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. I took the picture at a wholesale nursery. They were awaiting buyers, but I am sure looking this good, they didn’t have to wait too long.

  1. I have yet to warm up to annuals unless they are self -seeding kinds like Digitalis or Marigolds. I don’t like the idea of putting all the work for nothing in the end. But who knows… I recently converted myself into houseplants lover after I killed few by TLC a long long time ago. Now, I’m addicted to succulents and air purifying plants. It’s always a pleasure reading you Susan. You make writing seems so easy.

    1. That means a lot and you know the feeling is reciprocated. I’m still uncertain about most types of houseplants as I tend to kill them. The ones that do survive are loved though.

  2. Propagating can be a bad habit! It is great if you are growing things for a nursery, but in your own garden, you will run out of space! Eventually, there can be too much of a good thing.

    1. I always found it hard throwing away all the extra seedlings for those plants that sprout readily from seed and are cheap, so you get far too many in a packet.

      1. I do not discard all the seed, but instead put them away as if I will use them later, but I never do. Nor do my neighbors use them. So, many seed get wasted. Sometimes, I plant them the following year, depending on how viable they are. Some stay viable for years. Sometimes, I just spread various old flower seed out in a freshly tilled area, and let them figure it out.

        1. That’s a good idea. When I was starting out, I may have imagined the number in the packet was the number you needed to get some to germinate. I always seemed to have none, two or three precious seedlings or far, far too many!

          1. Well, for large seeds like nasturtium, I can plant them all. Small seed come in large numbers! Our garden is small. For lettuce, we plant in phases, so extra seed do get used eventually. I forgot about those.

  3. Lovely photos AND a really good, thoughtful response to the challenge. I love your line about learning not to undervalue things … a lesson I’m learning too. 🙂

  4. I love the way your post narrates the evolution of a perspective. I also applaud your perseverance with that enormous first garden; my first was a small strip of dirt between the garage and the sidewalk, and it consumed me when I was about 12. I’d have fainted dead away at the size of your first!

    1. I was eased into it, really, and chose the flower side of things rather than the mowing and strimming, which filled me with alarm. It was a big, petrol strimmer that looked as likely to remove a toe as a blade of grass.

    1. A few well placed annuals can make a big difference. Over in Mississippi, it’s amazing how big some annuals can get in just one year of growing. Black Eyed Susan Vine comes to mind.

  5. Love that first photo, Susan – very striking! Fascinating post. I do love annuals, though as the garden matures it is harder to find room for them – they mostly go into pots and planters now but I love their dependable flowering.

    1. I’m glad you liked it. It’s a pity nobody’s invented stretchable gardens so far. You would think that would be easier than quantum scientists inventing cats that are simultaneously alive and dead, but there you go.

  6. I appear to be good at raising cuttings, so much so I have had to stop as I had so many offspring and nowhere to put them! (I only have a very small garden). And much as I prefer flowering shrubs and perennials there definitely is a place for annuals.

    1. Too many cuttings sounds like a recipe for some very happy friends and neighbours. I love seeing how plants travel locally. There is a road we sometimes walk down that has a lovely, salmon coloured potentilla scattered up and down it. I suppose it could have been a special at a local nursery some years ago, but I always imagine it being passed along by gardeners who liked it and wanted a bit.

  7. What a fun read, and very accurate. I’m also amazed at how quickly purchases disappear into the garden, even after it seemed to take forever to find the perfect spot to show them off!

    1. It’s funny how gardeners look for the perfect spot, then spend balmy evenings wandering around, admiring the fruits of their labours, looking in every nook and cranny so as not to miss a soon-to-emerge new flower.

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