A Carpet of Spring Flowers

Gardens should not show bare earth. This is a core belief of my gardening faith. A belief not quite as central as “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), but a lot more important than “Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together” (Deuteronomy 22:10).

Pink tulips underplanted with forget-me-nots at Giverny.
Pink tulips underplanted with forget-me-nots at Giverny.

By mid-June all my beds and borders reflect this belief pretty well – everything is covered in foliage and flowers and there is little to no bare earth to be seen. But because I have many late-emerging perennials, and because I have not yet filled all available space with Spring bulbs, there is a lot more bare earth than I would like in April and May.

'Scented Gold' Wallflower. Photo from Reneesgarden.com.
‘Scented Gold’ Wallflower. Photo from Reneesgarden.com.

This brings to mind the time when Judy and I visited Giverny in April, 2012. Tulips were everywhere, but there were also annuals blooming wherever the spring bulbs did not cover the ground. Wallflowers (Erysimum), forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica), and pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) bloomed everywhere, between and among the tulips.

Since buying enough plugs to fill in all my beds and borders seems extravagant even to me, I have just ordered a bunch of spring-blooming annual seed packets from Renee’s Garden Seeds. Specifically, I’ve ordered:

'Copper Pot' California Poppies. Photo from Reneesgarden.com.
‘Copper Pot’ California Poppies. Photo from Reneesgarden.com.
  • California poppies (Eschcholzia californica) ‘Native Orange’ and ‘Copper Pot’.
  • Wallflowers (Erysimum perovskianum) ‘Scented Gold’.
  • Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor).
  • Forget-me-not ‘Azure Bluebirds’.

We’ll see how these perform. I know in some areas Forget-Me-Not can be invasive but that really doesn’t seem to be a problem around here.

Do you sow spring-blooming annuals to assure sufficient early color?

64 Comments on “A Carpet of Spring Flowers

  1. Covering all the ground is my philosophy too. I don’t use many annuals but I love all kinds of poppies. The wall flowers are biennial so won’t flower until next year, they usually stay in the ground over winter, I’m not sure how that will work in your garden.

  2. I also hate bare soil, but have problems with slugs in spring in particular. So many seedlings have simply disappeared overnight, and even fairly large ones brought on in pots before being planted out. I hope you’ll report on how successful you are. I shall try more forget-me-nots though as they are pretty slug- resistant. That’s a good idea, thanks!

  3. Love those California poppies – they will be stunning! (And you get your orange colour hit in spring). I hate bare patches as well. To me, it always easier to overplant and then move things once they outgrow their space than looking at bare patches πŸ™‚

  4. Wallflowers are biennial. Poppies will take till like June or July to bloom if they do it all. The violas less you’re planting them indoors to set out will not flower until too late and are cool season plants. This is something I have struggled with also. The best fix for me has been ajuga and creeping phlox. Nothing else has worked .

  5. The poppies will provide your orange accent. Pretty. Look forward to hearing how your seeds fare. I came across an article online yesterday and cannot recall where, but it was about our propensity to buy plants, either as plugs or as larger transplants from other sources, rather than follow their entire growing cycle from seed to maturity.

    • I often have that propensity. My excuse is that I have very little time at home in the first half of the year, makes seed starting difficult.

  6. No I don’t but to your not liking bare ground to show I am all about that when the growing season fires up. I don’t like bare anything. Even in the house I don’t like big spaces of wall, tabletops bookcases shelves showing. It is a sickness if you judge by the now popular modern nothingness.

  7. I love that tulip display!
    I try to keep things covered since it really keeps the weeds down, but so many of my weeds are actually halfway decent flowers so it’s a tradeoff of leaving room for them but also covering up.

  8. What a coincidence! Renee stayed with me this past weekend and was a speaker at the annual Greenville Master Gardener Symposium. We sold seeds at the event and all the poppies went in a flash, especially the purple one, ‘Lauren’s Dark Grape.’ I’ve grown ‘Azure Bluebird’ Myosotis and know you will be pleased. Without a doubt, Renee’s Garden has the best seeds, plus provides the most valuable info on the packets.

  9. We share the same philosophy, Jason, though my lack of bare earth has much to do with the fact that I am a plant addict:) I’ve never planted spring annuals before, but I was planning to order some forget-me-nots. I tried starting the seeds indoors one time without much luck, but this time I think I’ll direct sow them. Love those sweet little blue blooms.

  10. I’m trying to fill in every spot, too. My experience with forget-me-nots (the biennial ones) is they can spread, but they are also easy to eradicate.

  11. I hate to see bare earth in the garden – the down side to that is buying way too many plants to cramb in.
    I think you’ve made great choices there Jason and I’m sure they’ll happily spread themselves around your garden in future years. I’ve not ventured into the world of sowing annual plants – YET! I can’t decide if I’m too lazy or just like to waste money! Good luck with your seed sowing.

    • Well, you may have seen from some of the comments that my choices may not all work out as I had planned. Consider this a bit of an experiment.

