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The Indispensable Annuals

The greatest possibilities with color in the garden depend upon the annuals.

— F. Schuyler Mathews

For the best and most continuous display of flowers during the whole summer season, annual plants are essential.

— E. O. Orpet

The old-fashioned flower gardens were largely made up of annuals. Among flowers, by far the larger part of the old-time favorites were annuals; and it is probable that nine out of ten persons to-day, if asked to mention their favorite flowers (florists' stock excepted), would name annuals. Sweet peas, pansies, asters, cosmos, nasturtiums,—these have a hold on people which they will never lose.

And so, while it is possible to find many pleasant gardens,—in snug back yards, or window boxes or tomato cans—without trees and shrubs and perennials, the annuals are omnipresent. Their great variety, their adaptability to all needs and circumstances, the innumerable, characteristically beautiful ways they have of expressing themselves, make them always indispensable.

Almost all of the annuals may be grown successfully by sowing the seeds where the plants are to stand. This is done when the weather is warm enough in spring, and as soon as the soil is in good workable condition. The seed bed should always be thoroughly prepared, with good drainage and an abundance of well-decomposed fertilizer worked in. But it is much the best plan, especially in northern latitudes, wherever it can be done, to start the plants in hotbeds, cold frames,* greenhouses, or boxes of earth in the house, from which they are transplanted to the open ground. Considerable time is gained in this way,—often one or two months. Nearly all the annual species may be handled in this way. There are a few exceptions. But many sorts make much better plants by transplanting; and it is often advisable to transplant, the seedlings once before they reach their final stations in the grounds.

*Directions for making cold frames and hotbeds of all sorts may be found in any general work on gardening. See Bailey's Garden-Making, Taft's Greenhouse Construction, Henderson's Gardening for Profit, etc., etc.

The commonest error, in growing annuals, is to plant them in flower beds. This mistake is frequently made with other plants, but never so persistently and disastrously as with phloxes, zinnias, marigolds and their like. If a strictly geometrical scheme is intended, or if the garden is one of the old Italian style, with a high wall about it, then flower beds will fit the place. But in the free and natural door-yard gardening, with which we are most concerned, the whole picture is sadly disfigured when it is cut full of holes to receive strange, detached bunches of unwilling flowers in varied assortment. There they stand about uncomfortably through the summer, each bunch of flowers jealous of its neighbors, all appearing to be afraid of overstepping the circumscribing bricks, stones or oyster shells which hem them in, all chafing at the restraint, and all wishing they were safely away in the woods, where they might clamber down the hanks or revel in the grass the way flowers were meant to do.

The annual plants ought to be put, not into beds, but into the borders with the perennials and the shrubs. Or if shrubs and perennials are not grown, then the annuals have the border to themselves. Arranged in this way, they are capable of some of the most brilliant and satisfying effects which plants can ever give. In the irregularity and informality of the border it makes no difference if one plant or a whole lot of plants fails to grow. The irregularity is not destroyed! Or if some celandines or dandelions crowd into a half occupied nook somewhere, there is no harm done, for flowers are what we want. It would be different if we wanted flower beds.

The first and easiest and greatest improvement to be made in hundreds of front yards would be to obliterate the flower beds entirely,—sod them over, and leave an open greensward where they have stood in the middle of the lawn,—and move the flowers into the side borders.

It is hardly necessary to describe the principal annuals nor to give directions for their cultivation; but the following partial list, with scattering notes, is appended merely as a suggestion of the manifold riches at command.

ASTERS.—The annual or "China" asters have been very much improved in recent years. The old-time asters were too stiff and formal to gain much sympathy, but the new sorts, particularly the branching and the chrysanthemum flowering sections, are free and graceful and very fine. The new Japanese asters are also informal and agreeable. The better strains of the German quilled asters are extremely good, and quite different from other varieties. Asters should always be started in a hotbed and transplanted if possible.

ALYSSUM.—A good old favorite. Works nicely into the edges of the flower border.

AGERATUM.—Constant bloomer during summer, in white and bright blue; good in the edges of borders. Six to eighteen inches high.

ANTIRRHINUM, Snapdragon.—Many fine colors, from white nearly to black, in dwarf and standard varieties. To be used mostly in small masses. Six inches to two feet.

