Annual and tropical plants can add extraordinary colors and textures to any garden, especially from late summer through early autumn, when many perennials fizzle out. In Fine Gardening Issue #177, garden designer Laura Trowbridge wrote a feature article about the process of creating the long, deep, mixed border that wraps around the western side of her Peterborough, New Hampshire, home. This garden bed is a focal point in the landscape and can be seen from the kitchen, living room, master bedroom, and back patio.
Woody plants, both deciduous and evergreen, give the border year-round structure and visually tie the garden to the woodland scenery that surrounds it. An intriguing mix of perennials adds another layer of interest. But the thing that really sets this landscape apart is the fact that Laura leaves about half of the garden open for an ever-changing palette of tender plants. The summer that Fine Gardening staff visited to take photos, some of the standout plants were ‘New Zealand Purple’ castor bean (Ricinus communis New Zealand Purple’, Zones 9–11), ‘Strawberry Fields’ gomphrena (Gomphrena haageana ‘Strawberry Fields’, annual), ‘Violet Queen’ spider flower (Cleome hassleriana ‘Violet Queen’, annual), and ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ salvia (Salvia ‘Balsalmisp’, Zones 7–10).
After Laura finishes planting at the end of May, it takes time for the annuals to fill in, but by mid-July the tender plants are established and starting to show what they can do. To help them thrive, Laura adds compost to the bed every other year and fertilizes once every two weeks during the growing season. She mulches, waters frequently, and deadheads to keep the plants performing and looking their best.
If you’d like to bring some annual flair to your own garden, Laura says the most important thing is to leave enough space for the plants you will add. Don’t be afraid to move annuals to improve your design; as long as you keep them well watered, they should survive.
Special thanks to Swift Corwin for the drone footage featured in this video.