The Value Of Annuals: Versatility In The Garden
The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. This week, we welcome Madaline Sparks to our gardening column. She is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine and writes a bi-weekly garden column for the Chatham Courier. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.
Winter has finally arrived. But wait! There’s a warm-up in the forecast, so the yo-yoing will continue. Spring is only about four weeks away, but, in this region, we all know that the calendar doesn’t dictate when spring is truly here—the temperature of the soil determines that. We gardeners must be patient. While waiting, planning for the coming garden season is a perfect way to ride the roller coaster of the 2016 weather pattern.
In light of that, I had a long conversation with Dorthe Hviid, director of horticulture at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Mass. The BBG is a beautiful gem of a small public garden and an excellent resource for inspiration.
As the individual responsible for creating an exciting display for visitors of annual foliage and flowers that will carry the garden right through late fall, Dorthe must consider multiple factors in her designs.
Pennesetum villosum or “feathertop grass”
In her 24 years at the BBG, Dorthe has developed a basic formula to design each season. Approximately 80 percent of the plant selections are tried and true stalwarts which have proven themselves in the past by exhibiting great flower color, long bloom season, interesting foliage and/or form. About 20 percent of the choices each year are new players.
The deep border that welcomes visitors upon arrival is the canvas she uses to paint a rich and varied design with combinations of old-fashioned classics, tender perennials and exotic tropicals. Color is the theme she employs to organize the design. She prefers using tonal combinations rather than contrasting colors. One area features a palette of yellow, apricot, orange, red, bronze and blackish-purple. Another section shifts into a palette of blue, purple, white, pink and silver. As a filler (one plant that visually knits together the various beds), drifts of a 14- to 20-inch-tall annual grass called pennesetum villosum, or feathertop grass, are used. The blades are a light green and produce fluffy silvery-white panicles, which dance in the breeze from late summer through early fall.
Among the workhorses are bog sage (salvia uliginosa), ageratum “high tide blue,” annual agastaches, verbena bonariensis, New Zealand purple castor bean, and a white and pale pink cosmos called “daydream.” Gomphrena “fireworks” has a big, bushy habit with a wild magenta puffball tipped in golden yellow.
Amaranthus “hot biscuits,” a 4-foot-tall, upright variety with cinnamon flowers is one of the anchors in the warm-colored garden. Hibiscus “mahogany splendor” is another stunner. This non-flowering plant grows 3 to 4 feet high and features deep burgundy, maple-shaped leaves in full sun — an attractive look similar to a Japanese maple. A new variety of cosmos will be added this season named “xanthos,” a compact grower with three-inch buttery-yellow blooms.
Dorthe uses landscape zinnias as low fillers at the front of the beds. I love these guys! About 15 inches tall and wide, the plants bloom prolifically and keep on blooming, with drought and disease resistant qualities to boot. In the color schemes at BBG, you’ll see the oranges and reds used to great effect.