Mix It Up




Yesterday evening I eavesdropped on a conversation in another garden blogger’s comments about the use of annuals and hanging baskets.

I was interested to hear the reasons why some gardeners don’t want to grow flowery annuals.  Most cited the time consuming commitment to water, deadhead, fertilize and prune the plants.

The term ‘color bombs’ was used by one observant gardener.





Another cited the resources wasted to cultivate annuals, and the expense of replacing them each season.

Everything they observed is true. 

And yes, many commercially available annual hanging baskets are sometimes constructed with little attention to color scheme.  They are mass produced for a particular market.


June 24, 2015 garden 022


But I still like many annuals.  Several springs ago, I was given one of these ‘color bomb’ annual combinations as a birthday gift.

Keeping my nose in check, I accepted it with the love with which it was given, and transferred the plants out of their plastic nursery pot and into a 12″ hanging basket.  I hung it out on our  deck among our other baskets and waited to see what would happen.

Well, from a meager beginning, those plants took off and bloomed their hearts out all summer.  They got lots of traffic from our bees, too.  I was actually a little sad when frost crushed most of the flowers.  A Verbena like vining plant, with lovely lavender flowers, actually survived nearly until winter.


Ajuga and Sedum, perennials, with tender perennial scented Pelargonium.

Ajuga and Sedum, perennials, with tender perennial scented Pelargonium.


I never begrudge a little sprinkle of Osmocote or sip of fish emulsion during the growing season.  A small price to pay for lovely flowers.  We’re blessed to live in an area without water shortages and abundant summer rains.  Summer flowers remain an affordable luxury.


Rose scented Pelargonium.

Rose scented Pelargonium.


Beyond the economics and the aesthetics, though, I sense a more subtle issue.

At some point many of us gardeners want something different.  We want to branch out beyond the commonplace/easy to find and grow plants, to something a bit more unusual and, maybe, a bit more esoteric.


June 25, 2015 orbs 025

Native pitcher plants


I find myself walking past rows of flats, nose somewhat elevated maybe, searching for that one particular genus or cultivar.

A quick, dismissive glance at the orange and brown Marigolds or the red Vinca and I’m moving on, in search of something else.  I ignore perfectly pretty pots of yellow daylily plants in pursuit of that special Coleus or particular fern.

But it’s not that Marigolds themselves are a problem.  When creamy white ones finally showed up at the garden center, I bought half a dozen.   I’ve added a few soft lavender Vinca plants amongst some herbs.





I’ll buy purple Basil or Thai Basil, but rarely the standard green cultivars.  I search out unusual leaves, odd flowers, and glorious texture, when collecting plants for our garden.  I enjoy variegated foliage and sumptuously scented flowers.

We can weave beautiful living tapestries of color and form in our gardens.  But this often means seeking out a broader palette of plants than the common summer annuals offered each spring.


June 20, 2015 garden 081

Purple Opal Basil


The individual plants may not even be that spectacular.  It is the effect they create as they grow together with their companions in the pot or bed.

It is the wonderful effect perennials create as they establish and spread; eating up garden space in their exuberance.  One mass against another, with subtle contrasts of color and shape create the garden magic.  I believe this was the point of this “Wednesday Vignettes” post, and I heartily agree.


June 24, 2015 garden 008~

Beauty is where we choose to notice it.  Each of us has a unique aesthetic.  Our ideal of what is beautiful may contrast sharply with another’s, and that is just fine.  We plant our gardens for our own purposes and for our own pleasure.

While some of my friends enjoy their lawn and shrubs in shades of green, I plant outrageously bright Cannas and Hibiscus.  Some may walk past my garden and shudder to themselves at the exuberance.

Clouds of cat mint billow from my beds this week, punctuated with bright Gladiolius blossoms, a living gift from a dear friend.


July 1, 2015 garden at dusk 023

Colocasia with Cannas


And, on the back deck, visible only to those friends invited inside; grow my hanging baskets of annual Petunia and Geraniums.  There are Fuschias, too; and a vivid red flowered Begonia I was given at Mother’s Day.

Color bombs all, we stand and admire them every single day. 


My Mother's Day Begonia

My Mother’s Day Begonia


Our little hummers dart from one to the next sipping their warm nectar.  Butterflies stop by the potted Basil, we listen for the tell-tale hum of visiting bees.


