Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
January, 2005
Regional Report

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The lush foliage and vibrant flower colors of plants such as these cannas make them popular with tropical and temperate gardeners alike.

Temperennials Fill the Gaps

Did you know that petunias are perennials? So are impatiens and sweet potato vines. Yet these plants are often labeled as annuals because they are hardy (and therefore perennial) only in tropical climates. As you probably know, a true annual completes its life cycle in one growing season. So the botanist in me cringes at this bit of misinformation. More importantly, some plants commonly sold as annuals will overwinter in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 and 8, and if a plant is in that category, I want to know about it!

Now a new term has been coined to help gardeners understand these perennial-often-grown-as-annual plants: temperennials. I first saw the term in the Bluebird Nursery catalog; in it, the writer attributes the term to Pierre Bennerup of Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut. If I were a betting person, I'd wager the term will catch on quickly.

According to the Bluebird Nursery catalog and Web site:

"Temperennials are those not-so-hardy, but very showy plants that can add some 'spice' to your landscape. These unusual, sometimes hard-to-find, but spectacular plants may be hardy in zone 7-10, biennial, or annual, so we've looked for a way to offer them without confusing our regular 'perennial' customers."

Thus, a new gardening term is born!

It's All Relative
The distinction between the terms "perennial" and "annual" continues to blur, as more and more plants are bred from tropical and semitropical parent plants. Add the fact that national chain stores are increasingly in the business of selling plants, and it's easy to see why the stores label plants as annual, rather than having to customize labels and train store personnel in the nuances of region and hardiness. For example, Verbena bonariensis is perennial to Zone 7, so I can treat it as a perennial here in Asheville. When I gardened in Vermont, I grew this as an annual, and to be on the safe side, stores often sell it as such. (Inquiring about plant hardiness in northern Vermont is a little like having to ask the price of something. If you have to ask, you can't afford it. In Vermont, if you have to ask about a plant's hardiness, it's probably not hardy.)

An Honest Relationship
To me, the term temperennial calls to mind relationships and expectations. Is this a one-time summer fling (zinnias) or a lifetime commitment (peonies)? Or something in between? Spring is a time of anticipation for gardeners, as we survey our landscape for signs of returning life. We expect to pull up and replant annuals, but a perennial that doesn't return represents a loss -- and even a failure to those who take their gardens very personally.

Temperennials swagger in to stun us with their showy, exuberant growth in spring and summer. Then they depart in fall, leaving us to wonder whether they'll return again. If they don't, well, we kind of expected that. If they do, then they can have a piece of our heart for another season. No lifetime commitments here.

Bluebird nursery lists among its temperennials abutilon (USDA hardiness zone 8), agapanthus (zone 7), leonotis (zone 8), passionflower (zone 8), tibouchina (zone 9), scented geraniums (zone 10), and coleus (zone 10). All of these are well worth growing, as long as you don't let them steal your heart.

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