How to Combine Color and Scent in an Annual Garden

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Gardening encourages creativity. You can design annual beds in eye-catching color combinations or grow fragrant blossoms to enjoy. Annuals are great for colorful or scented bouquets for the house or for giving.

Color combinations that impress

Annuals come in every color of the rainbow, and the only limit is your imagination. Throwing a bunch of flowers together in a flowerbed or container can look like a lively bouquet, or it can look like a hodgepodge. So try to decide on a mood or focus and stick to it.

However, sometimes rules are made to be broken, or sometimes a combination idea happens accidentally or just occurs to you. Feel free to try anything, removing or shifting plants around as you fine-tune. Yes, you can move an annual from one place to another without much trauma (just get all or most of the root system when you do, and water the plant in well in its new home until it adjusts).

Here are some useful color principles you can try:

  • Go for the bold: Mix annuals in bright primary shades of red, yellow, and blue. Ideally, they're of the same color intensity so one doesn't steal the spotlight. Yellow zinnias with blue calibrachoa is a stunning combo.

  • Hot, hot, hot! Compose an exciting, traffic-stopping display out of any or all of the following: hot pink, bright orange, ruby red, magenta, and bright purple. Try some bright orange marigolds combined with purple petunias.

  • Soft and sweet: If you like romantic, soothing pastels, go for colors of similar strength or intensity; combine pale yellow, lavender, pink, baby blue, and cream rather than white. A tranquil pairing is lemon-colored osteospermum with powder blue verbenas.

  • Aim for contrast: Colors considered opposites (complementary colors) — such as orange and blue, yellow and purple, and red and green — look terrific together. Orange nasturtiums topped with blue salvias is a good choice.

  • Use neutral hues: These colors go with everything and thus make nice, calming filler in a display that may otherwise look busy or cluttered; try cream, beige, silver, or gray (supplied by foliage if not flowers). An occasional white-flowered annual is also welcome in color-filled layouts. Silver leafed foliage plants like the dusty millers can be nicely combined with any white-flowered plants like angelonias or petunias.

Scented annuals to enjoy

If you're buying seed packets, information on whether the annuals are fragrant should be in the fine print. If you're shopping for plants and they don't have flowers yet, check the tags or ask. If you'd prefer to trust your own nose, buy larger, blooming annuals (but realize that petals or buds may fall off during the journey home or shortly after transplanting. Don't worry — the plants will soon generate more!).

Blooms that open later in the day or remain open in the evening hours are often fragrant, relying on their sweet aroma to entice pollinators (usually night-flying moths). Examples of late (in the day) bloomers include flowering tobacco, four o'clocks, heliotrope, angel's trumpet (Brugmansia), night phlox, evening stock, and moonflower vine.

Other scented annuals include wallflowers, tuberose, nasturtium, sweet alyssum, sweet peas, and Sweet William (dianthus).

Here's how to make sure you, your family, and anyone who visits notices and enjoys your fragrant annuals:

  • Strategic placement: Cluster annuals in pots and place them on or near places where people gather, such as a patio table, the sides of deck or porch steps, or even in a hanging basket.

  • Strength in numbers: Don't plant just one plant! The more you grow, especially if they're near one another, the stronger the scent will be.

  • Ample space between different plants: Although each plant may have a delightful fragrance on its own, variety can produce clashing odors.

  • Sufficient watering: Flower fragrance cells reside in petals, and foliage fragrance cells are in the leaves, of course. These cells stay healthy and swollen to maximum size when you keep an aromatic plant well-watered. If guests are coming over, water well shortly before they arrive.

  • Shelter from the wind: A little windbreak (from a fence, deck corner, or even a garden bench or vine-draped trellis) can help prevent fragrance from dissipating.

  • Focus on the evening hours: White-flowered fragrant annuals — especially flowering tobacco and the dramatic vine moonflower — waft their most powerful scent into the night. (Their white flowers also show up better in limited light.) So situate them near the deck, patio, or dining area where you'll be enjoying dusk outdoors.

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