Seasonal and temporary planting

This is an excerpt from the Book called “The Authentic Garden by Richard Hartlage and Sandy Fischer. Continue reading to learn more about Seasonal and temporary planting , thanks to the author.

Vita Sacville-West 

Annuals, tender perennials, and temporary plantings are all used as ways of enlivening space.  People love color and plants with color make architecture and urban spaces more humane: it’s that simple.  We crave some expression of nature wherever we are, but permanent plantings are not always suitable for every space due to limited open land or adverse growing conditions.  Municipalities and commercial real-estate managers are increasingly coming to view plants as assets that will invite and encourage people to use their spaces.  They see the value in adding planters to plazas, street medians, and entries to buildings.  In private residences, containers can be focal points that enhance the lines of the architecture or enliven a porch or entryway, increasing curb appeal.  Gardens are becoming highly valued; the fact that the land adjacent to the high line on the west side of Manhattan has exploded with new development since that park opened is the best example of this trend.  A garden can be expressed creatively with changeable and temporary plantings, making them just as important a category of design to explore as full landscapes.  

Victorian Contributions 

It was during the Victorian era that the inclusion of annuals-or, more accurately, tender perennials-in gardens became prevalent.  Most plants used in annual beds are actually perennials that are simply not hardy in temperate climates.  The ornate conservatories of the period were developed in part to help these grow and propagate; with the industrial revolution came steel that could be forged in large pieces and glass that could be manufactured in large sheets to create the fancifully shaped greenhouses that are some of the era’s most enduring monuments.  Joseph Paxton, an engineer and horticulturist who was employed at Chatsworth, in England, built the first of these, nicknamed “the great stove” for its shape.  With it, Paxton started a craze for conservatories on private estates; these features used specialized horticulture as a display of wealth. 

Global travel became faster during the same period, and tropical plants were increasingly imported to America and Europe from far-off lands.  Coleus, For example, was first introduced into England in the late nineteenth century from Malaysia and Southeast Asia.

Its proliferation perhaps epitomizes the Victorian’s love of tropical plants and tender perennials coleus ‘pineapple beauty’ was one of the original five selected in the late abbot, and it is still widely available today.  The wealthy and middle classes were fascinated by such ‘exotic’ species, and the gentry built private conservatories to hold them and or employed legions of gardeners to design and plant elaborate summer bedding schemes to display them.  The middle classes could also enjoy carefully planned displays of newly introduced species in public parks and botanical gardens.  Institutional plantings were elaborate and often laid out in geometric patterns such as ribbons, whence the term “carpet bedding.” 

seasonal planting
Vita Sacville-West

The era’s two most famous gardeners felt differently about including annuals in gardens, interestingly enough.  Certrude Jekyll used tender perennials including dahlias and scarlet sage in her famous long border at Munstead Wood, her home in burley, England.  The last chapter of her famous colour schemes for the flower garden features a description of a garden room there where she mixed hardy and sender plants together for a summer long show of flowers and color.  This idea resurfaced in England and America at the end of the twentieth century when garden writer and love joy renamed the style “tropicalismo.” What goes around comes around! William Robinson, however, reacted strongly to what he deemed annual-heavy, “artificial” planting schemes; he of course went on to favor less formal and more “wild-looking” planting ideas.  Robinson was mostly opposed to a structured, patterned use of tender plants-not to using them at all-but he did also advocate for bringing native plants found in regional landscapes into cottage gardens. 

Modernist Interpretations 

As the modernists peeled away ornamental details in architecture as well as landscape architecture, elaborate, temporary horticulture designs gradually fell out of favor.  They were seen as being “less serious” than permanent schemes since any given design was necessarily transient.  It is refreshing to see all types of plants being embraced again and coming back into favor with landscape and garden designers of both public and private places; the value color and immediate seasonal interest can provide to a space cannot be overstated. 

