Plants have specific life cycles that can be put to use by the intelligent gardener to create floral displays and blooming times that might otherwise be missed. A combination of perennials, bi-annuals and annuals can provide variety, consistency and wonderful surprises all in the same back yard.
First and longest lived, we have Perennials
They are what they are named; hardy plants which come back year after year until they are felled by disease, drought or old age. This genre includes shrubs and bushes like Forsythia, Spirea, Privet and Roses, right down to Hostas and clumping flowers like Shasta Daisy, Black Eyed Susan, Phlox and Day and Species Lilies. Perennial placement must be carefully thought out as they are less movable than other elements in your garden and expand, at least in circumference, over time. Space must be left for this future growth and position must be careful calculated so that the floral display is a highlight of that flowering time in an effective garden.
Then we have the Bi-Annuals
These are plants that cycle in two year patterns. Foxglove (digitalis), for example, blooms twice in subsequent years before the original plants dieback. Columbine is another example. For some reason both of my examples have exceedingly fine seed which is broadcast by a mechanical action of the drying seed pod, so the plants seem to be perennials, but really are just reseeding and creating new plants annually. Because the seed is so fine and so vigorous it’s possible to find yourself up to your knees in such plants and it can take years to get quit of them if you regret your choice. I always wanted to have a garden big enough that I could let the Foxgloves take over a corner and full it with their spectacular flowers; such vibrant colours and windowpane checks in contrasting shades or white make them one of the prettiest, if not busiest flowers in the garden! Bi-annuals can be used to create continuity in an area where you wish to put more permanent plantings in the coming years, or you can plant them for the sheer beauty and convenience of their two year life spans.
Finally, shortest lived, but sometimes the most beautiful: there are Annuals
This includes all the bedding plants at your local nursery and any number of seeds you can buy at the grocery store, garden centre or mail order catalogue. If you live where frost ends the gardening season these plants are not frost hardy and die due to the freezing temperatures. Like the bi-annuals, some of them seed before they die and new plants volunteer the next Spring. Depending on how hybrid these re-seeders are, what comes up may have no visual kinship to the plants that you originally put in your garden. While I am very fond of perennials, having a life long love affair with roses and lilies, annuals are still the best choice for lots of gardeners. Most forms are easy to grow from seed and are relatively inexpensive at the garden store. They grow quickly and fill in empty parts of the garden with glorious colour. If you are renting they give you a great showing without the cost of perennials, which you may have to leave behind. Annuals are easy to clean up in the Fall after they succumb to frost and they can be composted easily as well. Most important, if you like to experiment and not have to live with your mistakes, annuals allow you to lay out the back yard garden again and again, each summer keeping what works and discarding what does not, until you have exactly the garden you wish to enjoy.
Make a Plan
If you have the luxury of knowing your garden is going to stay in place for an extended period, I find it’s best to do a ground plan. Get yourself a piece of Bristol Board so the scale ca be as large as possible. Make a grid on it of one inch squares, one inch equaling what ever works for your plot, say 1.0” = 10’-0”,
(One inch equals ten feet). Draw your garden on the paper, being as careful as possible, to get the dimensions right. (If you don’t here and there, there is no problem at all. The important thing is to get an overview of all of your plot at once).
Then draw in what you want to plant ,where you want to plant it, also adhering to the scale you’ve set for yourself. It’s a good idea to put elevations on the plants so you know how tall they grow as well as how big around. Then perhaps, using a colour code, mark what you’re planting as perennial, bi-annual and annual. Being able to see everything at once, as well as what plants you want where, what plants are features or keynotes in the garden and what plants you will need to replace each year will give you knowledge of your garden that will prove invaluable. It will cut down your annual preparation time and hopefully make your living compositions as well ordered as a theatre set design.