Planting Annuals

Words by Sloane Citron

Photos by Scott R. Kline

I’m not sure I actually enjoy planting things. I think it is more that I enjoy the satisfaction of having planted things. Dirty hands, an aching back and tired knees are far less enjoyable than—after everything is planted and the area cleaned—gazing out at the beautiful green symmetry of freshly potted annuals, neatly in their places, their roots enmeshed in new soil, a water sprinkling soon to happen.

When I came to the Peninsula to go to Stanford, it didn’t take me long to realize that there are two seasons here: fall and spring. We have no true winter here, though the beginning and ending calendar dates do come and go. There is no snow, no icy roads, no freezing days. The most we can hope for is a good rainstorm, perhaps a bit of hail and nighttime temperatures in the upper 30s.

As for the other half of the year, we only get a few hot summer days. Indeed, whenever I try to have an outdoor summer dinner, everyone wants to move inside, the temperature quickly dipping into the cool 60s as the sun goes down.

Twice a year, I change the annuals that give our landscaping some color and movement.

In front, we have two rather large gray pots on either side of our front door. And nearby is our annuals planting bed that is 20 feet long and three feet wide. The pots get little sun and so they require shade annuals. And the planting area is more difficult because half of it is mostly in the shade and the other half takes a good deal of afternoon sun.

In the fall, I have come to understand the brilliance of cyclamens. White ones. I almost exclusively use white flowering plants, though rich purple ones have rather recently caught my eye. In the past, I didn’t use cyclamens, since you can only get them in four-inch containers and not in the more economical six-packs, but they bloom and they last. And if I am lucky, I will happen upon them at Costco where they are about half their non-Costco price.

The front pots each get three of them and the planting area needs exactly 36. In the backyard, we have three medium gray pots, two larger ones and one still larger again. Each of the medium ones gets one cyclamen, the next size gets two and the bigger one, three. There is also another planting bed for some annuals, and I put in another five or six there. If you add it all up, I need around 60 of them.

For spring, I have again tried to simplify my planting. In front, I’m trying African impatiens in the planting area, since they are colorful and do better in the heat than regular impatiens. For the two pots in front and all the pots in back, I plant white impatiens. But there have been fungus issues with them the last few years and it’s not uncommon for them to crumble into nothingness about halfway through the season and then I am scrambling to find some to replace those lost.

Each season, when the day comes and it is time to plant, I gather the plants and a bag of fertilizer. Then I first attend to the tedious chore of pulling out all of the past annuals, their roots now firmly in the soil and begging to stay planted. I pull each one out and preserve as much soil as possible. Then I mix in a bit of fertilizer before starting to place the new plants. It is slow, tiring work, my jeans dirty, my fingernails encrusted with mud and my back hurting. But I go at it and eventually it all gets done. Then I throw away all the plastic pots, broom sweep the areas and water everything.

Finally, after coming inside to relax for a while, I go back outside and view my work. And seeing everything so happily in its place, a few flowers taking shape, the rows so neat and the pots so handsome, I smile with a bit of pride and self-worth, enjoying the beauty of the annuals, though pleased that we have but two times a year to rotate them and not four.