Roberto Burle Marx influenced this style of planting as well.  Of course, as a Brazilian landscape architect, he was using the tender perennials we recognize as annuals in the United States where they appear as perennials-and therefore creating permanent plantings.  When his bold, colorful projects began to be published internationally in the 1960s and 1970s, however, his taste influenced how stylish designers brought high-impact and modern interpretations to temporary plantings in temperate climates.  His influence is still recognizable today in the big swaths of petunias, coleus, and similarly colorful plants often found at the entrances to commercial office parks, malls, and housing developments.  Thomas church, who initially designed bean-shaped beds to complement his iconic kidney-bean shaped swimming pool at the Donnell Garden in Sonoma, California, has also been endlessly reinterpreted.

Advantages of Tender Perennials 

There are many valid and practical reasons for using tender perennials in a garden.  They grow rapidly, attaining an impressive/wanted size quickly.  they have extended flowering seasons as compared to temperate plants, and they come in absolutely brilliant colors.  All of these attributes have maintained annuals’ popularity over the last 160 years.  Annuals are also immensely popular for container gardens, particularly as focal points.  Larger displays have also stayed in vogue since the Victorians first popularized glass-house plants, and whole business thrive on performing seasonal display gardening services for private, public, and commercial places.  In the 1800s, most annual plants were propagated by cuttings.  Today propagation methods are from seed and micropropagation or tissue culture.  The perception that annual bedding is expensive is true on one level, because the plants must be replaced annually, but given their high impact on a cost-per-square-foot basis, tender plants have a value in yielding sheer flower power that temperate plants simply cannot match.

Advantages of Tender Perennials

In the temperate zones of the U.S., the appearance of plants with large foliage and bright colors impresses due to sheer scale and the cachet of exotic and far-off lands.  Cannas, bananas, and elephant ears are popular large-leaved plants.  Tender grasses, dahlias, and cordy-lines are also used extensively.  Any distinctive color, form, or texture can be achieved with tender perennials-including a full range of designs from subtle to garish.  Elephant’s ears Alocasia and Colocasia, for example, are easy produce and always eye-catching.  By contrast, in milder climates like the Deep South and California, “winter” displays that showcase specimens that will not tolerate summertime in those zones can appear as striking to residents as tropical plantings do in the rest of the country the rest of the time.  Plants that tolerate cool temperatures, for example, like snapdragons, pansies, violas, and cyclamen, can stand in for those that like it hot and humid, such as impatiens and salvias. 

Clients who own large estates also often appreciate-and expect to include-highly designed bedding schemes and container plantings as part of the larger landscape.  At land morphology, we design summer planting schemes in January and winter schemes in June and July.  Since the marketplace contains many different growers of bedding plants and varieties are constantly changing, it takes a knowledge of the marketplace and diligence to keep up with trends and to be able to source plants for plans that have an intensive design.  Offering temporary display design services also gives landscape designers the opportunity to stay in front of their clients on a regular basis-an effective business development strategy. 

We add tropical plants annually for sheer drama and impact to Graeme hardies garden in Nutley, New Jersey, for example.  Over the past twenty years, seasonal plantings have been created that reference both his South African heritage and his exuberant and joyful demeanor.  The section of the garden where we do this is framed by the house’s cobalt blue walls and is barely 40 feet square.  The garden is planted with more than 80 percent temperate perennials and woody plants overall, but the extensive use of containers on the terraces and the tender plants mixed into the beds in one area near the house give it the impression of a tropical retreat.  It’s just something different for the owner to experience. 

Institutional and Civic Adaptations   

Marco polo Stufano-a former director of horticulture at wave hill in new York city who influenced an entire generation of professional gardeners during his 34 year tenure there-was a contemporary torchbearer for the use of tender perennials in both containers and bedding schemes.  For years, the refined horticulture happening at wave hill was considered the gold standard for public horticulture due to his sophisticated use of plants and the incredible variety of common and rare plant varieties he planted both in the ground and in containers.  Each year at wave hill, one kidney-bean –shaped bed is always filled with flowering tropical plants as an exuberant celebration of summer.  This particular bed is often is bolder in pattern than the rest of the Robinsonian-style garden; it is planted as an effective counterpoint to the rest of the landscape and visitors flock to it. 

