chim Chiminee' with Pennisetum glaucum 'Jester'

Signs of spring are finally starting to appear here in southeastern Pennsylvania. Just yesterday morning, I heard the pre-dawn twitterings of the first woodcocks as they migrate through here in March, and new shoots are popping up even through the soggy soil. Still, it’s going to be a while yet before there’s a lot of color to enjoy outside, so I decided to delve into my photo archives to get some ideas for combinations that I may want to revisit, and I’ve selected a bunch of my favorites in the hopes that they may help to brighten your day too. They cover a range of color themes, but they all have one thing in common: one or more annuals or tender perennials as the stars of the scene. There are a lot of them, so I’ll show just the summer combos here and save the fall and foliage pairings for follow-up posts.

Starting in June…

Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens' with Perovskia at Hayefield

I’ve had mixed luck with blue honeywort (Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’): sometimes it develops the stunning blue bracts around the flowers and sometimes it doesn’t. I haven’t planted it on purpose for a number of years, but a few still come up on their own each spring. The group above put themselves around the base of a silvery Russian sage (Perovskia), making for a subtle but still pretty pairing.

‘Buddy’ globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) is the exact opposite of subtle. It reaches just 6 to 8 inches tall, but it packs a big punch color-wise. Below it’s with ‘Australian Yellow’ lettuce.

Gomphrena globosa 'Buddy' with 'Australian Yellow' lettuce at Hayefield

‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ fuchsia (Fuchsia triphylla) with ‘Purple Knight’ alternanthera (Alternanthera dentata) and ‘Sweet Georgia Light Green’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) at Hayefield

Above, another bright grouping, featuring ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ fuchsia (Fuchsia triphylla) with ‘Purple Knight’ alternanthera (Alternanthera dentata) and ‘Sweet Georgia Light Green’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas).

And at the end of the month, back to a calming combo of greens and gray, with bells-of-Ireland (Molucella laevis), ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), a hybrid bluestar (Amsonia) at the back, and the lacy green foliage of khella (Ammi visnaga).

Bells-of-Ireland (Molucella laevis), ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), a hybrid bluestar (Amsonia), and khella (Ammi visnaga) at Hayefield

Moving on to the July garden…

Antirrhinum majus 'Frosted Flames' with Tropaeolum majus 'Jewel of Africa' at Hayefield

Most sources describe ‘Frosted Flames’ snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) as reaching to 18 inches tall, but for me, it rarely gets more than 6 inches or so. You can see the scale of the tiny, heavily variegated leaves and dainty blooms above against the 2-inch-wide, cream-splashed leaves of ‘Jewel of Africa’ nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus).

I can’t really claim to have created the vision in yellow below, but it’s one of my all-time favorites. I grew the ‘Prairie Sun’ gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta) from seed and set it out the year before, then the dill (Anethum graveolens; in back) and thorough-wax (Bupleurum rotundifolium; in front) seeded themselves nearby for the second-summer display.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Prairie Sun' with dill (Anethum graveolens; in back) and thorough-wax (Bupleurum rotundifolium) at Hayefield

Arctotis (Venidium) 'Wine' with Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor' at Hayefield

While I’m not a huge fan of pink, it has its moments. Tricolor sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’) ought to be hardy here in Zone 6b, apparently, but it has never survived the winter outdoors for me, so I think of it as an annual. Its partner above, ‘Wine’ African daisy (Arctotis or Venidium), is another tender perennial I have to treat as an annual.

The collection below includes two more tenders that I grow as annuals: heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens), which I can never resist when I do my spring plant shopping, and ‘Silver Falls’ silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea), which is easy to start from seed and also self-sows. Paired with them are a few hardy perennials, including chives (Allium schoenoprasum; not in bloom), ‘Prairie Frost’ purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and ‘Becky Towe’ summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), with a bit of southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) and ‘Dali Marble’ burnet (Sanguisorba menziesii) behind them.

