August Walking Tour - Annuals: Divas of the Garden
By Bridget Blomquist, Horticulturist
Annual flowers are important plants that propel creativity, grace the growing season with detail, and connect us to the past. They are the prima donnas of the garden. Even if they don’t get top billing, they often steal the show. But don’t think for a moment that these divas are temperamental. They are a cinch to start from seed and will bloom nonstop until frost.
What sets annual flowers apart from the rest? They are profuse bloomers putting all of their energy into one act, summer. After the season, they die. For most of us in Colorado, annuals are planted around Mother’s Day and lasts until the first damaging frost, usually in October.
This year has been a challenge for these plants of summer at Denver Botanic Gardens. We endured two damaging hail storms within three weeks of each other in June. Some annuals proved more resilient than others. We doted on our divas, boosting their egos with regular fertilizer treatments. Quite noticeably, the prima donnas have arrived to sing their arias.
Start your walk at the Fountain Beds just south of the Science Pyramid. You’ll be greeted by several sunflower varieties (Helianthus annuus) houses fit for Puccini’s lead character-Madame Butterfly. Dainty white alyssum and blue lobelia and tidy mounds of basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Pluto’) defines the winding paths and entice you inside. Flanking the pathways, the feathery texture of love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) and false Queen Anne’s lace (Ammi majus) beckon you and offer a striking contrast with the smoother-leaved flowering cabbage (Brassica spp.) and Digitalis Foxlight™ Rose Ivory. The mist from the fountains makes this space truly magical and demonstrates annual design at its finest.
From here, take a few steps west and a few south, and enter the Woodland Mosaic Garden. This elegant garden is made more intimate by annuals raised above the ground in containers and hanging baskets. Kong Red coleus (Plectranthus ‘Kakegawa CE12’ Kong Red®) is the queen of coleuses and reigns over her container. Overhead, tropical bromeliads cascade down from the swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) to create subtle and soft detail.
Head north and enter the All-America Selections Garden. As you stroll under the first trellis, meet the understudy to the soprano: white flowered hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus). She weaves around you, creating a floral umbrella for couples saying, “I do”. Just North under the second trellis, Ruby Moon hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus ssp. purpureus ‘Ruby Moon’) canopies overhead. Our primary soprano shows off her vivid purple flowers at eye level. This show stopper is recommended by Plant Select® because of its reliability and beauty in the Rocky Mountain Region.
Stroll north and step up to the Orangery sidewalk. It’s time for a stunning display of annual color. Look west and take in the planters that line the southern edge of the Terrace. The built-in planters overflow with annuals, a mix of old favorites and new varieties. Lime tones and striking, desert-sunset colors of Osteospermum ‘KLEOE09175’ Zion Copper Amethyst™, contrast with the dark foliage of the red hybrid dahlia, Mystic Wonder™ (Dahlia ‘Velvet’). This color combination is reminiscent of Aida, the exotic beauty of Verdi’s opera by the same name. The statuesque Digitalis x Isoplexis Digiplexus Illumination Flame™ is just as fiery as Carmen, the alluring gypsy in Bizet’s masterpiece. Like all divas, these flowers are surrounded by their own paparazzi of sorts: bees, butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths.
For a grand finale, walk south from the West Terrace planters to the cooling shade of the Oak Grove. The stage is set: a cluster of ceramic containers in the middle of the shaded courtyard. The divas are everywhere in this bold centerpiece. In fact one might think that each was trying to upstage the other. However, the tall and commanding maestro, ornamental millet (Pennisetum glaucum 'Purple Majesty’) grounds the divas. Bold canna lilies, paired with the hybrid red Dragon Wing™ begonia (Begonia ‘Bepared’) and other coleuses, are in harmony together. No competition here among these prima donnas. They are tempered beautifully by a supporting chorus of smoky- textured bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and dark, ornamental fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’).
Bellissima bella divas and bravo!
Photos by Bridget Blomquist