July 2, 2015 garden 002

Catmint in the stump garden attracts these beautiful bees.


I still mix it up, when planting for the season.  I’m in pursuit of that magical combination of beauty and form, fragrance, utility and magnetic attraction to every butterfly and hummingbird in the county.


July 2, 2015 garden 007~

Woodland Gnome 2015


Autumn 'Brilliance' fern with Hellebores

Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern with Hellebores






About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

19 responses to “Mix It Up

  1. I am way behind on reading posts, alas. But I save yours to read when I can! I think ‘color bombs’ are not such a bad thing, beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all! 😉 I esp. love your combinations of leaf texture and the sensitive way you use color. Beautiful!

    • Thank you, Eliza. Take heart, I am even more behind than you! Too much packed into too little time around here lately, and my time with friends online is suffering. Thank you for weighing in on the side of the occasional ‘color bomb.’ Alas, we need please only our partners and ourselves 😉 Giant hugs, WG

      • Very true and we do that quite well, I think! 😉
        Glad to hear you’re feeling the crunch, too, and that I’m not the only one. Summer time LIVING!

        • 🙂 Last month ticks, this month chiggers. I made the mistake of going from brunch to photography without putting on any repellant in between on Saturday. Needless to say, chiggers found me while tromping around Jamestown Island, and I’m covered in bites. Now afraid to even step out into the garden until a few more days of healing. Drats! Having to enjoy it all through the windows!

          • My husband worked in VA one summer during college and he says chiggers were the worst! Luckily, we don’t have those and July/Aug. we get a reprieve from the ticks – a welcome break.
            Hope your bites are soon better. How is the heat down there? We’ve been very muggy the past 2 days, tomorrow is supposed to be drier. I’m glad as I have a pruning job in the morning! 🙂

            • Hot,muggy, and oppressive pretty much sum up our weather this week. Daily rain and high humidity makes it so sticky you begin perspiring within a few minutes of stepping outside, even early in the morning. I hope it’s more comfortable for you tomorrow for your job.

  2. Connoisseurs almost always have a hard time keeping their noses level. You seem to be doing a pretty good job of it.

  3. Interesting post, WG. I am still so new to gardening that when I plant a humble orange and brown Marigold or standard basil and it grows, I am thrilled. There is nothing fancy or exotic in my garden. Yet. 😀

    • 🙂 Every plant growing truly is a miracle… even those pesky things we pull and label ‘weeds.’ We have to take all the joy we can. Believe me, there is always something new and interesting out there to try growing… next season 😉 Thank you for visiting ❤ ❤ ❤

  4. A great post and I agree with you. I am a bit snooty about annuals and ‘ hanging basket plants’. but they can be used to amazing effect, if chosen well to make beautiful colour combinations, specially when they are combined with beautiful foliage.

    • Thank you for this, Chloris. My eyes were opened to the beauty of simple ‘hanging basket plants’ one summer in Seattle and Portland. OH! Those baskets hanging on the streets are simply magnificent!!! But they have the climate for the plants to fulfill their potential. Here, they just get baked many summers. I can water twice a day and they barely limp along. We are blessed with rain this summer, so they still look pretty good. Climate and soil make all the difference in our results. Thank you for visiting! ❤ ❤ ❤

  5. Thanks WG for adding your thoughts! Yes – I think you got my point exactly. Annuals can be beautiful when they are contrasted and harmonized with other things. Among other things, I like to use them with grasses and ferns, and I often use a few of them to set off bold tropical foliage. It is the mediocrity of those infernal baskets that makes me lament missed opportunity. That said – you are right – to each his own. 🙂

    • We agree on this 😉 It takes energy, time, and imagination to move beyond ‘ready made’ and have the courage to create one’s own… whether in the kitchen, the sewing room, or the garden. You have to be willing to make lots of mistakes along the way as you learn to do things properly. Those without the time to do their own have the ready made to fall back on. Sort of like ordering a pizza… ❤ ❤ ❤

      • I always tell beginning gardeners that they can’t become gardeners without becoming serial killers first. That just how you learn – despite any book knowledge, it’s a hands-on craft, this passion of ours! 🙂

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