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Fine Gardening Here We Come!

19 Feb

Or, OMG! We’re in the March/April issue of Fine Gardening Magazine!


Even though we now sell just as many perennials as annuals here at “Annie’s,” annuals are where we got our start. Easy-to-grow yet increasingly hard-to-find annuals filled the trays in Annie’s backyard nursery 20 years ago, just as they fill the tables of our 2.5 acre urban growing grounds today. Back then, ladies approached Annie with requests for plants they remembered from their grandmother’s gardens, but could no longer find at their local nurseries. She grew them and they flew out the door! Now, the timeless charm and happy-go-lucky ease of these cottage garden favorites are what keeps people coming back year after year.

"Baby Blue Eyes" ,Dianthus carthusianorum, Eschscholzia ccaespitosa Aquilegia 'Krystal' Lupinus & 'Rodeo Rose'

This garden owes its charm to annuals like wee Eschscholzia caepitosa, Lupinus succulentus 'Rodeo Rose' and Nicotiana alata 'Lime Green.'

So when Fine Gardening asked us if we wanted to write a story about our Top 10 Favorite Annuals, how could we say no? Of course we’re not talking boinky, squatty, run-of-the-mill annuals you can buy in giant stores which shall remain nameless. We mean old-fashioned, hard-working, classic cottage garden annuals that exude charm and pull the garden together. They bring in the bees and hummingbirds and hide the knobby knees of taller perennials, thrilling us with their sparkle and shine. In other words, they’re the annuals we can’t live without!

Our Spring gardens would be incomplete without CA native Nemophila menziesii "Baby Blue Eyes."

Renowned for their profuse bloom, delightful habit and conveniently self-sowing ways, these original varieties are almost impossible to find in many nurseries nowadays. You’ll most likely have to start them from seed unless you order them through our mailorder department or can find small plants offered at local farmer’s markets or plant sales.

It's Polygonum mania!

Thomas Jefferson grew Polygonum orientale at Monticello and it was first grown in the US in the 1700s.

Of course, annuals are also a little misunderstood. Some people want to know why they should bother planting something “that’s just going to die.” Welllll, we have lots of opinions about that! The annuals we’re talking about don’t just disappear after one season. They’re tried and true, seeding themselves here and there, so you’ll have plenty of FREE plants next year. After hundreds of years of being passed-along and shared, they’re classic cottage annuals for a reason!

Viscaria oculata "German Catchfly"

"German Catchfly" blooms like crazy and is one of the most cheerful sights in the Summer garden.

Gah! Spring!!

Lime-a-licious Nicotiana alata 'Lime Green' combines beautifully with just about anything.

While a massive amount of trendy plants and the latest hybrids come and go each year, old-fashioned favorites like “Love–in–a–Mist,” “Bachelor’s Buttons” and “Kiss–Me–Over–the–Garden–Gate” soldier on in cottage plantings across the globe, appreciated for their resiliency and treasured for the ethereal charm they bring to our gardens. We’re so happy we have a chance to share them with you. Pick up a copy of the March/April issue of Fine Gardening Magazine to get the whole scoop!

September in Our Gardens

24 Sep
Fall Gardens

Well, here’s my first go at a blog!

I will try not to write too much as I am pretty chatty when it comes to gardens, but hey, isn’t this pretty! As you can see, I have packed in a bunch of plants and I think gardens look good that way. I love cottage gardens and I love them full of life. This shot is taken of one of the widest beds at our nursery – it’s maybe 8’ deep. To pull off a showy Fall garden like this, you have to plant quite a bit ahead of time, well except for the annuals like that gorgeous rosey-violet “Corncockle” – Agrostemma githago ‘Milas.’ Here’s a close up:
Agrostemma githago 'Milas'
I planted that about 6 weeks ago in early August. I was frantically planting late as the weather was so cool this Summer and my Spring plantings didn’t fade till mid Summer. Then we were hit with several days above 100°F and I think I lost one of the “Corncockles.” There a few more squished in there somewhere that should bloom in time for our Fall Party in early October – so all is well. To the left of the “Corncockle” is a ‘Golden Celebration’ Rose and Aster ‘Skyscraper.’

'Golden Celebration' Rose & Aster 'Skyscraper'

I’m very happy with ‘Golden Celebration.’ She blooms Spring thru Fall with no mildew or disease here in fog-landia. And she’s a nice size 4’-5’ tall, much more manageable than ‘Graham Thomas.’ I bought her at Berkeley Hort nursery 2 years ago and she has definitely passed the test and is very popular with our staff. And I think I have found her a fine partner with this Aster. It’s an excellent one with large blooms for 2-3 months or more (with dead-heading) and a good color, not too pale as others can be. It’s a good strong perennial, coming back bigger and bushier each year. Normally, ‘Skyscraper’ grows to 4’ or 5’ tall, but as I got it in late (August), it’s blooming here at only about 3’ (I think I pinched it, too, to help it bush out faster).

And there’s another annual – bushy ‘Italian White’ Sunflower just starting to bloom behind ‘Golden Celebration.’ I love how we can plant Sunflowers so late along the CA coast and have them in bloom for September and October. They just bring so much fun to a garden, don’t you think?

Behind the Sunflowers are red Dahlia coccineas coming on. Now that the huge Spring-blooming New Zealand Delphiniums have been cut back, there is space for them to grow.

