June 3, 2009

Annual Indulgence vs. Perennial Investment

Don't get me wrong, I really love annuals. Who wouldn't appreciate the season-long flower power of annuals like petunias (pictured above - sorry to the plant snobs), ivy geraniums and twinspur, to name a few in my yard. But I always feel a bit guilty buying annuals, since I can't use one of my favorite justifications for plant purchases.

It's an Investment, I told myself as I ordered yet more iris from Schreiner's and a couple more hellebores from Heronswood this week. The price I pay for these little plants now will bring a handsome return in future years in the form of ever-larger plant clumps that bloom annually. The 'Royal Amethyst' iris and 'May Night' salvia pictured above will cool down my west-side flower bed for years to come, and eventually give me divisions to spread around in other places or share with friends.

Trees, shrubs and vines like this 'Bonanza' clematis also feel like a great value, because they'll grow even larger next year when this season's annuals are long gone. We learned a bit about tree valuation in my college Urban Forestry class, and WOW! - a mature tree is worth a lot of money!

But shopping for annuals is really fun. I enjoy trying out new color combos, like the pure pink and coral pink in my hanging baskets above (the lavender vinca around the edges aren't blooming right now, too bad). I'll look at these pots all summer to try to decide if I approve of coral and pink together - what do you think?

Tender tuberous perennials like the dahlias above can be treated as perennials if you dig them up each year and store the tubers, or you can 'forget' to dig them up and let winter massacre the suckers if you get tired of them. I think I'll dig these dahlias up, as I'm really enjoying them.

OK, OK, I have ranted in the past about how I dislike orange in my garden, but these dahlias are kind of rosy-apricot-orange and look exciting with the blue-violet salvia. I'm excited to see how this bed looks when the rosy daylilies, golden coreopsis and lavender shrubs add their blooms to the mix. Watch for pictures later in the summer, as the color scheme should be dramatic.

In sum, I'll probably continue to spend most of my plant budget on perennials like the sea pink (aka thrift aka Armeria maritima) pictured above. So how do you rationalize your plant purchases?


  1. Cheaper than therapy and better results. That's the only rationalization I need...

  2. I'm afraid when it comes to plants the word that comes to mind often isn't "rational."

    For example, at the nursery, the image of my garden is sort of like an inverse Tardis from Dr. Who. Do you know the Tardis? It looks like a phone booth on the outside, but a huge spaceship on the inside. Usually, I come home with my space ship full of plants then look at the tiny space they have to squeeze into and think: what was I thinking?

  3. Instant gratification and they bloom all summer, that's how I rationalize. I actually love petunias, I know that a lot of people don't. Anyway, I keep walking past these yellow petunias every time I go to Home Depot but I just can't pay $5 for them. I do like to fill some containers with annuals, but mostly I'm like you I think of the overall investment of perennials. Usually if I'm going to spend money on plants I want ones that I'll see again for years.

  4. Rationalize? Who said anything about rational, VW? LOL. I suppose I'm one of the aforementioned snobs. I haven't purchased petunias for several years. It's not that I don't like their colors and staying power. I just don't like to spend the money and fuss with them and then have bud worms devour them and deadhead and...

    On one hand I have to treat all my plants as annuals because I never know what lightening bolt might strike them dead. But I definitely prefer the longevity of perennials (shrubs, grasses and vines too). Seeing them wake up, grow and bloom every year is akin to the thrill of seeing a long lost friend. And like you said, they can be divided to multiply the pleasure. And don't hate me, but I always leave my dahlias in the ground and (knock on wood) they faithfully return.

    I'm all for pink and coral and your basket is beautiful. Playing with colors is part of the joys of gardening, don't you think? One of my borders is dedicated to the rather unconventional duo of coral and pink. Have you seen the rose Cynco de Mayo? Throw lavender into the mix. Sounds hideous but I like it.

  5. Hi VW

    Coral and Pink look fine together.

    I like Diascia, I have a small area planted with it which manages to come through the winter so it's a perennial for me.

    I like your Dahlias by the way.

  6. Hi VW,

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  7. I think a garden can be a wonderful mixture of the two. The perennials lay the groundwork while the annuals help fill in for some instant color. :)

  8. Very pretty- I love perennials too, the long term investment is so worth the wait.

  9. You know I left a post here and now it isn't here...?? I may have left it within the post picking on Blotanical. Curious

  10. I like the instant gratification of annuals too, but the more serious I get about gardening the less I like the more common annuals that are found in the big box stores. So now I still have them but I opt for things like lantanas, verbena, four o'clocks, zinnias, and cosmos instead of petunias, impatients, and geraniums. -Jackie

  11. Hi VW, I stopped getting annuals about ten years ago...thinking they were just toss away plants...then I rediscovered the joys of self sowing annuals again and embraced zinnias, larkspur, nigella, cosmos and many others! gail

  12. I gave up annuals for a while too then discovered container gardening! Oh my. I'm back into annuals big time! I love the coral and pink combination ~ I say it's a winner. That dahlia is a beauty too. I would definitely dig it up & overwinter it. We gardeners can rationalize everything can't we?? Perennials for long term value and annuals for the pleasure of today. I'm glad I get to have some of both.

  13. Love the dahlia and salvia photo - that peachy color with lavender is one of my favorite color combos, plus I just generally love dahlias and salvias.

  14. Plants are like really cute stray puppies. They just end up coming home with me and I always find a place for them.

  15. Hey VW,
    I like your thought processes and I can empathize with your thinking considering your climate.

    Since my garden never goes dormant(due to the temperate climate) I used to be a heavy purchaser of annuals every spring, fall and even winter for fun and interesting color. This year I decided to sow some from seed (not widely practiced down here) and spend my gardening budget (which had been severely trimmed) on native plants. With an unusual freeze this past winter I had that in mind as I chose my new perennial additions.

    I still can rationalize with the best of them when I really want something... like yesterday when I bought more coleus. Just had to have the colors.

    Your hanging baskets are very pretty... I'm a big fan of mixing unlikely colors. If wave petunias did well here after March I'd have them in my gardens for their ease of care. They really don't like our humidity.
    Meems @ Hoe and Shovel

  16. Over time I've grown more and more perennials which bloom at different times, but I still find myself buying annuals too to fill in the bare spaces. Great post.~~Dee

  17. I like the range of colors you use. I just discovered your site and left a comment on your heuchera post. Hopefully you find it and can give your opinion as to a plant that I have. :-)

    I don't purchase very many annuals. I usually pot my own hanging baskets (unless I find a good sale!) ;-) I'd thought I'd sow seeds in a variety of locations this year, but I didn't get it accomplished. This is too bad, because I have a lot of shade and those wild impatiens do add a LOT of color!

    I enjoy finding perennials that "fit the bill" for ongoing color and change in the gardens.

    I see you're working on your front yard. It will be fun to see what you do. Have a great day!

  18. P-p-p-petunias?! Yours, though, are very pretty and tempting!

  19. Gardening is my hobby, so that's how I spend my money. My husband buys gadgets and "toys" so he doesn't say much about my choice of spending.

    I have lots of perennials, but love annuals, too. I have petunias some years, and not others. I always hope this year the bugs won't eat them, and they will keep blooming nicely.

    I like all your color combinations there! I am experimenting with yellows and pinks, but also, not limiting my color choices as much as I used to. If I like something, I'll find a spot for it, even if it's not the color of most of the other flowers in a bed.


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