BALSAMS.—Old-time favorites, but not very useful in composition with other plants. They do not transplant well.

CALENDULA, called Pot Marigold by some.—Thrifty and a constant bloomer, mostly in yellow and orange shades. Ten to eighteen inches.

CANDYTUFT.—Good, free flowering, hardy border plant, in several colors, pure white being best.

CENTAUREA, Corn Bottle, Blue Bottle, or Bachelor's Button.—Another old favorite, running mostly to light blues. A new strain of Marguerite centaureas has a better form and more substance to the blossoms.

CELOSIA, including Cockscomb. This group numbers some very ornamental plants, especially the feathered varieties and those with ornamental foliage.

COREOPSIS, Calliopsis.—All bright yellows, with unimportant exceptions. Some of the finest flowering plants grown for border or for cut flowers. C. Drummondii (var. Golden Wave) is best of the annual species. C. tinctoria gives many pretty dwarf varieties, and some with quilled, others with dark maroon, blossoms. One to three feet.

COSMOS —One of the finest annuals, especially southward. Does not succeed well at the north. In white and several shades of pink and red. The white blossoms are prettiest. Three to six feet.

DATURA, Horn of Plenty, "Jimpson Weed."—A large, coarse plant, giving a striking effect at a little distance. Has conspicuous, large white flowers. Four to eight feet.

DIANTHUS, Pink.—A good old favorite, and worth more general cultivation at the present time. Many colors, single and double.

GAILLARDIA.—Fine flowers for border and for cutting; reds and yellows; somewhat daisy-like in form, except the double G. Lorenziana. Worth more extensive cultivation.

NASTURTIUM, Tropoeolum.—One of the richest and finest annual plants in cultivation and deservedly popular. All varieties may be grown in the border, though the dwarfs are best. The tall sorts are extremely well adapted to window boxes, lawn vases, and to situations where they may fall over rocks or down short slopes. The new hybrids of Madame Gunter show many beautiful colors.

PANSY.—Known and admired of all. For small plantings buy plants of the florist in spring. To grow the plants sow the seed in the fall in cold frames, which are covered at the beginning of winter. Transplant from these early in spring. Or sow the seeds as early as possible in spring in the hotbed or in pots or boxes in the house. Buy good seed.

PETUNIA.—Very fine for heavy masses in the flower border. A solid block of petunias thirty or forty feet across gives a very striking effect, if not out of harmony with its surroundings. The free and easy luxuriance of growth and profusion of bloom cannot be surpassed by anything in the garden. Extra choice varieties may easily be grown from cuttings; but main dependence may be placed on seedlings grown in fall, winter or early spring, and transplanted to the open ground after all danger of frost is past.

PHLOX.—The annual Phlox Drummondii is one of the finest border plants. Many people have become indifferent to it from having seen it so often grown in stiff, awkward flower beds. Such treatment takes all the grace and freedom out of the plant, which is inclined by nature to be a trifle stiff and serious. But when it is allowed to form free, irregular masses in the border, properly supported by other flowers, it is a very charming plant.

POPPY.—The annual poppies are very striking in color and graceful in form. They always seem at home in the mixed border, harmonizing with almost anything. The Shirley poppies are especially desirable, but there is hardly a variety grown which is not an acquisition.

RICINUS, Castor-oil bean.—These plants, of several different species, give grand summer effects. The varieties with dark foliage are especially beautiful. Should be started early.

STOCKS.—Old favorites, but neglected in late years. Very useful in the border.

SUNFLOWERS.—Several sorts, all useful on account of the emphasis they give to certain points in the border planting. Plant early.

SWEET PEA.—One of the finest plants known for cut flowers and quite indispensable, but not well adapted to the hardy border. They are usually best put by themselves where they may have a trellis and good cultivation. They should be sown in the open ground at the earliest possible moment in the spring, or may even be sown in the fall. The selection of varieties is wholly a matter of personal taste. There are several useful little manuals which the sweet pea lover should consult.

VERBENA.—The low, prostrate habit of verbenas does not best suit them to mixed plantings in the natural method. A few of them may be used, however, in certain parts of the border, especially where the plantings come directly beside a footpath.

ZINNIAS.—Well-known, old-fashioned flowers, but useful in many places. The newer varieties show some fine shades of color.


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