Dahlia cocinnia
They give the garden its “spark,” along with the red ‘Altissimo’ Rose against the sky in the background. A lot of times a garden needs a “pop” of red or orange amongst all those soothing colors to make it come alive. Those pink fluffs in the background is the totally awesome ‘Grandmother’s Hat’ Rose. If you like Roses you must grow ‘Grandmother’s Hat!’


Rosa 'Grandmother's Hat' in full bloom 

Rosa 'Grandmother's Hat'
Another ever-blooming Rose with gorgeous girlified old-fashioned flowers and a absolutely heavenly scent. What’s more, it’s completely disease resistant in our gardens. You just can’t go wrong with her. In fact, some mean person once jumped over our fence and dug her right out of the ground the night before Mother’s Day – I’m pretty sure to sell the cut flowers – and I cried and cried. But she came back from a piece of the root left in the soil just as fabulous as before. That’s a tough girl! Yay!

Behind ‘Grandmother’s Hat’ is a super cool, tall background perennial that we don’t offer at the nursery anymore since no one ever bought it. It’s old-fashioned “Joe-Pye-Weed” or Eupatorium purpureum.

You’ve probably heard of it, but when was the last time you’ve seen it around? Maybe you East Coast folks can chime in, but I rarely see it out here in California. It is one valiant, long-lived perennial and I don’t think you could possibly kill it except maybe to douse it with poison or never give it any water. It’s fairly drought tolerant, heat and deer proof and returns faithfully each Summer – even when you forget all about it (like me) as it’s deciduous. I’m sure I’ve chopped its roots terribly in late Winter when I turn over the soil during clean up chores but it never seems to resent it. It’s just happy no matter what! It’ll grow 5’-8’ tall depending on crowding and makes a makes a loveable vertical background much adored by butterflies. The 6” flower clusters are sweetly scented of vanilla, too! You can find seed for it online -one company I like a lot is Easyliving Native Perennial Wildflowers.

In the background towards the right you can sorta see what looks like light yellow pom-poms. That’s one of my all time favorite (and cottagey) perennials Scabiosa ochroleuca. It’s major bloom for the buck, blooming Spring thru Fall pretty much non-stop (but of course you should deadhead it).
Scabiosa ochroleuca

Scabiosa ochroleuca closer upper
From the Mediterranean, it’s drought and deer resistant and just loves to grow on the edge of the bed where its roots appreciate the extra drainage. Its soft yellow color goes so well with blues and pinks and its stems bounce around in the breeze. If you grow it in your garden make sure you cut it back to the base in Winter so it looks fresh and clean when it bushes back out in Spring.

Those vertical white spikey things see you poking up here and there are another favorite perennial of mine – Verbascum chiaxii ‘Album.’
Verbascum chiaxii 'Album' in the garden

Pretty Verbascum chiaxii 'Album'
Actually, I didn’t plant them. They are all self sown volunteers – and, oh – I do love my volunteers! Really, no cottage garden should ever be without this Verbascum (common name: Mullein). Tough and simple, they are truly plant and forget. All I ever do is cut the spent flower spikes to the base and within a month, there’s another one springing up. Not fussy about soil, they’re adaptable to sun or bright shade, are drought and deer resistant and they self-sow so you’ll never have to buy a second one. You just get to enjoy the cool and smart places they appear in your garden, like that non-blooming one growing out of the rocks (yep, they’re that tough) right up front.

Speaking of volunteers, that’s an Agastache with the apricot flowers also growing out of the rocks up front. I think it’s ‘Apricot Sprite’ or probably ‘Coronado’ (which I like better).

The emerald green blobs to the right of the Agrostemma are very late blooming Aster oblongifolius. So late, they aren’t blooming yet. I really planted them too late. Usually, they start blooming in August and go thru September or October but here they probably won’t start blooming till October, when a cloud of lavender blooms will smother the foliage. Nice and dense of form, I thought they remained rather short but recently saw some extremely robust ones in a Santa Cruz garden that were 3’ tall. If you’ve got crummy, dry or clay soil, this native of the Midwestern prairies is so sturdy, it will thrive in it. And don’t worry when it goes deciduous in Winter.
Aster oblongifolius
I also have some Dianthus plumarius up front (with the bluish grassy foliage). They would be so pretty and blooming right now except that we’ve hacked at them severely to take cuttings so we can offer them as named varieties next year. We normally grow these “Old Fashioned Pinks” from seed and their colors are variable – but these particular seedlings were so lovely, we wanted to preserve them for other gardeners. We can only do that by taking cuttings. Here’s what they would look like if we hadn’t mauled them.
More Dianthus love

Our new Dianthus
I can certainly go on and on about these old school Dianthuses – but I will save that for another rant. Wait, here’s a quick peek at how they looked in the same garden in July.
Rose & Dianthus bed
In the first photo above, you can see Columbine (below the Agrostemma) waiting for Spring to bloom again. It’s Aquilegia ‘Blue Barlow,’ which looks contrastingly fab against the ‘Golden Celebration’ Rose. It’s just a little reminder to plant your Columbines in Fall if you want them to get big, bushy and truly bloomiferous come Spring. Remember, you want to plant your perennials ahead of the season that they are supposed to bloom.
Oops, I forgot the dark foliaged mounds. Most of you will know they are Heucheras and I know for sure that the one on the right is ‘Melting Fire’ – my current favorite red one. As much as I love masses of flowers in my gardens, I’ve come to really appreciate pretty leaves, foliar contrast and as they say “a place for the eye to rest.” Heucheras fill the bill are easy and long lived and then, well, they look extra lovely when they go into bloom in Spring!