Heliotropium arborescens and Dichondra argentea 'Silver Falls' with chives (Allium schoenoprasum; not in bloom), ‘Prairie Frost’ purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and ‘Becky Towe’ summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) at Hayefield

Golden catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’), ‘Jester’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum), ‘Ace of Spades’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), ‘Profusion Orange’ zinnia, and ‘Angelina’ sedum (Sedum rupestre) at Hayefield

For something zippier, there’s the collection above, with golden catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’), ‘Jester’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum), ‘Ace of Spades’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), ‘Profusion Orange’ zinnia, and ‘Angelina’ sedum (Sedum rupestre).

Below, a mix of edible and ornamental annuals including, among other things, ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets, a red-stemmed ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard, scarlet tassel flower (Emilia javanica), and rosy pink ‘Limerock Ruby’ coreopsis.

‘Bull’s Blood’ beets, a red-stemmed ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard, scarlet tassel flower (Emilia javanica), and ‘Limerock Ruby’ coreopsis at Hayefield

Coreopsis 'Limerock Dream' with 'Xenox' sedum and ‘Red Majestic’ contorted hazel (Corylus avellana)

Above, another of the functionally-annual ‘Limerock’ coreopsis selections (this one is ‘Limerock Dream’) with ‘Xenox’ sedum and a bit of ‘Red Majestic’ contorted hazel (Corylus avellana).

Some years I have great luck with love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus); in other years, the flea beetles and/or cucumber beetles chew it to lace and it hardly blooms. Below is love-lies-bleeding in a good year, paired with ‘Ondra’s Green Mix’ flowering tobacco (Nicotiana).

Amaranthus caudatus and Nicotiana 'Ondra's Green Mix' at Hayefield

And one more for July, below: a detail shot of ‘Purple Knight’ alternanthera (Alternanthera dentata) mingling with the tiny, dark-centered blooms of  ‘Mandarin Orange’ creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia procumbens).

Alternanthera dentata 'Purple Knight' with ‘Mandarin Orange’ creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia procumbens) at Hayefield

For August…

‘Black Velvet Scarlet’ zonal geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum), red orach (Atriplex hortensis ‘Rubra’), orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida), ‘Starfire Mix’ signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia), ‘Rhubarb’ Swiss chard, and ‘Zowie Yellow Flame’ zinnia (Zinnia elegans) at Hayefield

Above, starting at the bottom left and working clockwise, then to the middle: ‘Black Velvet Scarlet’ zonal geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum), red orach (Atriplex hortensis ‘Rubra’), orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida), ‘Starfire Mix’ signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia), ‘Rhubarb’ Swiss chard, and ‘Zowie Yellow Flame’ zinnia (Zinnia elegans).

Below, from the bottom up, ‘Sweet Caroline Light Green’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth (Amaranthus), ‘Profusion Cherry’ zinnia, and golden elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’).

‘Sweet Caroline Light Green’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth (Amaranthus), ‘Profusion Cherry’ zinnia, and golden elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’) at Hayefield

‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), narrow-leaved zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia), ‘Sunny Smile’ sunflower (Helianthus annuus), ‘Princess’ fountain grass (Pennisetum purpureum), and ‘Aztec Orange’ zinnia (Z. elegans)

Here’s another nearly-all-annuals grouping that I think turned out really well and looked good for months. Starting at the bottom and working upward: ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), narrow-leaved zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia), ‘Sunny Smile’ sunflower (Helianthus annuus), ‘Princess’ fountain grass (Pennisetum purpureum), and ‘Aztec Orange’ zinnia (Z. elegans).

Below, another long-lasting mixed combo: from the bottom up, ‘Angelina’ sedum, ‘Bull’s Blood’ beet, ‘Profusion Orange’ zinnia, ‘Lady in Red’ Texas or hummingbird sage (Salvia coccinea), the summer foliage of ‘Gerald Darby’ iris, ‘Jester’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum), and golden catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’).

‘Angelina’ sedum, ‘Bull’s Blood’ beet, ‘Profusion Orange’ zinnia, ‘Lady in Red’ Texas or hummingbird sage (Salvia coccinea), the summer foliage of ‘Gerald Darby’ iris, ‘Jester’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum), and golden catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’) at Hayefield

‘Sedona’ coleus with ‘Angelface Blue’ angelonia

A couple of close-ups…above, ‘Sedona’ coleus with ‘Angelface Blue’ angelonia; below, snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) with Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) and summer phlox (Phlox paniculata)…

Euphorbia marginata with Stipa tenuissima and Phlox paniculata at Hayefield

…and below, Tropicanna canna (Canna ‘Phaison’) with ‘Limerock Dream’ coreopsis.