  12. To have spring flowering annuals I have to sow for seedlings in february-march. All my window sills are full of paper-glasses with seedlings, Jason. I love forget-me-not, tagetes, cosmos, petunias.

  13. I made use of the many seed packets we got from Botanical Interests at the fling. Starting some indoors and sowed others directly and still more to go. I usually have far better luck with those started in pots. Fun to have so many for experimentation.

  14. I have annuals in our new gardens in New Hampshire but not on the scale of your gardens. Bulbs are an absolute must since, until recently, I lived down the street from Brent & Becky Heath in Virginia.

  15. It is funny as I just ordered the exact same California poppies from RenΓ©e’s Garden. I have “regular” color California poppies that reseed every year but I would like to wider the color palette. I would hope this darker variety will settle with the other ones.

  16. Hi Jason, I share your philosophy of no bare earth in the garden! I, too, am looking at ways spring annuals can help in this area. I currently have forget me nots. I started some by seed and also purchased a few clumps. Both provided many new starts last summer that I moved around to other parts of the garden in hopes they will self sow further. I haven’t done much more direct sowing of annuals but have plans to sow more columbines this spring from seed I collected off my plants last summer. Wish me luck πŸ™‚

  17. I love to have the ground covered too. Not always easy, as we don’ t all have the teams of gardeners and bottomless purse that ensure a constant magnificent display at Giverny. Still as you say annuals are useful, specially self- seeding ones.
    I never knew that the bible prohibited yolking donkeys and asses together to plow. How bizarre. What extraordinary things the old testament god disapproved of.

    • Some years ago I decided to read the bible from Genesis to Revelations to see for myself what everyone was talking about. I would say the experience confirmed me as a militant agnostic, if there can be such a thing, Along those lines, there is a wonderful novel by Clyde Edgerton called The Bible Salesman, definitely worth reading.

  18. I call bare soil bald spots. And I am always looking for solutions — even comb over types.

  19. I used to work for a lady who thought bare ground between her tulips was the bees knees and she wouldn’t let me under plant them with anything. She used to cut them and when she had cut the last blossom I had to dig them all up and throw them on the compost heap before planting annuals. The annuals had to have bare ground between them too and heaven help you if she saw a weed.
    Her tulips were always pink, and I always wanted to plant forget me nots with them, but I knew better than to even suggest it. She was a big fan of bare dirt.

  20. Great idea! I don’t have many areas with bare soil, but some areas with mulch between plants. For example, although I plant my veggies and flowers in a “square foot garden” style in the potager, I like to give them enough space and air to grow large and healthy. But in most other areas of the garden, I like the plants to be tightly planted. Adding annual seeds would help to cover blank areas before all the perennials fill in. Thanks so much for sharing this idea!

  21. I agree-I stuff my garden full. I put in some more spring blooming bulbs last fall. I am eager to see what emerges. I love wall flowers-the scent is amazing! Do you direct seed your California poppies? I want to try Mikado this year + wonder?–should Iseed outside in the spring since I have read they don’t transplant well if you start them indoors.
    I have some heirloom daffodils that are fragrant + each year they fill in a bit more in my beds. Bare soil is not welcome here either:-)
    I have many new tulips I put in last year in our backyard. In the front:-( they are eaten by the squirrels. I am excited to see the new bulbs, I put in last fall:-) Each year, I add more spring bulbs-it is addictive:-)

    • My plan is to direct sow, I’m not in a position to start plants indoors. It may be that naturalizing bulbs are the best strategy for this rather than annuals, but it take time for the bulbs (like Scilla or Muscari) to cover all the ground.

  22. Much better to think about blooming things rather than snow and rain plaguing parts of the country.

  23. I too have annuals from seed, but many come from self-seeding. They usually bloom later too. I have thrown out (and cultivated) seed to germinate on their own, but have had little luck with our crazy weather. May be this year will be different, if the seed finds room to grow in amongst the mass of flowers already in the garden.

  24. Bare earth is always an issue in spring for me too…I tend to put too many plants in to compensate and then of course it’s all a jumble come summer.
    I love those tulips with the forget-me-nots….I like to plant daises with forget-me-nots too.
    Your seeds sound lovely, I adore poppies so will look forward to seeing how they do for you.xxx

  25. Bare earth is not a common sight in most American landscapes. However, one does see acres of mulch with a few plants dotted here and there. I like your philosophy better.

  26. Just got my poppies in the mail the other day!!! Your border up there is stunning!!! And yep…that is a great belief on gardening you have!!! Lovely week to you!!! Nicole

  27. I do not sow seeds in the garden in spring, but that is a great idea. I grow seed annuals for pots and I hope soon for a cutting garden. My garden would look great with more color and bulbs in early spring and I am reading a book about how to make that happen in cold weather areas. Can’t wait to see your seed grown blooms.

  28. I scattered about 5 packets of CA poppy seeds over my dry butterfly garden last fall. They need really sharp drainage. They grow up through everything and are such a strong reminder of being a kid in CA. I also threw out some viola seeds. I scattered some myosotis seeds in fall 2013 but had very few plants last spring. Maybe they’ll surprise me by growing this spring!

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