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Creating Temporary Gardens With Annuals

temporary gardens - greenhouse

Although many gardeners work on their landscapes for the long haul, some may not be at their space for more than a season or don’t have the budget for perennial plants. The solution? A temporary garden! And just because a garden is temporary doesn’t mean it can’t be a spectacularly-designed reflection of your style and personality.

I am very non-committal when it comes to my gardens. My irrational fear to create anything permanent in my landscape has turned me into a sort of expert on carefree design, planting, enjoyment, and then ripping everything out in the fall to start fresh the next season. Fun, right?

Temporary Gardens: Why?

We’ve already talked about why I’m obsessed with temporary gardens: as a lover of ALL flowers (especially annual wildflowers), I can’t commit to one design in my landscape just yet. Therefore, for the past two seasons I’ve planted temporary gardens in roughly half of my large landscape. I know eventually I’ll get tired of the work, but for now I like the challenge and thrill of creating a new design in my gardens each season.

temporary gardens - Sunflowers along fence

If you aren't going to be at a space for very long, annual wildflowers (like Sunflowers) are a great way to enjoy gardening with little cost and commitment.

Other — more practical — reasons for creating temporary gardens are:

  • If you’re renting an apartment or home and don’t want to spend the money on perennial plants (or don’t have the ‘OK’ from your landlord to create something permanent).
  • You may not have the budget yet for a complete garden design, so annuals are an affordable option to enjoy spectacular color in the first season.
  • Maybe you know you’re eventually going to have to tear the garden apart for some reason (to create raised beds, hardscaping, etc) but still want to enjoy color this year.
  • If you move into a new home late in the season and don’t have time to plant a perennial garden, quick-blooming annuals are a great option.

Temporary Gardens: The Possibilities Are Endless

One of the best things about creating temporary gardens is that you aren’t stuck with the design forever. This gives you room to get creative and try different combinations you may not have tried in other circumstances. I like to stick to varieties I know and love, and branch out from there with different color combinations to see what looks good together (and what doesn’t).

temporary gardens - Zinnias and Cornflower

The design possibilities are endless with temporary gardens, but I like to start with varieties I love (like these Zinnias and Cornflower) and play around with different colors, shapes, and combinations.

Annuals I used in my temporary gardens this season:

All of these varieties (except for the Dahlias and Gladiolus) I planted from seed, which makes them: 1) extremely easy to grow and 2) extremely affordable. I ordered a ¼ lb of most of these varieties and have plenty leftover to plant next season. I saved the largest sunflower seed heads and harvested the seed to plant next season. I also dug the Dahlias and Gladiolus up at the end of the season and stored them so I can replant next year. Overall, each temporary garden bed cost less than $20 to create.

Learn how to store seed for next season.

Learn how to dig up and store Dahlias for winter.

temporary gardens - zinnias and cornflower along greenhouse

Zinnias and Cornflower.
temporary gardens - dahlias

I added Dahlias in large containers along the fence. They looked fantastic against the Sunflower backdrop.
temporary gardens - the mini meadow

The circle meadow with large containers of Dahlias in the backdrop.

 

Temporary Gardens: Design

Once I knew the core varieties I wanted to use, I got to work planning the different areas I would be creating temporary gardens in. In my landscape there were 7 distinct areas I wanted to paint with annuals:

Beds Around The Greenhouse:

Narrow Side 1:

I knew I wanted to play with height and color, so on the side facing the fence I lined the back with about 40 Gladiolus Bulbs and seeded Cosmos in front. I kept this design simple and it paid off!

temporary gardens - Zinnias and Cornflower

I loved this easy combination of Zinnias and Bachelor Buttons on the narrow side of the greenhouse.

Narrow Side 2:

I wanted to get a big more creative with this side, and once everything started to bloom this was definitely my favorite garden on the property. I planted Sweet Peas in the back of the bed on either side of the door, lined the entire back of the bed with Zinnias and Celosia, and then seeded Bachelor Buttons in front. I lined the front of the walkway with two Urn Stone Containers that I seeded with mixed Zinnia. Everything in this bed was planted from seed and I used a stick to mark the outlines of different areas and literally threw the seed down. The planting took maybe 15 minutes.

