In the Garden:
I think my favorite combination of contrasting colors comes from this planting of heliotrope, alyssum, and snapdragons.
Bold and Beautiful Borders
In my mixed garden borders, annuals, bulbs, perennials, and shrubs mingle with abandon. The perennials and shrubs form the backbone; annuals and bulbs provide sparks of interest to enliven the garden throughout the season. I use masses of annuals to bring a sense of continuity to the border and to fill the gaps between the shrubs and perennials. As one perennial fades and another comes into its own, annuals smooth the transition.
One of my favorite tall annuals for the back of the border is cleome (Cleome haslerana). Like a good party host, it doesn't dominate but brings out the best in its companions. Each plant produces a single, upright stem with narrow leaves, topped with a cluster of spidery, pink blooms. They provide the perfect backdrop for my hybrid columbines (Aquilegia).
Other tall annual favorites include delphiniums and rose mallow. Stately delphiniums command attention when their spikes of blue flowers open in early spring, and 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.
There are many mid-height annuals that can contribute loads of color to the garden. This year I've planted nicotiana, pink dianthus, golden nasturtiums, and tickseed (Coreopsis tinctoria), 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 penchant for blooming over a long period of time.
For fragrance, I like to plant stock (Matthiola incana), snapdragons, and heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens). They perfume the garden and mix effortlessly with other plants.
On the Edge
I edge beds and walks with old favorites like lobelia, impatiens, and sweet alyssum. All three annuals bloom prolifically from June until frost, hold up well in heat, and stay under 6 inches in height. By planting them in drifts that extend into the border and mingle with other plants, 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, shrubs, and bulbs in the garden. Most annuals are shallow-rooted so they can comfortably share space with other plants. Perennials bloom reliably for about three weeks. By mixing annuals with your early-, mid-, and late-season bloomers, you're 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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