Annuals, Biennials, Perennials and Bulbs

Hardy perennials

annuals, biennials and perennials The mainstay of our flower gardens, hardy herbaceous perennials form an endless pageant of flower, colour and scent that changes imperceptibly day by day, as each plant in turn steps into the limelight, blooms and gradually fades, to finally retire underground for winter rest. To use these plants is perhaps the most exciting form of gardening, as despite the most elaborate plans, you never know exactly what effect you are going to achieve.

If you plant a conifer, three months later it will probably look pretty much the same. Not so the herbaceous perennial. You have to juggle so many different elements at once, height, colour, flowering time, habit, foliage and, to refine the subject further and include the joker in the pack, light itself. Colours change and react differently to each other with each shift in the arc of the sun.

In the wild, clumps of herbaceous plants constantly move on into fresh territory, searching for that extra little something in their diet that is quickly used up. You will notice in a neglected border that the centre of each plant has become thin and sparse of flower, while the outer shoots are plump and better nourished. So, apart from choosing a position where the plant will prosper and at the same time flatter its neighbours, a very close eye should be kept to see how well it is flowering. If it does not look as good as last year, and has become overcrowded, with congested shoots and roots, it needs dividing and replanting in fresh soil.

My tip:

in a long-established border, if you dig a special hole for a new young plant, and put in some rotted garden compost and fertilizer, the surrounding plants will be delighted too: their nines will greedily move in, elbowing out the new plant. A better plan is to dig and manure an area, say 1.8m (6ft) square, and replant, giving all the planes an equal chance.


Hardy annuals

In their brief but brilliant season annuals add life and sparkle to the flower garden — last year’s dramatic effect may be readily repeated and failures are quickly forgotten. In young gardens, with lots of gaps between perennials and shrubs, there is room to amuse oneself by trying out something new.

First clean the ground and dig in well-rotted garden compost, or old manure. Firm the soil by treading, and rake level. Spread on some general fertilizer, and rake it in. You can either scatter the seed in informal drifts, or (a better method if you are unsure how to differentiate between the seedling and newly germinated weeds) make little drills about 1cm (1/2in) deep, sow the seed thinly, cover with soil and firm gently. Carefully mark the area with canes. The seedlings should be thinned out in stages, to allow for further losses, according to the directions given on the packet.

Also printed on the packet are suitable months for sowing, but no mention is made of exactly what sort of condition the soil should be in. Rather like trying to describe how a perfect sponge cake should be to a novice cook, it is all a matter of texture. To sit around in cold, wet soggy soil is no inducement to a seed to sprout. Choose a nice spring day, when the sun is out to warm the soil, and wind has begun to dry the surface, so it looks lovely and crumbly: the soil is then what is known as friable. Heavy soils are improved by digging in manure, compost, coarse sand or grit, which much benefit the structure of the soil, thus assisting drainage.

After the first year some hardy annuals will sow themselves. By so doing they seem to make much more robust, floriferous plants than they would have done the first year. Regarding annual poppies, it is easy to breed your own strain, by staking the ones you particularly like. Allow these alone to ripen and drop their seed, and pull all the others out as soon as the petals fade, before they set seed.

Half-hardy annuals and tender perennials

Many of the plants we think of as annuals are in fact tender perennials or shrubs grown as annuals. Although they will sometimes survive a mild winter, and you will see brave young shoots on such plants as Argyranthemum ‘Jamaica Primrose’ and A. frutescens , Verbena ‘Silver Anne’, V. ‘Lawrence Johnston’, and V. ‘Sissinghurst’, and even Helichrysum petiolare, unless you have a very sheltered garden you are probably better off to start afresh with young plants each year. Alternatively, you may be able to keep your plants going from year to year by taking cuttings in early autumn and overwintering them in a greenhouse or conservatory.

Pelargoniums, tender Fuchsia, Canna, some Salvia and many more come under this heading — and these are all the plants to use for that most fascinating form of instant gardening, growing plants in containers.

However, beware of putting these plants outside too soon in early summer, when there is still a danger of cold nights, or they will get such a setback that they could take weeks to recover. If you have a greenhouse or conservatory, you can gradually harden them off by day and put them back inside for the night.


As you sow the seeds of biennial plants (those that grow one year and flower, set seed and die the second), think of all the delight you are laying down for next year. Seed of foxgloves, wallflowers, stocks, forget-me-nots, canterbury bells, sweet williams, honesty, for example, is sown from early summer on, in moderately rich soil, to give the plants plenty of time to build up before winter. The seedlings should be transplanted about 23cm (9in) apart, and moved to their final position in early autumn or left until spring in cold areas.


There are few places in the garden where you cannot manage to fit in a few bulbs. You can have ribbons of snowdrops and crocuses under deciduous trees; Iris reticulata and Iris histrioi des ‘Major’ and little tulips like Tulipa linifolia in well-drained raised beds; erythroniums and Fritillaria pyrenaica in shady beds; Nerine and Amaryllis in hot sunny beds beneath walls; crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis), larger alliums — Allium christophii and A. aflatunense — Galtonia, and as many Lilium regale as you can possibly afford in the mixed border.

Muscari (Grape Hyacinth) All the little blue bulbs of spring — grape hyacinths (Muscari), Scilla, Chionodoxa and Puschkinia — will make rivulets of blue among the front of the flower bed and at the back, where their dying leaves will not show, will be daffodils. Tulips, lavishly bought, will form vivid patches of scarlet and maroon, interplanted with crimson-flushed young leaves of astilbes and peonies, while the pristine goblets of Tulipa ‘White Triumphator’ (of which you will want to buy more each year) will shine from newly-emerging greens of the border.

Bulbs should be planted at roughly twice their own depth. Rich, well-drained soil is appreciated by most bulbs, but farmyard manure should be avoided except when very well-rotted. Bonemeal is a good fertilizer. Most bulbs should be planted when dormant; snowdrops are one exception, they should be moved ‘in the green’, just after flowering. Daffodils do not mind being moved just after flowering, provided you water them well, and you can at least see where you are putting them for next year.

When growing bulbs in grass, the leaves must have time to build up the bulb for next year — it is essential to wait until they are starting to go yellow and die before mowing the grass around them. Suggested daffodils for naturalizing in grass include ‘February Gold’, ‘February Silver’, ‘Beryl’, ‘Jack Snipe’, ‘Jenny’, ‘Jumblie’, ‘Little Witch’, ‘Peeping Tom’, ‘Tête a Tête’ and Narcissus pseudonarcissus.

27. December 2010 by admin
Categories: Bulbs and Corms, Featured, Plants | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Annuals, Biennials, Perennials and Bulbs


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