DESIGN IN NATURE: Annual plants are perennially wasteful

I am preparing for a presentation about sustainable gardening next month at the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre in Burnaby, where we will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Vancouver Japanese Gardeners Association.

As I think about different aspects of making our gardens more sustainable, all the usual things come to mind – pollinator friendly gardens, drought tolerant plants, replacing lawns with friendlier landscapes, and so on.

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Yesterday – as I was removing giant expired hanging baskets and carrying them to the garden to distribute the soil and use the annuals as mulch material – I felt irritated at the waste created by annuals every year.

I only do annuals at a client’s request, and then only in pots. One way to cut down on waste if you are in the habit of doing annual plantings is to integrate some perennials and food plants into the mix.

This is the perfect time of year to prepare for patio displays. You will find some great deals on planters this time of year. The larger the pot the less demanding it will be in terms of needing daily watering.

Make sure to buy high fired clay if you are doing ceramic pots, and they will need to have holes for drainage. There are some great fiberglass planters available now, as well as metal. I would suggest staying away from cast iron and concrete due to the weight. I like to keep some year-round plants in the pots so there are plants that carry through year-round, and the pots can look nice at every season change simply by swapping out a few plants.

I like Carex flagellifera (weeping brown Sedge) and Carex cowmans, Helleborus, and Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen) are looking good at the nurseries right now. Heuchera are beautiful if you have a bit of shade in the summer, and they come in so many different leaf colours that you can find a good one for almost any plant combination. Hostas are a nice summer standby with their beautiful leaves, again if you have some or full shade. (Take care to choose an appropriately sized plant for your pot size.)

Smaller growing ferns work well, and maidenhair ferns have a great texture which can always be divided when they grow too large. Campanula poscharskyana (Serbian Bellflower) can take sun or shade, and there are some wonderful succulents for hot dry locations.

Pansies are a good winter stand-by for a display through much of the winter season here on the coast.

Decorative kale looks good for a while, but not particularly long lived. I prefer Blue Scotts curled kale because it is long lived and produces great kale for kale chips and other delicious dishes. Rainbow chard is another favourite to go through the winter as it has such beautifully coloured stems. Parsley is also looking good in some of my pots right now, and it is wonderful to be able to pick food from the garden even in the colder months. Red or yellow Cornus stems, red berry sprays and Christmas ornaments can be added for a festive touch during the holidays.

Heather Schamehorn is a certified residential landscape designer, educator, sustainability advocate and acupressure therapist. Contact via

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