I have a friend who raises hundreds of annuals—coleus, special ageratum hybrids, petunias, salvia, much more—from seed in his basement. He uses them as what Christopher Lloyd would call “bedding plants,” arranged in tiers and other groupings to provide layers of color. It’s very different from the way perennials are used. I do not do this—mainly because you need a good amount of sun for most of the more colorful annuals (aside from impatiens—not to go there). But it can look fantastic, and really, I think most gardens must have a good-sized swath of annuals running through them for continuous color throughout the season. Yeah, yeah, I know many in the upscale gardening world like to brag about their all-perennial gardens. BOR-ING!
The problem is, which annuals? How to create a distinctive effect using the limited palette of selections available?
Well, you can grow them from seed, investing vast amounts in grow lights and other equipment (but you still better know what you’re doing). Or you can get them from friends—or you can order them from forward-thinking mail-order nurseries. I usually end up doing the latter. Many of my friends cannot believe I actually mail-order annuals.
They’re so much fun in combinations though—and you can’t squish perennials together like this. Lobelia—which is also quite common—is great in combinations with other delicate flowers like diascia (only now widely available), heliotrope (more varieties available by mail-order), and the ubiquitous bacopa. With a nice gutsy foliage plant like Persian Shield, things come together well.
I think coleus can be really cool—this is just starting, but it will create a bush in time, given limited reign to my herbicidal instincts.
But I really like lobelia.