Tropicanna canna (Canna ‘Phaison’) with ‘Limerock Dream’ coreopsis at Hayefield

South African foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba ‘Alba’), variegated ‘Snow Fairy’ bluebeard (Caryopteris divaricata), and amethyst flower (Browallia americana)

Above, a cool and quiet combination featuring white South African foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba ‘Alba’), variegated ‘Snow Fairy’ bluebeard (Caryopteris divaricata), and airy blue amethyst flower (Browallia americana).

And back to bright colors for a final summer combo below, with ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth (Amaranthus), ‘Jester’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum), and ‘Chim Chiminee’ gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta).

Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth (Amaranthus), ‘Jester’ millet (Pennisetum glaucum), and ‘Chim Chiminee’ gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta)

Aaah, that has helped to take the edge off of my spring fever for a bit. Time to get busy with seed-sowing to get some interesting ingredients for this year’s combos.

24 responses to this post.

  1. Enjoying sights in a dull and harsh day… Thank you so much Nan !

    My pleasure, Nicole. It was much needed.
    -Nan

  2. Posted by Judith on March 1, 2013 at 7:02 am

    Nan, if you have time (and it’s hard to imagine how you COULD have such time) to host an open garden, I would love to come up from where I live in Washington Co., MD, to see it in person. Your soil may be better than mine, tho’ I suspect you’ve done better by yours than I have by mine; I could stand to glean something from your experience. And you have certainly experimented, playfully but I think knowingly, with more color and form from both ornamental and edible plants than I have so far. I appreciate your including the Latin names as well as the common. With your fine photography (fine eye too!) and refreshingly careful writing, your blog stands out as just about the best of the many I read. Thank you. And a bountiful spring to you!

    Thank you so much for your lovely comments, Judith. I’m not planning to have any open garden days this year, because it looks like I’ll be very busy with work. If you check back on the 15th through the next eight months, you’ll see the best of what is going on each month without taking the time and hassle to get up here. I wish you a wonderful growing season in your own garden!
    -Nan

  3. Posted by Susan Gilmour on March 1, 2013 at 7:22 am

    The colours! Love them. Did you grow the Bells of Ireland from seed, I tried once, only got 2! Is there a trick to it?
    What’s your fav time of day to take pics? I’m always trying to capture my garden but you have the lighting just right. Gorgeous.
    Have a great day and thanks for making me smile this morning!!….Sue

    That’s another one I’ve had mixed success with, Sue. If memory serves, it helps to chill the seeds for a week or two before moving them to a warm spot to germinate.

    My favorite time to take pictures is pretty much anytime it is at least partly cloudy. If the sky is clear, I try for around dawn or in early evening.

    Happy spring!
    -Nan

  4. Oh my! This morning I am celebrating the first day of meteorological spring now I am longing for the real thing. One of the joys I get out of gardening is dreaming up interesting vignettes of foliage, texture and form. Unusual annuals and tropicals are always big players. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Hey there, Sue. I suspect I may be fooling myself that I’ll be repeating any of these combos, but it sure was a great excuse to sort through some pretty pictures while waiting for things to warm up here. I wish you lots of fun with your garden this summer.
    -Nan

  5. Beautiful as always Nan! Is ‘Limerock Dream’ a perennial for you? Thanks for the reminder about ‘Prairie Sun’ too — that is one of my favorites and it didn’t reseed for me last year. Time to start some seeds… :)

    Oh, no – none of the Limerock coreopsis are hardy here (6b), but they are so beautiful that I often treat myself to one or two and accept that they’ll be annual.
    -Nan

  6. Here we still have a lot of snow, but yesterday I find some hyacinth shoots on the sunny side of our house – so we will have spring this year to!
    Of all the lovely photos I find my favourite in the beginning, these striking Gomphrena globosa which I never hear about and seen earlier. I love colours in the garden, the more the better!

