When all else fails: keep calm, plant annuals

    For a while I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with annuals; one shot wonders whose bright flowers grace gas station planters, mall entrances, and median strips all summer long. Plants like marigolds, zinnias, and red salvias seem like the tacky country cousins of the graceful and tasteful perennials like phlox and lilies.

    I’m being an insufferable snob, and I deserve to be called out. Because right now the best looking part of my garden is a bed of annuals. It looks great, but I admit I wasn’t smart enough to plan it this way.

    For my new yard, last winter I planned a long shady border of subtle and esoteric plants that I’ve wanted to grow for years. Fall blooming Sasanqua Camellias, obscure primroses that had to be mail ordered, and rare thalictrums.

    The site is near the house along the north edge of the property. The house blocked the low-slung sunlight all fall and winter, and I began to worry it would be too dark even for shade plants.

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    I built the bed in early spring, and began installing my overly curated, expensive, and puny plants.

    As the days lengthened, I remembered something important. Besides being a lot hotter, the sun is a lot higher in the summertime. By the end of May, my shady border was getting six hours of sunlight a day, exacerbated by the glare of the stone wall behind them and the light-reflecting pale gravel of the patio. My rare gems were frying, fast.

    Once I stopped being in denial of the solar path, I relocated everything to real shade, and was left to contemplate the empty space. As it was late in the season and I had no plan, I bought some cell packs of annuals and stuck them in- the same zinnias, salvia, and heliotrope I used to sniff at.

    Just a month later, all these annuals have paid generous dividends. They’ve provided bouquets for the table and for friends, have brightened up many evenings outdoors, and seem to be a magnet for bees and hummingbirds.

    They’ll all die in the fall, of course. But now I plan on replicating this happy accident next spring, and will enjoy looking at it while I have an al fresco slice of humble pie.

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