Choosing just the right plants for your garden is the fun part of flower gardening. You don’t have to limit yourself to just annuals or perennials; they mix well together in any garden. But even if you do lean toward the permanence of a perennial garden, there’s no doubt that annuals can fill in some blanks. And if you want the flexibility of growing new and different annuals every year, a few well-chosen perennials can serve as permanent anchor plants in your garden.
The starting point is color. Both annuals and perennials come in every color and value to be found on the color wheel; there are even some flowers that come close to being a true black.
When faced with rows of cheerfully blooming plants, especially in the early gardening season, it’s easy to gravitate toward an exuberant blend of colors that may not work well together when you get home.
Before making your purchases, take a few minutes to group them together in your cart. You will quickly see if your color combination is going to work.
For the best effect, plan for color in your garden as you would for color inside your home. Choose a dominant theme and then pick plants that work well within that theme.
Cool colors, those in shades of blue, green, purple, and the softer pinks and reds create a peaceful effect and are traditional colors in perennial gardens and cutting gardens. Brighter colors such as reds, yellows, and oranges stand up well to the hot summer sun and are especially good choices for gardens with a tropical feel.
Monochromatic gardens, which rely on a single color, create a sense of calmness and serenity, but you’ll probably want to have a variety of forms, shapes, and textures to avoid a monotonous feeling. White and silver can add a sophisticated feel to a garden and work well in contrast to both warm and cool colors.
But don’t feel obligated to stick to just warm or cool colors. With the right mix, contrasting two colors can give a garden a dynamic look. Pink and blue are a classic combination; yellow and purple give a garden a contemporary feel.
Sometimes adding just a bit of contrast to an otherwise harmonious color blend provides an extra sense of excitement that gives a garden a distinct personality. Try adding a pop of orange to a blue/lavender garden, or reverse the process and add a hint of lavender to a field of yellow. In a hot climate, a garden composed of differing shades of green imparts a sense of coolness, even when the temperature is soaring.
Think, too, about bloom season. Many favorites, such as lobelia, marigolds, nasturtiums, and petunias, will bloom from spring to fall. Others are shorter lived, such as zinnias, sunflowers, and candytuft. If some of your favorites are short-lived, fill in with other plants that will bloom during the gaps. It takes some planning, but the right mix of perennials and annuals can keep your garden in bloom throughout most of the year.
Color may be the most obvious characteristic of annuals and perennials, but don’t overlook other attributes. Annuals and perennials vary greatly in size, from tiny violets that barely show above the ground to 6-footers like hollyhocks.
You’ll want to be sure that the plants you choose won’t overwhelm their neighbors or be completely overshadowed by them. Plants should also be appropriate for the size of your planting bed; they should look like they belong, not overwhelm the space or disappear within it.
Annuals and perennials also vary greatly in both shape and density. Some are low spreaders; others are rounded mounts; still others grow in tall spikes. Plants such as New Zealand flax and cannas have thick, dense forms; you can’t see through them. Others, such as asters, coral bells, and Russian sage, have a light, airy look that allows plants behind them to show through.
The foliage of both annuals and perennials also comes in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors. These characteristics play a role in the overall look of a garden landscape, so keep them in mind as you choose your plants. You can find flowering plants with thick broad leaves, narrow tall leaves, and soft wispy leaves.
Green leaves may be the most common color, but even these can range from a cool deep green that works as a background color to a bright lime green that is a focal point in its own right. Other foliage colors run the gamut from blue and gray to red, purple, and pink to yellow. These colors will also pay a role in the overall look and feel of your flower garden.