lundi 28 juillet 2008

When annual is perennial (or vice versa)

Santa Barbara Daisies and Campanules

Dead-heading won't save a plant from one year to the next. What it will only do is allow it to flower again in the same season, if flower again it is intended to do.

Some plants, like a good many varieties of rose, are meant only to flower once a year, for a shorter or longer period of time. For plants that are able to flower and flower again freely all season, all they need is the little encouragement of having their faded flowers cut off to produce again, and you needn't be too nice about it. Just follow the stem down to a likely leaf -- if you are concerned for the plant's shape -- and snip with the scissors, or in the case of a mass of plants in a planting border, just cut them across the whole.

I tend to go flower by flower -- even then -- because I want to preserve the ones that are in bloom and about to open.

Once the season ends, the plant will die if it is an annual, regardless of all the dead-heading it has received.

On the other hand, I have been surprised and had annuals return. Sometimes they are biannuals. Other times, the plant has had sufficient protection from the harshness of the winter weather -- or a temperate enough winter -- to come back from its roots. This is the case of the campanules in the photo above.

Anyone who has seen last summer's June photos might remember them -- planted with blue-violet ones and white lobelia -- in the urns at the step into the top terrace.

They died. I expected as much because I had purchased them as annuals, and forgotten the name.

The urns, empty of all but planting soil, made a napping place for Wisp until I saw sprouts coming up, whose unfolding leaves were unmistakably those of the campanules I had planted last spring.

I dug up the small plants, retaining the root mass intact in its soil, and transplanted them to a medium-sized clay pot, where I watched them grow, wondering what color flowers they would produce. A couple of weeks ago, I was rewarded with the first buds, which opened pure white. None of the blue flowers had come back.

Finally taking the time this morning to research what variety they are, the best I can say -- from the shape and size of the flowers, the way the plants grows, and the form of its leaves -- is that they are Campanula isophylla, or Falling Stars, Italian Bellflowers, or Star of Bethlehem. This is sometimes listed as an annual, and at other times as a perennial, due probably to the fact that it drops its leaves in cooler climates and is not very hardy, or tolerant of the cold. I suppose that it is easier for nurseries to sell them as annuals, so that their customers don't return upset when their plants don't the next spring.

In short, this is why it is difficult to know (sometimes) whether your plant will return and whether you and what you do or don't do to it is responsible for its failure.

I am not an expert, although I might be one if permitted to live a terribly long life, so I learn from experience (i.e. experimenting), research and inquiry.

If you count on your plants returning year after year, make sure to buy them in the perennials section of your nursery and then ask and look up their best care for soil, fertilizer and compost, pruning, etc.

If you buy a plant in the annuals section, well, you might get lucky (or unlucky, as the case may be) and actually have a perennial or biannual (requiring two years to complete its flowering cycle, which you might not like, since you will only have flowers the second year) on your hands.

I suggest looking up any plant about which you are uncertain to see if there is a hope that it is really a sensitive perennial because if it is, and you have the space, you can try bringing it indoors into a suitably light area and maintaining it over the colder months for a new reception in the garden.

Many plants that are intended to flower for several weeks during the year benefit from being cut down by about a third of their size to allow the plant to restore its energy and produce new growth and flowers. Failing to do so will exhaust the plant and disappoint you.

So, this year, having not seen any Star of Bethlehem at Florosny, I decided to use deep magenta Impatience, especially since these two urns don't receive a lot of sun at any time of the day. I can't say that I like the impatience so well, but the white Star of Bethlehem makes a nice companion to the Erigeron karvinskianus, or Santa Barbara Daisies.

I would try to plant some in with the Erigeron around the fish basin, where I sat the pot next to two unplanted Erigeron and got to see the happy effect of the two plants together, except that this variety is better in pots, particularly urns or hanging pots. I could try the C. carpatica 'Bressingham White' instead, which has a tuft pattern of growth similar to the Erigeron, but makes pure white stars, like the C. isophylla.

Someone remind me that I said that, please.

PS: For the Anthemis

Although it is supposedly fairly hardy, mine -- seen here in June last year -- died over the winter, Mom. Having bought large balls last year in high season at high price, I purchased smaller ones this year to hedge my investment. They are almost quite as large now, and I will take the extra precaution of bringing the plants, which I have left in their nursery pots placed in the terra cotta planters, indoors.

It could be that had I planted them in a border, they would have survived the winter from the benefit of more soil around the roots, and the spreading of manure, but in their pots, they probably got too cold and humid for the roots to survive.

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