    Yay – spring’s arriving in Sweden too! Isn’t that globe amaranth incredibly cute? It’s a tricky color to combine with other flowers, but it’s terrific with chartreuse foliage.
    -Nan

  7. Posted by seedmoney on March 1, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Anybody seen my socks?

    Seriously, girl you never fail to thrill and inspire–Thank you!

    Oh nooo…put your socks back on; it’s still way too cold to be barefoot! Thanks for stopping by today, seedmoney.
    -Nan

  8. Stunning! I am scribbling notes furiously, hoping to recreate some of these color and texture combinations. Thank you for the inspiration!

    You’re most welcome, Heather. The great thing about annual combinations is that they tend to look good over such a long time. I hope you have fun coming up with your own take on these groupings!
    -Nan

  9. Posted by Olwen Kuiper on March 1, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Hi Nan, Love your blog. Wondering what type of camera you use to take the clear and incredible photos? Olwen from Whislter, B.C., Canada

    Hi, Olwen; thanks for visiting. The camera is a Fuji Finepix S7000. It’s 9 years old now, I think, and unfortunately it’s not made anymore. I’m not looking forward to the day I have to replace it; it has been such a gem.
    -Nan

    • Posted by Olwen Kuiper on March 2, 2013 at 9:37 pm

      Thanks Nan. Your photos are beautiful. Olwen

      Thanks for reading, Olwen. Have a great weekend.
      -Nan

  10. Posted by Donna B. on March 1, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Ahhh… what a lovely sight for my winter-weary eyes!
    So many annual combinations! I did something dastardly this year and purchased some annual flower seeds too… normally I’m against the thought of annual flowers, but everytime I goto my boyfriend’s mother’s house – I just admire her blue salvia and lantana and all of the other awesome annuals she grows…
    So I think I need to get past this stigma of annuals and just GROW SOME. Hehe.
    That, and get some sweet potato vine. I love me some chartruese & purply-red! ♥

    Whimper…you don’t like annuals, Donna? But…but…they’re so versatile, and often so dependable, and just so much fun! Mixing them with perennials makes creating combinations with perennials sooo easy, too. All I am saying is: give seeds a chance!
    -Nan

  11. Thanks for another great post! I hope your blog doesn’t keep track of how much I’ve been browsing the archives lately. You would be tempted to block me for cyber stalking…. but it’s such a refreshing tonic for these last few weeks of winter.
    Have you ever tried one of the red globe amaranths? I have QIS red reseeding for the last few years, it’s as bold as the purple, just taller and in red.

    It’s a good thing that WordPress doesn’t keep info on individual visitors, huh? Yep, I have tried ‘Strawberry Fields’ globe amaranth and really liked it; it has never self-sowed here, though.
    -Nan

  12. Posted by Kerry Sanders on March 1, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Oh Lordy Nan, another gorgeous spread for me to peruse! That pairing of tropical canna and coreopsis is inspired. I cannot get enough of your pics, they make me drool!

    That’s one of my favorites too, Kerry. I may have to try it again this year. I hope your gardening season and all of your projects have been going well.
    -Nan

  13. I love studying your photos to understand how each combination works. Many of them use opposites on the color wheel, combined with color echoes. They are color symphonies, very complex.

    That’s my strategy in a nutshell, Kathy. It’s easy to find contrasts, and it’s easy to do echoes, but the best combinations include some of both.
    -Nan

  14. Spring is starting the the buds breaking, peonies are coming up through the ground, and the temperature is now in the low sixities. It is a wonderful season. I really enjoy the anticipation and the hope that is so embedded in this time of year. Your photos were very inspiring, thank you.

    It sounds like you’re a few weeks ahead of us here in PA, Charlie. I hope you have a wonderful spring in your part of the world!
    -Nan

  15. Posted by kate patrick on March 2, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    There’s a light snow on the ground here in middle TN and all the trees are outlined in white. Picturesque but chilly! I am gnawing at the bit to get out and work in the garden… can’t remember having spring fever so badly in the last few years, I guess because other years have been warmer lately. Anyway, saying all that to say that your blog refreshes the eyes and the soul at a time like this! I love, love, love the yellow on yellow composition! It made me think of lemon icebox pie… crisp and tangy! The deep purples of the millet and the harvest golds of the rudbeckia were another favorite. When I see all the veggies you use in your garden like the chards and such, I wonder that the bunnies have not invaded your property. Do you have fencing to exclude them from those areas? Thanks for another wonderful blog entry!

