City landscape with annuals

Help! My town really could use some examples of alternatives to bedding annuals for its civic landscapes, alternatives that are more sustainable and better-looking to the modern eye.

(I know, I know. Whenever something is criticized for its low aesthetic appeal – looking ugly – some are offended. So IS there a way to say bedding annuals are OUT without insulting people who still love them? This planting has won awards!)

Above and below are the beds on either side of the front entrance to our municipal building: annuals, including coleus, in full sun, with prominent irrigation tubing. Weirdly combined with perennials and shrubs.

City landscape with annuals

City landscape with annuals

UPDATE: As requested, I’ve added these photos taken 8/26. No improvement.

In prominent spots like all of these, the plantings say to the community who we are, especially how “green” we are, and also demonstrate plants and designs for residents to use at home. So they matter. More than, say, corporate landscapes.

City landscape with annuals

Another full-sun spot, this one in front of the city museum.

City landscape with annuals

UPDATE: As requested, above is a more recent photo – taken 8/26/18 – filled in mostly with weeds.

City landscape with annuals

The island along the main street into town is a mixed bag, with this area looking particularly silly.

Median strip landscape with mixed planting

This section looks better, particularly in late summer when the crepe myrtles and Sedums put on their show. Still gotta have irrigation for those annuals.

City landscape with annuals

Another example – perennial grasses with annuals and lots of prominent tubing.

I’ve asked experts I know in person and on Facebook for examples of more updated and eco-friendly civic landscapes, but most suggestions have been from the arid West.

So my search continues for examples of plantings around civic buildings that are sustainable and attractive enough to ease the transition from color-blasted annuals to something new. Got ideas?City landscape with perennials

One example (above) is closeby – the gardens on the other three sides of the municipal building shown at the top of this post. Looking great here are shrubs, flowering perennials (especially our state flower Rudbeckia) and good old Liriope as the weed- and erosion-preventing groundcover.

The bedding islands in the adjacent parking lot is also smartly planted with plants that thrive there with almost no care – crepe myrtles, daylilies, Japanese Anemone and again, the workhorse Liriope.

New American Garden? Post-Wild Gardens?

Two sources of inspiration have come to mind, both local to us in the DC area:

  • The New American style of gardens made famous by Oehme Van Sweden and others, using sweeps of grasses and flowering perennials.
  • A more recent style of ecology-based plantings promoted by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West in their book Planting in a Post-Wild World, which the Washington Post called the “garden of the future.” Their ideas are being brought to life by their design firm (with Melissa Rainer). Their work was recently recommended to me by Scott Aker, head of gardens at the National Arboretum.

Both of these garden styles can be beautiful, no doubt, but they’d need to also be easy to maintain with crews that are schooled in mow-and-blow tasks with power equipment. Or at least using maintenance techniques that are easily learned.