Much of the charm of the Conservatory’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden display comes from a glorious assortment of upright annuals. These make tall, statuesque, and often bold additions to any seasonal border. But while we often associate height in both perennial and annual borders with spires that guide your eyes upward—and there are certainly plenty of spires in this Groundbreakers display—what delighted me was the variety of other forms that gave height to the border.
One striking example was the monster-sized umbels of false Queen Anne’s lace, Ammi visnaga ‘Green Mist’. This opulent annual sports large Queen Anne’s lace flowers above ferny foliage. It grows to four feet tall and will create an impressive show whether placed in the middle or back of an annual border. It attracts beneficial insects into your garden and also makes a spectacular cut flower.
Equally impressive in the Conservatory border is a variety of flowering tobacco (Nicotiana). The most striking of them all is the fragrant flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris ‘Only the Lonely’). Both its blossoms and broad foliage are a delight, adding bold texture to any border.
Sturdy, wiry stems support the plant’s star-faced white flowers as they burst open like fireworks. Their fragrance kicks in at dusk with the intent of attracting pollinating moths. This gargantuan annual can reach four to six feet tall. Flowering tobaccos are also deer resistant and this particular species can handle dry, partial shade.
Another striking flowering tobacco is Nicotiana mutabilis ‘Marshmallow’. This four-foot-tall plant has loose sprays of mildly fragrant, multicolored blooms. The flowers open up rose pink, change to a lighter pink, and fade to white, creating a pleasing, variable effect on the plant. It is smothered in blooms for several months during the summer.
Finally, the border has several hollyhocks that give it tremendous height. Hollyhocks can grow up to six feet tall and boast large, hibiscus-like flowers covering their long spires. While hollyhocks are generally biennials, we have two perennial varieties hybridized by Thompson Morgan. The breeders spent 16 years perfecting this hollyhock, which is hardy to Zone 3 and will flower from seed in its first year. The results came in the form of Alcea rosea ‘Halo Blush’ and ‘Halo Blossom’. Both have bi-colored flowers; ‘Blossom’ is white with a crimson eye and ‘Blush’ is white with a pink halo that radiates from its center.
The Groundbreakers display in the show houses of the Conservatory will change throughout the summer, providing us with good ideas for our own annual and perennial borders. Have any of your own that you’d like to share? Join us in the comments!
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