Annuals + Perennials Gardens


For a show of pure color, few plants can measure up to the contribution of annuals in a garden. Annual plants:

  • grow from seed,
  • flower,
  • produce new seeds, and
  • die during a single growing season.

Greenhouse Activities. Volunteers can be found in January in the greenhouse — packets of seed in hand! — ready to start the germination process. During the early months of each calendar year, thousands of annuals gradually fill two greenhouses as volunteers upgrade seedlings into pots ready to be planted in mid-May.

Ideal for providing changing color from year to year in gardens, the Annual Gardens in our Botanical Gardens are easily spotted. As you approach the Visitor Center, you’ll come upon a vast area of large and smaller beds bursting with color: the annual beds! As you make your way along the pathways in this area, you may notice that the majority of these beds follow a theme. Each year a different theme is designed and carried out by members of the Green Team. Garden volunteers and Arboretum guests sometimes get into the spirit by suggesting themes for upcoming years.

AAS Display Garden. Every year the Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens looks forward to receiving sample flower seeds or plugs that have been named All-America Selections based on their garden performance in tests conducted throughout the United States.



  • Season 2021. All-America Selections named three 2021 ornamental winners for the Heartland region. Now on display in the small AAS display garden at the base of McKay Plaza are a dark-red coleus called ‘Main Street Beale Street,’ a tall celosia in ‘Candela pink,’ and a bicolored (yellow and red) zinnia. Filling out the rest of that bed are Tidal Wave Red Velour petunias, an AAS winner from 2015. 
  • Season 2020. There were no AAS floral winners in our region in 2020.
  • Season 2019. Several 2019 All-America Selection flowers are on display in the bed at the base of McKay Plaza outside the Visitor Center. They include Garuda gold and Big Duck yellow marigolds, Holi scarlet zinnias, Mega Bloom Polka-Dot vinca, Baby Deep Rose nasturtiums, and an extra-large red begonia, with chocolate leaves, that is supposed to grow 30 inches high or more.
  • Season 2018. Several 2018 All America Selections were showcased in the AAS display garden, located at the base of the McKay beds: Queeny Lime Orange zinnias, Mexican heather, ornamental peppers in Onyx Red, and Super Hero Spry marigolds. In addition, recent AAS winners from 2017 appeared in other beds, including Evening Scentsation petunias, Supra Pink dianthus, and vinca in Orchid Halo and Pink Halo.
  • During Season 2017, the two small beds at the upper and lower ends of the plaza, one in sun and the other in shade, exhibited All-America selections (AAS), including 2017 winners Asian Garden Celosia and bi-colored pink EnduraScape™ Verbena.
  • The 2016 AAS-award-winning bedding plants included two types of geraniums (‘Brocade Cherry Night’ and ‘Brocade Fire’) and the first-ever lavender-colored salvia, called ‘Lavender Jewel’. 
  • Season 2015. AAS also kindly sent Pink Flame Bounce Impatiens and Spreading Shell Pink Sunpatiens, both 2015 winners.

Many of the flowers in the other annual beds are also previous AAS winners, as noted on their identification stakes.

Annuals Theme 2022: “Games People Play”

Fittingly, this year’s theme sign was inspired by the board game Scrabble! Each little garden represents a children’s playground game, a classic board game, or a popular sport. If you’re stumped, a cheat sheet is posted on a garden stake in each bed, and the names of the flowers in the bed are printed on the back.

“Games People Play”: Miniature Golf

“Games People Play”: Candyland

LEARN MORE about “Games People Play”

ANNUALS 2022: “Games People Play”

Each little garden represents a children’s playground game, a classic board game, or a popular sport. If you find yourself stumped, a cheat sheet is posted on a garden stake in each bed, and the names of the flowers in the bed are printed on the back. The games to look for are: Hopscotch, Duck Duck Goose, Ring Around the Rosie, Tic-Tac-Toe, Monopoly, Clue, Checkers, Candyland, and Battleship. You’ll also see sports featured: baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and golf. And even a video game (Minecraft) + a famous bike race.

But … flowers are, after all, the main point of our displays so we try to include a variety of colors, shapes, and textures. Annuals that are usually resilient through our Iowa summers include begonias, vinca, salvia, marigolds, and zinnias, but we also like to experiment with a few varieties that we have not planted before. Sometimes these trials are successful; other times not! New plants for this season include Sedona Sun Ornamental Peppers, Gekko Green Celosia, Snowtopia Bacopa, Lavendina Mix Dianthus, and Sonnet Mix Tall Snapdragons.




  • “Follow the Yellow Brick Road!” (2021) Each of our 16 square flowerbeds centered around a symbol related to the 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum or its more modern counterpart, the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland.
  • “Celebrate Good Times” (2020) commemorated the Dubuque Arboretum’s 40th anniversary in 2020 with the annual flowerbeds depicting 16 other special occasions, including Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, It’s a Girl! and It’s a Boy!, May Day, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, weddings/anniversaries, and graduation!
  • “Once Upon a Time” (2019) featured 16 signature flowerbeds, each designed to symbolize a classic children’s story or rhyme.
  • “Stars & Stripes” (2018) featured broad stripes of burgundy, blue, and white and filled the entry bed, starring Victoria salvia, angelonia, vinca, petunias, and ageratum.
  • “How Sweet It is!” (2017) was a confectionery of annuals. Cherry pink, lime green, lemon yellow, and luscious lavender were the colors of 2017’s annual bed theme.
  • “Let the Sunshine In” (2016) featured cheerful shades of yellow, orange, and rose brightening the annual flower beds.
  • “Victorian Sentiments: Say It with Flowers” (2015) reflected the popular Victorian custom of communicating special meanings through flowers.
  • “Fiesta in Red, White, & Green” (2014) showcased thousands of annual flowers and foliage plants in gala shades of red, white, and green.
  • “Monet Inspiration” (2013) painted the beds in a profusion of pinks and lavenders and whites reminiscent of Monet’s Giverny.
  • “South of the Border” (2012) displayed a palette with bright yellows and oranges and reds.

The “Tin Man” (2021)


PEONIES The peonies — special plants which come in many different colors — bloom early in the spring, around Memorial Day. Our volunteers trim them back in August.

LILIES Deer love lilies, but the DABG grounds are now protected by HIGH fences that keep the deer from eating our garden.

DAHLIAS Dahlia tubers are planted in pots in our greenhouse in March and transplanted outside in late May. Starting them indoors allows them to begin blooming in June; they continue producing flowers into the fall. Several flower styles are represented here with some growing as large as a dinnerplate!

IRISES Irises bloom in late May, around Memorial Day.


WITH APPRECIATION Creation, care, and maintenance of the Annuals and Perennials Gardens: the Green Team.