Thick, textured, lush, healthy, shining. Adjectives from a shampoo commercial? You bet, but they also should be your watchwords for summer plantings. You can achieve the sort of blooming beds—the kind that people will remember—with just a little bit of planning and maintenance, and a few simple design ideas: Plant more; think color, then texture; find vitality in simple design (I like to call this the “shove it and cram it” style); feed and water consistently.
Even if you have only a small area to plant, you should put out more than a few paltry little specimens. By planting more—think of it as more plants sharing tight quarters—you create a unified design. While it’s fun to try mixing different type plants and assorted colors, you achieve a more pleasing look some times by using just one or two varieties of annuals.
You’ve heard me exclaim before about the great impact of the dainty-appearing angelonia, but here it is in full glory. The color range is in the cool spectrum, so you’ll find them in white, pink, and a couple of shades of violet. Crowded in this way, you get the effect of waves of color. And, despite their diminutive stature, they’re the workhorses of summer annuals. Also known as ‘summer snapdragon,’ their bloom is unstinting for months in the summer heat.
Another extraordinarily hardy bloomer is scavolea. This plant tends to creep, run, and ramble, so it can easily be placed as a foundation planting under something taller. Great for borders, where the color can ‘pop,’ or in pots assembled with other bloomers, you get 120 days of bloom every time. And scavolea comes in a thrilling blue. When you see it blooming, you’ll want more, which means creating that unified design I’m showing you here.
Another benefit of the ‘more plants, closer together’ or ‘shove it and cram it’ philosophy is that you can pair them with something taller, to create a texture contrast. These begonias are matched with fan palms. The vibrant red blooms are countered by the nodding fronds overhead, an unexpected pairing, but one of two rugged plants that thrive under the steady sun. And a benefit of the palms towering over the begonias is that those fronds shade the begonias, meaning cooler roots, and less fading of bloom color. Another benefit of close planting is that the volume of blossoms overhead, plus the increased amount of plant leaves and stalks, is that all the roots get shaded from above.
Another good design idea to remember is to FORGET about the color wheel. It doesn’t have to match the brick of your house–it’s all about personal preference. If you want to create a planting pair, try something like the angelonia placed cheek-by-jowl with the brilliant yellow lantana here. Also a great texture and shape contrast, such a planting maximizes your space, and is pleasing from a distance, a good idea if you want your beds and borders to be seen from the street.
You’ll want to build in maintenance for your plantings. Annuals are heavy feeders. Feed with time release fertilizer, like Osmocote or Miracle Gro’s ‘Shake and Feed,’ as well as an occasional dousing with water soluble fertilizer. Yes, it makes a difference. It takes a lot of strength, stamina, and fortitude for these plants to bloom under relentless summer conditions, and they need your help. Which also means water deeply on a consistent basis. Shampoo commercials promise happy, tossing, rolling, shiny waves of hair, and with just a bit of suggested care. You’ll be able to get the same kind of feeling from your summer annuals with a little bit of planning and maintenance, and you won’t have to think about spokesmodels at all.
Chris Olsen is a nationally known home and garden guru, designer, author, TV personality and public speaker. In his book, Chris shares his landscape and gardening knowledge along with his unique flair for home decor and design.He is also a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. Learn more about Chris and all of his work at chrisholsen.com.