Saturday, January 15, 2011

Getting smarter, annual-ly speaking

Normally, I would try to claim the title of Dumbest Gardener on the Planet for myself, but I strongly believe I'm not the only one. I think there are more of us out there, and we could get together and form a pretty sizable association. Dumbest in the sense that when I started I had never seen most plants I'm using now. I knew azaleas, impatience, liriope, camelias and porterweed. Other standards like phlox, hollyhock, aster, snapdragon, nigella, lupin, stock and everything else were words with no pictures. So in addition to not knowing what would grow and then survive in Florida's long heat and humidity, I didn't know what the plants would ultimately look like, how large or what shape they'd be. Consequently, I made mistakes as previously noted. The beautiful lavender blue mums became great half-spheres of dense growth, too big for my small garden and getting bigger every day. The cosmos never grew a wit until they disappeared weeks later. I had two successes, echinacea and mounding dianthus. Consequently, they're my favorites. I love them because they love me.
Of all the books I've bought one has been the most helpful, A Cutting Garden for Florida by Betty Barr Mackey and Monica Moran Brandies. Mackey and Brandies share their own Florida experiences, successes and failures in the Tampa area. They explain that it is possible to grow northern type cottage garden plants, but it must be done in the fall, winter and spring before the high heat of summer sets in. They discuss annuals and perennials, hardy and half hardy, northern, central and southern Florida, sowing seeds, nursing seedlings, bulbs. I went through it meticulously making lists of possibles for my garden then cross referencing with the internet for seed availability and images of more than just the bloom.
Whole plant photos have been hard to come by even though I have bought a dozen or more books on annuals and perennials. I've been quite disappointed with the books after I got them in my hands. They've been basically lovely books that left me just as uninformed as before they arrived. However, I just received one that has prompted this post, Annuals with Style by Michael A. Ruggiero and Tom Christopher. There is not a flower-only shot in the whole book. It is all and only very clear photos of gardens, in other words growing plants in real beds in real gardens. Because some of the gardens have some tropicals in them that we use such as canna, coleus and caladiums, I had to check to see where the authors live. The closest I came to knowing that is their affiliation with New York Botanical Garden and Martha Stewart Living. So they're not Floridians or even southerners, but knowing what I know now, the gardens they have included seem doable here at least in the cooler months, and they provide inspiration for the summer months with some appropriate substitutions that I'm sure we can figure out for ourselves. I would venture to say that I took something away from almost every single photo and could easily see my garden taking on a similar look - not a rose garden but a garden with roses.

Style is the keyword. The gardens that the authors present are colorful, blooming ones featuring drifts, grasses and natural looks without the wild and weedy look. They are orderly yet unpretentious. Their subtitle hints at what the book is about, design ideas from classic to cutting edge. I think between these two books we can put together a fairly year-round garden. And that's saying a lot for a bunch of dummies!

And now I'll go curl up on the sofa with a blankie and a good book - a very good book. Click here if you care to go shopping.


  1. Oh yes, I figured some of this out through blogging. I watched what they did up north and the temperatures and then did it here in Dec...I have had much success with several plants that the nurseries are sure I can't gorw.

  2. Experimenting is good...if you’re brave. I’m not totally gun-shy, but I want some “assurances” now. And quite possibly the ones that the “Cutting Garden” authors said didn’t work in Tampa might work for you and me. You don’t know till you try. Which ones worked for you that they said wouldn’t?

  3. That 'Annuals w/ Style' book sounds really good. I love books with pictures of the whole garden. They are hard to find. A good reference book with descriptions of single plants is a must but I'm needing to see how the plants look in an overall scheme. I love anything by Monica Brandies for great information that works where I live. I'm trying to stay busy so I won't go outside and trim stuff, perhaps I'll go look for some of these books.

  4. This is my favorite gardening book (a Cutting garden fo Fl). It introduced me to many beautiful flowers that you don't even see at the garden centers but that have provided me with months and months of bouquets for my home.