Weekly Photo Challenge: Temporary Plants

A leafy plant with purple and silver striped leaves

When I first started gardening, it was in a garden that was so big, it seemed to eat up plants. The broad expanses of clay soil, hospitable enough with plenty of leaf mould and grit dug in, were insatiable. Had this been a boarding house for plants, a jaunty ‘Vacancies’ sign would have been permanently on display.

I could order a whole box of bare roots, at considerable cost, but they seemed to melt away in the garden’s expanse. Three would go here, and three more there; a choice plant by the gate so you were bound to appreciate it; a few more in the main borders and underneath the canopies of trees, but the box was soon, sadly, emptied and the garden seemed virtually as open as it had been before.

Luckily I like propagating – splitting plants, growing from seed – so that was OK. But I developed the habit of not liking annuals. Annuals were a waste. Mere temporary fixes. Their gap of land would still be a gap in a year’s time – in five years or twenty – if ‘real’ plants were not put there instead. 

Sometimes it seems as if I’ve spent my whole life learning not to undervalue things. I’m still learning. But as my gardening space shrank almost to nothing so I would have to throw plants away by the handful to fit any new plant in, and I started to look to other people’s gardens for vicarious enjoyment, annuals have made their way into my heart.

A mass of colourful flowers

If you’re looking to create a sea of colour quickly, and aren’t pandering to a monster garden without public support or a large fortune, annuals such as these calibrachoas are a great option.

In any case, I’ve come to see that the distinction between annuals and perennials is not clear cut. True annuals, zinnias for example, reach their flowering peak then fade away after they’ve formed seeds, no matter what. Coddle them all you will, enough is enough, they seem to conclude, and they sigh into nothingness.

But many plants that die after flowering once in our climate have potential well beyond the year their classification seems to allot them. ‘Annual’ may have been written on the plant labels our small Calibrachoa and Tradescantia zebrina plants (at the top) arrived with, but as I mourn the way the frost mushes them, I know they would live to fight again in a tropical climate. Peppers could survive elsewhere too.

As an English gardener, I may lift up my eyebrows to hear of Russian gardeners growing climbing roses as annuals, but only until I’ve tried to keep them alive in their conditions. I’d have to laboriously untwine the roses from their trellises; lay them on the earth and cover them with thick blankets of burlap or bubble wrap or leaves; lament my scratches and lacerations and remove a few thorns, no doubt; then keep my fingers and toes crossed until the snow finally melts, months later, and the roses spring back to life – or not…

And while heucheras are bullet proof perennials in English gardens, when I pleaded for us to try some attractive cultivars in my sweetheart’s Mississippi shade garden, they disappeared without trace in their first hot summer. Sigh. The trouble was, we had disappeared too, back to England, so they had to fend for themselves.

Two types of heuchera in a shady border

Steve Bender observes that heucheras are the type of plants that could more properly be called weeklies in much of the South, rather than annuals or perennials. I have to accord him a wry smile.

Along the way, I’ve come to see temporary is a quirk of fate. A matter of perspective. My human form is temporary. What right have I to look for immortality in plants that co-exist alongside me? I need to celebrate the mindset that says ‘Give me another day, and I’ll have another go’.

Shared as part of the weekly photo challenge: temporary.

34 Replies to “Weekly Photo Challenge: Temporary Plants”

  1. My head nodded in complete understanding as I read your post. I, too, have a monstrous yard/garden that seems to absorb plants – regardless of how many I add! I also lacked an appreciation for annuals and container planting, both of which I’ve come to appreciate over the past couple of years, thankfully! Thanks for sharing the post.

    1. You’ve reminded me that gardening is a shared experience, even when we seem to garden far apart, in different climates and conditions. We go through the same small joys, frustrations and sorrows.

  2. Your writing is so beautiful. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us. I totally understand the pain of running out of space for new plants, as well as sadness when some plants are not able to survive. But as you wrote, that’s life and all is temporary.

  3. Pretty plants! That first image…we called it Wandering Jew when we were in college in the 70s. People said it was a great plant for dorm rooms because you couldn’t kill it. I managed to kill it all the time. I could never keep it growing, so it really WAS temporary, at least in my dorm room!

  4. I find it interesting what people regard as perennial or annual around the world. Also what is classed as a weed.

    1. While annual / perennial is climate-driven, the weed / flower one is very personal. We were taking to a non-gardener recently who has a garden full of dandelions and really loves them. My mind turned to his neighbours who will probably find the seeds carried on the winds into their own gardens and might not enjoy them quite so much.

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