Annuals and Perennials Make Good Bedfellows

<i> Times Garden Editor </i>

Right now, or as soon as spring’s blossoms are spent and room appears in the flower bed, it’s time to get out the trowel and plant those flowers that make summer bright and cheerful.

And there is no reason to limit yourself to just the traditional summer bedding plants, such as marigolds and zinnias. Most nurseries now carry a jubilant mix of annuals and perennials for summer gardens, and there are some distinct advantages to planting both.

For many gardeners, this mixing of annual and perennial flowers--those that last but a season and those that last longer--is a new idea, but some have been doing it for years.

For some four decades, Lillian Lohmeyer has grown annuals and perennials together, for the first 20 years in her Flintridge garden and for the last 20 years on Davenport Island in Huntington Harbor, so her experience includes coastal and inland conditions.


She cites several good reasons for planting annuals:

They grow the quickest, flower the most and come in the brightest colors. She plants them from seed or small packs--never from anything larger.

In Southern California, “there is never a time when you can’t quickly fill some empty place in the garden” with annuals, she said.

But annuals need replacing every season, so to avoid too much replanting, she includes perennials as well. Perennials also come in colors, heights and shapes that are distinctly different from most annuals. They add variety to any scheme and tend to flower at slightly different times than the annuals, so they spread out the show.


In the large 14-by-29-foot bed in front of her home, she used one of the brightest of all perennial flowers, a coreopsis named “Sunray,” which is covered with fully double golden flowers all summer and fall. And “Sunray” is neat and tidy to boot, except in winter when it must be cut back.

After one disappointing year, when plants purchased at a nursery turned out to be something else, she started again from seed. “Sunray” happens to be one of the few perennials that grow easily from seed, sprouting quickly and growing rapidly.

For contrast, Lohmeyer grows the silver-foliaged dusty miller in front of the coreopsis. Dusty miller is one of those perennials that is usually grown as if it were an annual because it becomes large and lax after a year in the ground, but you can certainly count on it for at least a whole year, not just a season, and perhaps longer.

In front of this she planted the purple lobelia named “Royal Carpet.” Lobelia is just the opposite of dusty miller--an annual that can last longer than a season and begins to behave like a perennial, but it is usually replanted each spring anyway.

A more substantial color combination would be hard to find--golden yellow behind silver-gray and dark purple--but these are not the only players.

Behind the coreopsis are clumps of agapanthus, more purplish-blue to contrast with the golden yellow--at least during June when they flower. To augment the yellow, there are clumps of day lilies, mostly in shades of yellow and soft orange or apricot, which flower all summer and well into fall.

She grows rosy shades of sweet alyssum between the plants of lobelia, and between the coreopsis, the little white, daisy-flowered Chrysanthemum paludosum , which helps cool down this hot combination of colors. Both of these are true annuals, but they tend to come back year after year from their own seed.

If you get the idea that the distinction between annual and perennial is a little blurred here in California, you are right, and that is yet another reason to mix them freely in the flower bed.


Those who have heard how horrible the soil can be in Huntington Harbor know that all Lohmeyer’s gardening was not done without a great deal of work.

Huntington Harbor’s soil “looks like melted chocolate ice cream” when wet and is as hard as a rock when dry, so a great deal of effort went into preparing the soil, and in this case, raising it up so it would drain away excess water.

Even after the initial preparation, it took several years of work to get the soil to the point where it now is. But many bags of soil amendment later, plants began to take hold and now flourish, though every time she replants, she adds more amendment.

She also fertilizes several times during the growing season. In the spring and fall, she scatters a granular fertilizer over the bed and waters it in, and when plants “appear to need a little perking up,” she uses a liquid fertilizer in late spring and summer. Whenever she plants, she also puts a little granular fertilizer in the bottom of the hole.

Those planning to plant a summer garden this month can benefit from Lohmeyer’s experience: use annuals and perennials (but control the colors), thoroughly prepare the soil and fertilize.

Do remember to water often right after planting, but then less and less as the plants root into the soil--once established, a garden such as this doesn’t require a whole lot of water, perhaps as little as once a week.