The Adequate Gardener Praises Annuals

Guest post by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“You still grow annuals?”

I was visiting a friend’s garden and I happened to mention that I’d forgotten to thin my annual poppies, so now I was in jeopardy of losing the entire dell, and my friend, he of the upscale collector garden on the nice side of town, looked at me and said, incredulously, “You still grow annuals?”

As if I’d fallen off Mars clutching a bouquet of striped petunias.

I hesitate to report that just for an instant I burned with deep shame. I’d been caught. I hung my head and stammered about the seedlings just being from old, leftover seeds I was trying to use up, when I noticed what a doorknob I was being. I shook my head and reminded myself that I love annuals. That I value annuals. That gardening without annuals would be like a summer without swimming, or a picnic without potato chips, or a living room without chairs. Something quintessential would be missing.

Just because a plant is popular doesn’t make it substandard. How could a plant lose beauty by being grown in many gardens, or gain beauty by being grown in only a few? Why would a common plant be mocked and discarded merely for the crime of not being exotic? If you don’t have to build a cage around it, wrap it in burlap and stuff it full of leaves to get it through the winter, it’s no good? If you don’t have to dig it up and bury it in dry peat moss under the porch it’s inferior? Imagine if people had to meet that criteria! Please. I am myself as common as worms, but some people still think I’m useful.

So are my annuals.

“I wouldn’t mind a bit if suddenly all my perennials shriveled up and died and I was forced to garden exclusively with annuals.”

I wouldn’t mind a bit if suddenly all my perennials shriveled up and died and I was forced to garden exclusively with annuals. There are worse fates. These are the garden plants that give me bang for my buck, plants with pep and vinegar, vim and vigor. No mooning around nine-tenths of the year with nary a bloom to be found, like those lazy perennials. These guys have to get growing, bloom, have their Green Giant equivalent of a romp in the hay and make babies all in a few short months, or be kicked off the evolutionary ladder. If October arrives and there’s no seedpod cracking open and spewing its cargo to the wind, it’s curtains for an annual. They won’t be back. Whereas perennials, the sods, well perennials, what do they care for flower and seed? They’re coming back anyhow year after year

Have you ever wasted your time deadheading a perennial? Deadheading is supposed to panic the plant into thinking it hasn’t bloomed yet so that it’ll push out another flower. But perennials, most of them, don’t much care. They just shrug and yawn and go back to whatever they were already doing, like peering in the windows to catch a glimpse of Canadian Idol. Whereas annuals you can just about hear an indignant little scream when you snap off a spent bloom. The plant hip hops around the bed like a rap artist. If they could talk, the lyrics would be XXX-rated. Man I was done, I was minding my crew, when this fierce _____ came and snapped me in two. But once an annual takes to the amputation, it uses its juice to pop out new blooms like bullets.

So, yeah, I could tell my friend. I still grow annuals. My faves are heliotrope, cleome, scarlet flax, godetia and blue salvia. Wanna make something of it? I have a garden as cool, in its miniature, disorganized way, as Kew.

Jane Eaton Hamilton is the award-winning author of four books. She grew up in Ontario, lived in St. Louis, Phoenix, NYC, Alberta, the Kootenays and on Salt Spring Island before settling in Vancouver. You can find out more about her at


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