    Hang on, Kate – spring is on its way, I’m sure. Funny you should mention rabbits: I’ve seen several already haunting the garden when I go out to give Duncan and Daniel their bedtime snacks. Thanks to Mom’s handiwork, the veg area is now fully enclosed, but there’s no way to exclude the critters from the rest of the garden, so I’ll just have to depend on the hawks and the neighbors’ cats to keep the bunnies at bay.
    -Nan

  16. Not sure why, but I was struck by three photos that feature salmon/peach color: Something sublime about the combo of purply gray sedum ‘Xenon’ with Coreopsis ‘Limerock Dream’……Also, same coreopsis with the translucent Canna foliage really sings……and then the combination of Coleus ‘Sedona’ with the blue-violet angelonia was splendid, especially because of the more violet tones in the new leaves of the coleus.

    Hey there, Eric. That’s another thing I really like about ‘Limerock Dream’ – there aren’t many other flowers with that particular salmon/peach/pink color. And how interesting that you mentioned the violet tinge to the new ‘Sedona’ leaves; I never noticed that before. That coleus has such an interesting way of ranging in color from orange to brick red to rosy red that it may as well have some purple in it too.
    -Nan

    • We’re trying a rose called ‘Peach Drift’ at my community park which will hopefully bring that color blend to a new planting bed. Nearby, we have Agastache rupestre ‘Salmon & Pink’ and to bring out the gold tones, we’ve added a trumpet lily called ‘African Queen’. Can’t wait to see if they work together.

      That sounds lovely, Eric. Flower Carpet Amber rose is another flower with that peachy pink-and-gold color range.
      -Nan

  17. Spectacular!! I’m adding more annuals this year and have winter sown several different types. I’ve never winter sown anything before so I hope something grows! Do you plan these combos before you grow everything? I winter sowed ammi majus and others that are reportedly easy to grow.

    I did put some thought into most of these combos at planting time, but sometimes they were simply delightful surprises. Best of luck with your seeds this spring!
    -Nan

  18. Posted by Christin K. on March 4, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Wonderful as always Nan. I particularly love the combos with that ‘Limerock Dream’ Coreopsis. Your swiss chard looks lovely btw. Mine ended up getting infested with leaf miners. No big loss though, turns out I heartily dislike the taste of chard anyway ;-)
    CMK

    Yeah, I have trouble with leaf miners here too, but as you say, it doesn’t matter too much if the plants are just ornamental!
    -Nan

  19. Beautiful. I am so inspired by your lovely photos and artful plant combinations!

    How kind, Marian. I hope you have a wonderful growing season!
    -Nan

  20. Posted by Natalie on March 7, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    you are very talented. Love your work. Wish I could come study under you and learn all you have to teach! Great work!

    Thanks so much, Natalie. You’re welcome to check out some of my books, and to visit here again. I usually add a new post twice a month.
    -Nan

  21. Posted by Nicole from France on March 8, 2013 at 6:08 am

    whaou !!! I am stuck on my chair ! splendid combinations, Nan, so colourful and subtil !!! here , near Paris, spring has started, a lot of buds and small leaves, the bords are singing like mad, and it is a great joy to see photos of summer blooms !

    Ah, the joy of having lots of photos tucked away, so we can enjoy them when things outside look bleak. We’re snow-covered here this morning, but we’re supposed to warm up again soon. It will be a while before we catch up to you, though.
    -Nan

  22. It is snowing again here in IA. Onlyn10 more days until the calendar says spring!!! I am new to your blog and have my pad and pen out to write combos down that I love. Especially the Sedona Coleus with angel face blue Angelonia!!! Love it as well as many others.. You have helped my….I wish spring would come NOW. I love your sight!!

    Welcome, Karen – thanks so much for visiting. I’m so glad you enjoyed the colorful combos. I hope you get melted soon so you can start working on your own garden. Have a great spring, whenever it gets there!
    -Nan

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