By season four, I had settled on all the perennials. There were many failures before getting to that point. I love hyssop, but cannot grow it. Speedwell and geum did not work out either. Those failures left both gaps in the yard and me yearning for more color. I decided to try annuals, and by this time, knew that I needed annuals that could stand up to serious heat and little rain. The temps in the summers of 2017, 2018, and 2019 stayed in the 90s for weeks at a time. Even worse, they started in May instead of June and lasted through September. Everything I planted fried, even with watering bills in the 250-300 dollar range (winter is ~60/month). I needed colorful plants that could stand up to blistering heat. Angelonia, pentas, verbena, ice plant, and Mexican heather came to the rescue.
I planted these annuals in the curbside strip and along garden borders. They have thrived in every spot. Angelonia bask in the sun; they bloom continuously, and with a little water, they like to show off. The annual verbena (I also have perennial) needs more water but blooms regularly. Pentas are frilly and come in four or five colors. They, like angelonia, do well in the heat with only small to moderate amounts of water. They take the longest time to reach full size but create beautiful canopies of blossoms. The biggest surprise has been the Mexican heather.
Mexican heather has small reddish purple flowers that bees love. I have planted it three or four times, and it does well all summer. But at the first sign of frost, Mexican heather closes up shop. Last year, I planted three, and all died in early November with the first hard frost. During my usual spring cleanup, when I went to pull up the dead plants, I noticed a few tiny green leaves. Having had heather before, I assumed the green came from weeds, but something told me to wait and see. Well, those tiny green leaves are now three huge plants. Like the verbena and lantana before it, this annual came back! Milder winters produce more bugs, which I could do without, but also, annuals that do a second act—win some, lose some.
Ice plants are perennials, and they are the only perennial I’ve tried beyond my core group that have put up a good fight. I planted five last summer, then decided not to keep them and stopped watering. They were in the dreaded curbside strip and seemed dead, but they came back when it cooled off in October. They even survived well into winter. After that show of grit, I have to find a permanent place for some.
In this, my sixth season, I went all-in on annuals, and it has paid off. My perennials are fading for the year, winding down the season. However, these annuals are not just filling in gaps; they are giving me the most colorful autumn ever! The experiment succeeded—I have new friends!