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MY LIFE WITH PLANTS: Annual Adventure

By Jim Bishop.

In previous articles I talked about creating the “bones” - the hardscape, trees and large plants- of my mid-80's garden in Encinitas. But creating the garden was really all about my passion at the time...growing beautiful flowers. Growing up, as my vagabond family had moved from house to house, I acquired a lot of experience growing plants from seed. I discovered that in California six-packs and one gallon plants were more common. This was a somewhat new and seemingly more expensive way of planting for me. Still to get some quick color in the garden, I bought flats of annuals to create drifts of color. With so many choices of annuals that I had never grown before it was difficult to know what not to buy. Some choices, however, were easy. I had always wanted to grow foxgloves, so I planted these and fairy primroses in the shadiest areas of the garden.

Old winter garden favorites that I grew in Texas went in the sunny areas - snapdragons, violas, pansies, lobelia, sweet alyssum, calendulas and sweet peas. New to me were marguerite daisies, annual candytuft and fragrant annual stock in whites and pastels. I sought out and planted as many different cultivars of Pacific Hybrid Delphiniums as I could find. I added bulbs of Dutch Iris and finally lots and lots of tuberous Giant Tecolote Ranunculus. I had grown ranunculus in Texas, but had no idea that almost all the bulbs sold originated in nearby Carlsbad. The flower fields in the mid-80s were about twice their current size and spilled over into the now developed area behind their current location. It was also while visiting the fields that I first became aware of South African bulbs - freesias, watsonias, ixis, sparaxis, and tritonia....but I'd have to wait another year before I'd be able to plant these.

I mail ordered roses from Jackson & Perkins. I spent hours reading the catalogues and checking each variety to make sure it would do well. I was a little too inspired by the tree roses (AKA rose standards) of the Pacific Northwest and planted 2 deep red American roses flanked by 2 pink hybrid teas. Unfortunately, with their long bloom stalks, these weren't the best tree rose selections for the garden.

By early April, there were lots of beautiful flowers. As the spring started to fade into summer, I ordered summer annual seeds and set up the kitchen atrium window with flats and trays to grow the next round of garden color. Falling back on what I knew best, I planted lots of hybrid marigolds, zinnias, and rudbeckia daisies. Lots of rudbeckia daisies in as many variations I could find. I also added many of the new hybrid petunias that were coming on the market...and I developed a bit of an obsession for Martha Washington Pelargoniums. Gradually the early spring garden of whites, blues and pastels gave way to bright yellows, oranges and reds of summer. My mulch pile overflowed and the worms and grubs were very happy.

Still I wanted every new plant I saw and I wanted to know more...much more. My gardening tastes were starting to change and year 2 would be different. Looking back over the list of plants in this article, it is amazing how few of these I currently grow.

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