Liberty Hyde Bailey wrote that, "The best gardener is one who does the most gardening by the winter fire.” And here we are folks. Nursery catalogs are filling mailboxes and the big box stores are moving out the half-off Christmas decorations for the Burpee display. Here is some timeless advice from America's Father of Modern Horticulture regarding annuals as we get ready for another growing season.
ANNUAL plants are those that you must sow every year. From seed to seed is only a year or less. Annual plants probably comprise half the flowering plants of the world. They quickly take advantage of the moving seasons,— grow, blossom and die before they are caught by the blight of winter or of the parching dry season. They are shifty plants, now growing here, then absconding to other places. This very uncertainty and capriciousness makes them worth the while. The staid perennials I want for the main and permanent effects in my garden, but I could no more do without annuals than I could without the spices and the condiments at the table. They are flowers of a season: I like flowers of a season.
Of the kinds of annuals there is almost no end. This does not mean that all are equally good. For myself, I like to make the bold effects with a few of the old profuse and reliable kinds. I like whole masses and clouds of them. Then the other kinds I like to grow in smaller areas at one side, in a half experimental way. There is no need of trying to grow equal quantities of all the kinds that you select. There is no emphasis and no modulation in such a scheme. There should be major and minor keys.
The minor keys may be of almost any kind of plant. Since these plants are semi-experimental, it does not matter if some of them fail outright. Why not begin the list at "A" and buy as many as you can afford and can accommodate this year, then continue the list next year? In five or ten years you will have grown the alphabet and will have learned as much horticulture and botany as most persons learn in a college course. And some of these plants will become your permanent friends.
For the main and bold effects I want something that I can depend on. There I do not want to experiment. Never fill a conspicuous place with a kind of plant that you have never grown.
The kinds I like best are the ones easiest to grow. My personal equation, I suppose, determines this. Zinnia, petunia, marigold, four o'clock, sunflower, phlox, scabiosa, sweet sultan, bachelor's button, verbena, calendula, calliopsis, morning-glory, nasturtium, sweet pea,—these are some of the kinds that are surest and least attacked by bugs and fungi. I do not know where the investment of five cents will bring as great reward as in a packet of seeds of any of these plants.
Before one sets out to grow these or any other plants, he must make for himself an ideal. Will he grow for a garden effect, or for specimen plants or specimen blooms? If for specimens, then each plant must have plenty of room and receive particular individual care. If for garden effect, then see to it that the entire space is solidly covered, and that you have a continuous maze of color. Usually the specimen plants would best be grown in a side garden, as vegetables are, where they can be tilled, trained and severally cared for.
There is really a third ideal, and I hope that some of you may try it,—to grow all the varieties of one species. You really do not know what the China aster or the balsam is until you have seen all the kinds of it. Suppose that you ask your seedsman to send you one packet of every variety of cockscomb that he has. Next year you may want to try stocks or annual poppies, or something else. All this will be a study in evolution.
There is still a fourth ideal,— the growing for gathering or "picking." If you want many flowers for house decoration and to give away, then grow them at one side in regular rows as you would potatoes or sweet corn. Cultivate them by horse or wheelhoe. Harvest them in the same spirit that you would harvest string beans or tomatoes: that is what they are for. You do not have to consider the "looks" of your garden. The old stalks will remain, as the stumps of cabbages do. You will not be afraid to pick them. When you have harvested an armful your garden is not despoiled. - L.H. Bailey, Country Life in
, Volume 4, 1903 (see the full article here: ANNUALS ) America