Long Side:

I filled the windowbox on the greenhouse with Cosmos and Sweet Potato Vine. I wanted to get the planter done in the beginning of the season so these two plants I purchased from my local nursery. Next year I won’t even use this windowbox because once the Sunflowers grew in (which I loved) you couldn’t even see it!

temporary gardens - greenhouse windowbox

This windowbox (with Cosmos and Sweet Potato Vine) was so pretty early on, but then got covered up once the Sunflowers filled in.

I filled this long bed with seedlings that I had started about 3-4 weeks before planting. You can easily (and cheaply) do this with an egg carton, seed starter mix, and a sunny window indoors. I lined the back of the bed with a variety of different Sunflowers and then planted Zinnias, Celosia, and Dahlias throughout the rest. Although the Sunflowers were fantastic in this bed, everything else was just so-so and next year I’ll direct seed all of these varieties. I also found that spacing everything out so much allowed for weeds to creep in and I had to weed this area way more than the beds I direct seeded.

temporary gardens - circle meadow

This fiery circle meadow was filled with easy-to-grow Cosmos, Zinnias, and some annual Forget-Me-Nots.

Round Mini Meadow:

My friend who built our  greenhouse had left his various tools and equipment next to the area with a tarp over them (which was necessary), but once the ground warmed up the grass didn’t grow in. No problem! I tilled the area into a round garden bed about 5’ in diameter and seeded a mix of different colored Zinnias, Cosmos, and Sunflowers. I didn’t get to seeding until a little later in the season but once everything started to bloom it was SO COLORFUL. I also saw hundreds of bees and butterflies on this mini meadow.

temporary gardens - whiskey barrel

I played with a variety of Marigolds, Nasturtium, Tomatoes, and Basil in my larger containers throughout the landscape. I started all of these from seed which made filling a dozen or so containers very affordable.

Large Bucket Containers Throughout The Landscape:

Besides the plants for my one window box on the greenhouse, I decided I wasn’t going to buy any plant starts for the containers around my property. I planted Dahlias and Sunflowers in the larger containers and did a combination of Marigolds, Zinnia, Nasturtium, Basil, and Tomatoes in the rest. I wasn’t sure how the Sunflowers would do in containers but I actually loved them! They only grew to be about 1-2’ and the blooms were smaller, but they looked great and added charm to each design.

Along The Fence:

I tilled a 2’ wide area inside the fence by the greenhouse and direct seeded a variety of Sunflowers in the area. Although I overseeded (majorly) and the Sunflowers were all stunted, they looked colorful and filled in along the fence nicely.

temporary gardens - Sunflowers along property line

Even though I overseeded these Sunflowers, they created a wall of color along the edge of our property line.

Along The Property Line:

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a little (OK, a lot) obsessed with Sunflowers. I tilled a 3’ perimeter around most of the field where our vegetable garden, greenhouse, and other plantings were and direct seeded Sunflowers. Again, I overseeded, but the wall of Sunflowers separated our property from the road and they even looked like they were dancing when it was windy!

Temporary Gardens: Next Season

Even though it’s my third season at this home and with these gardens, I’m still planning on changing things up again and using annual wildflowers in my garden beds.

temporary gardens - cut flowers

One of my favorite parts about my temporary gardens was the abundance of cut flowers!

I loved having an abundance of blooms for cut flowers -- so much so we even put up a little flower stand by the side of the road for a few weeks. So I am definitely going to be planting the varieties that I know cut well like Zinnias, Cosmos, and Sunflowers. I’ll bring my Dahlias and Gladiolus out from the closet and replant those in the garden beds.  

I used a lot of pinks and purples this season so maybe next year I’ll experiment with bolder hues of orange and red. This is why temporary gardens are so fun -- if I don’t like what I did one season, there’s always next season to try something completely different!

Do you have an area in your garden that you re-design every year? If so, please share in the comments below.

You can see more of Amanda's journey as a novice farmer on Instagram @HuntingtonRiverFarm or here:

  • A Journey From Urban Gardening To Rural Homesteading
  • The Joys (And Surprises) Of Inheriting A Garden
  • Low Maintenance Landscaping With Wildflowers
  • Admitting — And Learning From — My Garden Mistakes
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