Gardeners are willing to spend a lot of time cultivating and caring for a host of annuals and perennials in the flower garden, but a third group of plants tends to be neglected. And those are the biennials.
Biennials take two years to complete their life cycles.
During their first year of life, they grow a good root system and put out a stem with leaves. It is not until the second year that they flower and produce seeds. This means the gardener has to have patience, a virtue that I am sadly lacking.
It is important to remember just where the biennial is planted, especially because some of them barely survive the winter and will need special care if they are to fulfill their potential in the second summer.
So why bother?
Well, there are some lovely plants in this category, well worth the wait. Our local climate with cold winters is not ideal for them, but with care, you can have Canterbury Bells, foxglove, Sweet Williams, lunaria, verbascum and several varieties of poppy.
My favorite biennial is the cheiranthus cheiri, or wallflower, and I have never managed to grow one long enough for it to flower. The scent is wonderful, although the flowers themselves are not really attractive, with reds and yellows the most usual colors.
Wallflowers are staples of the English cottage garden, where the climate is much better for them. Most varieties will be about a foot high, with grayish-green leaves on the lower stem and velvety blossoms. Seeds should be started in the spring, and then they will need to be wintered over in a cold frame or some other protected place, and planted out early in the following spring. I will keep trying.
Canterbury Bells belong to the campanula family, and are striking plants, growing to about a foot tall with beautiful violet, pink or white bell-shaped flowers. If they survive the winter in a sheltered spot and are well mulched, they should be planted out in early spring.
Once they are established, the seeds can be sown every spring to provide blooms every year.
Foxgloves are easier to deal with. During their first season from May to September, the plants will have leafy spikes. They then flower the following July.
Foxgloves will reseed copiously once established in a moist, shady place. The foliage is evergreen and will appreciate a deep mulch and some light cover over the winter. The flowers are tubular and come in many colors, depending on the variety.
The mother plant will die back after copious flowering, and the following spring new baby plants will appear.
Iceland poppies are beautiful, with tissue-thin petals, orange, yellow, poppy-reds or white. As their name suggests, they are native to cooler regions, and will not do well in the hot summers we have been having.
I had Sweet Williams, dianthus barbatus, for a number of years, and gave them no special care. Which is probably why they have now disappeared. This is another species that will reproduce from seed once it is established. They make good cut flowers and are very fragrant.
It is interesting that several vegetables actually are biennials, although we generally harvest and pull them at the end of their first year. If left in place, beets, turnips, cabbage and kale will flower and produce their seeds in the second year.
With a little patience and some thinking ahead, you can have some new color in your flower beds.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at email@example.com.