Sunday, October 31, 2010
Let's Elect Some Annuals
Who can think about anything besides the coming election? I can't wait to see how many greedy congressmen lose their jobs. I suppose the current crop of congressmen is no worse than previous incumbents but because I have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, I read about the latest political horrors every day.
I wrote a column back in 1990 at election time reporting that Congress had just raised the legislative budget 16%, which included $33 million to pay for the previous year's franked mail. I looked up the word "frank" and found "a pigsty, also the fattening of animals." Perfect! Franked mail could certainly be classified as pork!
Politics hasn't much to do with gardening, but I'll see if I can weave a few flowers into this column. What comes to mind are all the new faces that I'm hoping will appear in the House and Senate come January. I guess these freshmen could be compared to annuals, plunked down in a well-established bed of perennials.
A flower bed full of perennials usually doesn't guarantee a riot of color all summer. To have constant bloom, it needs annuals, the same way Congress needs new representatives. Adding little mounds of white allysum, clusters of snapdragons or a sprawl of petunias to the front of a border promises blossoms from June through September, and with global warming, right through October.
These tender seedlings need help before being installed among the established perennials. They must struggle in their race for space. Like freshmen congressment, newly planted annuals can be totally intimidated by the plants that have been soaking up the garden's perks for years. If their roots have been cramped in a nursery container all spring, those roots need to be loosened and spread before planting.
Most garden books refer to annuals as bedding plants. I wasn't sure why so I looked up "bedding" in Webster's. Obviously annuals are not bed clothes or material for animals to sleep on. How about "something that forms a foundation or bottom layer" since they're usually planted at the front of a flower bed.
There is a huge selection of annuals to choose from as far as color and size, but I'm ashamed to say the ones I listed above are the ones this unimaginative gardener usually chooses. White petunias planted at the front of a border show up through rain and fog and even as night falls in the garden. They bloom all summer long if they're dead-headed frequently.
Pansies don't last that long, even when dead-headed, but their little faces are so appealing I always grow a few in the Abitta garden. Dusty Miller, that small gray plant with lacy leaves that makes a nice contrast to other annuals, doesn't require dead-heading as it doesn't set seeds.
Oh, dear, my comparison of annuals and newly installed congressmen doesn't work very well with dead-heading. I'd hate to see those freshmen ostracized if they were producing sparkling new legislation. What an unattractive term "dead-heading" is! But it really is an important garden chore. All plants have one big aim in life - to produce seeds. If we bother to remove the spent flowers on our annuals before they manage this feat, the plants will continue to flower, determined to succeed in producing the next generation.
"Do as I say, not as I do," a motto my husband said often. The petunias in my photo were never dead-headed, but despite that fact they are still blooming. Their stems, lined with seeds, extend for close to a foot in all directions. Of course this has been a crazy summer when every sort of vegetation has had enormous growth, not just petunias. Did you grow cleomes this year? Also known as spider plant, these are one of the few tall annuals. Mine reached six feet by August, but then fell over, probably for lack of water.
I just pulled a book off my library shelf I didn't know I owned, "All about Annuals." It must include well over 200 plants. You would certainly have learned more about new and unusual annuals if I'd found it sooner. I usually try to include a few helpful garden hints or fresh ideas in my columns, but I had too much fun playing with my election metaphores.
DONT FORGET TO VOTE!