Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
March, 2010
Regional Report

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I think my favorite combination of contrasting colors comes from this planting of heliotrope, alyssum and snapdragons.

Creating Beautiful Borders

In my mixed garden borders, annuals, bulbs and perennials mingle at will. The taller perennials form the backbone; annuals and bulbs provide the sparks of interest, which change with the seasons. I use masses of annuals to fill the gaps between the bulbs and perennials. As one perennial fades and another comes into its own, annuals smooth the transition.

Tall Stars
One of my favorite tall annuals for the back of the border is Love-in-a-mist (Nigella). Light green, lacy, finely divided, threadlike bracts form the "mist" surrounding the jewel-like flowers. Blossoms are usually bright blue to very pale blue, but some may be white, pink or lavender. Each flower is 1-inch across, with 5 large, petal-like sepals and small, deeply divided petals hidden beneath the stamens. The flower is followed by an attractive, balloon-shaped "seedpod" (actually an inflated capsule composed of 5 fused true seedpods). The capsules can be up to 2 inches long, and are green with purple or bronze stripes.

Other tall annual favorites include heliotrope, delphinium and rose mallow. Heliotrope, which is quite fragrant, grows to a height of about 20 inches and has deep blue-purple blossoms in clusters at the ends of the stems. They smell divine in the morning sun. Stately delphiniums command attention when their spikes of blue flowers open in early spring, and I can coax a second flush of bloom by pruning off the spent flower spike. The graceful form of rose mallow (Lavatera trimestris) softens the back of the border with an abundance of satiny blossoms and masses of medium-green foliage. They are particular favorites because they bloom with abandon all season long.

Mid-Height Fillers
There are many mid-height annuals that contribute loads of color to my garden. I've planted pink dianthus, golden nasturtiums, and coreopsis, which produces bright gold flowers on thin, airy stems. Because these plants are massed in the middle of the bed, I'm not as concerned about their carefree growth habits as I am about their color range and ability to bloom over an extended period of time.

On the Edge
I edge beds and walks with old favorites like lobelia, impatiens, and sweet alyssum. All three annuals bloom from early summer until frost, and stay under 6 inches in height. I plant them in drifts and they effortlessly blend with other plants. This way I can disguise the seams of my garden and ease the garden's transition from full sun to filtered shade.

There is no secret to mixing annuals with perennials and bulbs in a garden. Most annuals are shallow-rooted so they can comfortably share space with other plants. Most perennials bloom reliably for about three weeks. By mixing annuals with your early-, mid- and late-season bloomers, you are certain to have a succession of outstanding color in your garden all season long. If you're lucky, your plants will self-sow and create a design of their own next season. I love it when that happens! Don't you?

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