Tuesday, August 16, 2011

8.12 An Annual Celebration




It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, as I tell the valet parking attendant at the hospital. His smile has endured all summer, more reliable than the weather. The plants in the containers outside the hospital, red petunia and yellow marigold annuals, seem to smile as well.
In fact, it’s a great time for annual plants. Gardens need them now more than ever, since while most of the perennials have shot their bolt, many annual varieties are just beginning to mature. Such is the case with the zinnias I started from seed outdoors in May and transplanted when I got around to it, most of them already on the leggy side by then since I neglected to thin the seedlings. Thinning seedlings means killing plants that have already performed the miracle of germination, moving from inert, lifeless seed to green growing biota. I hate to be the one to cut short their journey.
Every living thing is a wondrous accomplishment. To know intellectually that living things grow from seeds is one thing; to have them unveil their mysterious selves from your own seeds is quite another.
Spaces appear these days in the perennial garden where old flower stalks have faded and both leaves and blossoms decayed. The strong color of annuals, if they’re healthy enough to keep renewing their blossoms all summer, shines through those spaces.
A month ago I slipped some of the zinnias (grown from a multicolored seed packet) into a few of these holes. They’re just beginning to flower now. Out front I do the same thing with purchased cosmos – much less successful this year – and snapdragons.
I’ve worked to naturalize my crop of snapdragons, planting new ones in pots and then transplanting them into the soil in September. Some of these survive the winter and start blossoming early the next season. They go through the typical so-so annual flower process of blooming from stalks that have to be cut back or deadheaded in order to produce new blossoms. It’s stop and start color all season.
The alyssum on the other hand, also purchased, are a complete disappointment. Still alive, they just sit where they’re put for months, quietly doing nothing. Consider the lily? It may neither toil nor spin, but it sure produces something worth looking at. The nursery-grown alyssum? Not so much.
Fortunately, August is also a great month to buy some new annuals, so long as you can find a garden center with late-arriving stock, so the plants aren’t quite beaten down to scrawny, root-bound adolescents crammed into kindergarten outfits, as is so often the case with unsold annuals.
Even better, if you do find six-packs of flowering annuals still in good shape, they’re quite likely to be on sale because at this time of year only fanatics like me are still looking to buy summer annuals.
I am ecstatic when I find packs of annuals on sale for $1 at my favorite South Quincy plant center. They are my new toys. I want to take them home and play with them.
New color spots, new voices in the choir, now sing in the places where the stalks and leaves of last month’s perennials have died away. Somebody’s swan song is somebody else’s opportunity. The lilies will be back. But for now their air space is filled with blooms of red salvia.