Does a garden become a little predictable, and therefore boring, if it is the same year after year? At the outer reaches of garden design these days, there is a lot of interest in temporary effects.
In some cases, the special effects last for hours, not even weeks or months. Some of the things are a little bizarre. For example, cutting patterns into a grass lawn and allowing them to disappear when the grass grows out, or, even more temporary, marking patterns in the dew on a grass lawn at the crack of dawn, and photographing them before the sun dries the dew, or adding trails of daisies or buttercup flowers.
Bedding plants are one way to add an element of change from one year to the next. If they are used for containers, or for filling in at the front of beds, a change of variety can make a big difference. For example, using a pale pastel colour one year but swapping in plants with bold colour the next would markedly change the look.
One of the reasons that perennial flowers have become so popular is that unlike bedding plants, they do not have to be planted each year. But will a garden of perennial flowers become monotonous?
You can get around this by building in a bit of impermanence and planting tall annuals is the ideal way to do so. Think of plants such as cosmos, lavatera, nicotiana, cleome, sunflowers, mullein, teasel and echium, although the last three are biennials, taking two years to grow and flower. Even so, these biennials have the same quality of being ephemeral - or having a short lifecycle - and are hardy like the foxglove, which means they can all be grown outdoors. A popular echium is the native Irish viper's-bugloss, and the Canary Island borage is a favourite too. But the most dramatic change of all has happened this year because of the unaided efforts of a wild plant - namely mullein. This wildflower appears often of its own accord and there are some show species available with yellow flowers. It is pretty and the effect is eye-catching. But again, mullein offers a temporary change, the flower spikes were not there a few weeks ago and they will be gone by autumn.
The most popular and effective of the tall annuals is cosmos. It is related to dahlia and is not hardy but comes easily and rapidly from seeds sown indoors in spring like the other annuals mentioned. Cosmos comes into flower as a relatively small plant in summer and flowers well into autumn. It has mostly deep-pink, pink or white flowers, although there is an orange and yellow species but it is not quite as vigorous.
Lavatera is mostly seen in pink or white with a profusion of big funnel-shaped flowers.
Sunflowers are usually found in a vegetable garden, but could be grown anywhere and have such a strong look that they greatly emphasise the temporary nature of the seasons.
Cleome is often called spider flower because of its slender, spidery flower parts. It can make 2m with large heads of pink or white flowers. It does best in a warm summer.
Nicotiana, or tobacco flower, is the lowest grower at about 60cm, but that is still taller than most bedding plants. It comes in the same scented flowers of dusky shades of red, green, pink and white. There is a bigger species, Nicotiana sylvestris, that thrives at woodland edges and self-sows in suitable conditions.
It is not too late to plant many of these flowers, notably cosmos, or you can content yourself with sowing biennials soon.
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Since ancient Egyptian times, growing plants in containers has been popular. There's a myriad of reasons. Pots enable you to plant somewhat tender but definitely colourful species at this time of the year, when our fear of frost is beginning to recede. And it allows you to grow plants that are normally unsuitable for your soil. For instance, if you have an alkaline-based soil, displaying some species which are happier in an acidic base, such as camellias or rhododendrons, may be a real treat. And if you garden on a balcony, or tiny paved patio or courtyard, and have no soil at all, pots and containers give you the ability to create an 'out of the ground' garden.
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