Fluff and Stuff... Annuals in the Garden

Soft textures add an interesting dimension in the garden. As autumn approaches, late perennial grasses such as miscanthus and muhlenbergia begin to form tassels of fluff that are stunning when backlit by sunshine. If you don't have space to grow the perennial grasses, there are a few annuals that can be stuffed into small spaces.

Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' (Purple fountain grass) is an annual in cold zones, but is a perennial in warmer zones 9-11. I use this grass as the main attraction in containers, but also squeeze these into tight spaces in the garden. The fountains of fluff and the deep purple and bronze foliage colors are stunning right now. I've not tried to sow this grass from seeds. I purchased small plants in four inch pots in early spring. The grasses are now around four feet in height.

Silver foliage and pink and purple blooms are great companion colors for purple fountain grass. In containers, I use purple petunias, pink gomphrena, and lavender lantana for blooms. In the garden, I've planted the grass among blue, pink or magenta blooms of salvia and agastache varieties.

Not a grass, but in the form of an annual bloom, celosia 'Flamingo Feather' attracts a lot of attention in my cottage garden. I sowed the seeds directly in the ground in spring. In fact, I had forgotten about them until a few weeks ago when the seedlings suddenly appeared, grew to 30 inches and bloomed! The celosia are soft to the touch, but remain upright among other tall companions of zinnias, agastache and salvias.

Last year, I purchased a few of these celosia in container plantings. I decided to sow them from seeds this year and am happy with the success rate. If you start the celosia seeds indoors, you will have earlier blooms. In my garden, I am happy with the fresh blooms for late summer so that they remain pretty until frost.

The soft, white lace blooms of amni visagna also appeared quite suddenly in the last few weeks. Again, if you like to start seeds indoors or "winter sow" you will have blooms sooner than later. Although I have not tried, the laceflower may be a good candidate to direct sow in the ground in autumn at the same time as the seeds of larkspur and poppies.

The laceflower can be mistaken for the wild Queen Anne's Lace, but it is a completely different plant. The variety that I have is supposed to be pale green, to white. So far, the blooms on my plants are white. However, they are large and bloom on strong, upright stems. I have planted these with red salvia greggii and salvia guaranitica 'Black & Blue' for a red, white and bloom color scheme. I think I like these together!

Adding a variety of annuals to the garden has been rewarding as they fill gaps among perennials while providing new textures and fresh color throughout the growing season.

Photos and words by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; August 2009


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