  Botanical and public gardens have known for decades that changes in seasonal plantings will entice paying visitors to return again and again.  The constituents’ expectation for variety in plant collections must be met.  It would take a prohibitive amount of money and effort to change permanent plants out annually.  However, it is possible to change containers and areas of beds devoted to temporary plantings radically from season to season and year to year.  Longwood gardens, near Kennett square, Pennsylvania, attracts a million visitors a year; December, perhaps surprisingly, is its peak season because the garden creates staggeringly immense displays of tropical poinsettias in the impressive main conservatory building, in combination with other bedding plants.  This always-thoughtful design forms a pleasant refuge from the often-harsh winter temperatures outside.  These displays are not botanical collections per se, but massive seasonal landscape displays under glass.

The Longwood entry plaza features a new color scheme for each season for the same reason.  The late summer/early autumn scheme illustrated here demonstrates the exuberant and engaging welcome its staff creates for visitors.  This is much about the perception of value for ticket price as it about encouraging repeat visitation, but the point is that these annual and temporary plantings help Longwood fund itself to continue its larger mission. 

Chanticleer in Wayne, Pennsylvania, is a pleasure garden that uses tender plants in highly imaginative ways.  Container plantings feature prominently throughout the garden, often as monumental hanging baskets or wall plantings.  This public garden follows the basics tenets of Robinson and Jekyll: they mix tender perennials in with the larger garden’s temperate plants in a naturalistic and romantic way.


Most vegetable are true annuals or tender perennials, so they are not often used as part of a graphic planting design within a garden.  Plants in the herb garden at the Brooklyn botanic garden, however, are used in a dynamic and modern way as part of the display.  Within the architectural and structural frame of the garden, the gardeners create ever-changing patterns of culinary, medicinal, dye and flowering plants.  This results in a rich and enveloping experience that both delights and informs visitors.  Purple cabbages draw attention to themselves and their neighbours in a dramatic way when mixed with lavender-striped petunias and smoky purple-leaved sugarcane, for example! This new garden has quickly become one of the more popular destinations within the larger botanical garden. 

Municipalities are increasingly learning to invest in tropical or annual plantings as a tool for economic development.  Many tropical plants have a large scale that suits city surroundings, they can add intense color to gray or neutral concrete-and-stone streetscapes, and their lushness conveys a sense that a place is well cared for, safe, and lively.  More than fifteen years ago, Douglas Hoerr was commissioned to upgrade the planters in center of Michigan Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s retail district.  Interestingly, individual property owners soon followed suit, adding plantings to their sidewalks and storefronts.  The resulting effect is of a garden growing in the urban core of the third- largest city in America.  The district is a dynamic place where people want to linger, live, and shop.  Seasonal plantings also now greet arrivals at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport-their heavy concrete bases also pragmatically serve as a low-grade security measure against errant vehicles. 

In St. Louis, giant concrete planters overflowing with a mix of impressive species have been placed down the center median of the street leading up to the Missouri state capitol building.  Manhattan has followed suit by funding in-ground displays of annuals planted in containers in Times Square.  Local business taxing districts pay for most of this.  Commercial clients also recognize the value of dressing up their commercial, residential, and retail properties in order to compete for tenants, to realize higher rents, and to increase their overall curb appeal.  Rockefeller Centre, for example, retains full-time, in-house staff to tend to its displays.  In competitive real estate markets, an investment in seasonal, temporary plants is known to directly affect rents. 

Engaging people with joyful plantings in bright colors and with bold foliage is simply good for business.  Consequently, the range of plants now available for temporary displays can best be described as mind-boggling.  A Ball Horticultural catalog or a visit to the botanical trial gardens in Chicago gives a small idea of just how many tropical plants are currently being propagated. 

In Seattle, some of the best public horticulture in the city can be experienced at university village-an outdoor shopping mall! Retail strategists fly in from all over the United States to see the designs on display and how they are executed for the commercial environment.  The full range of horticultural delights can be encountered there, from bedding plants to hanging baskets and elaborate containers at every store’s entrance.  This approach helps the bottom line by attracting shoppers and national brands.  Color and dynamic seasonal plantings relate to sales in very tangible ways, and therefore, display design is being taken ever more seriously by landscape design professionals.

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Seasonal and temporary planting