The "Annuals" Tier
The next tier below where the greenhouses once stood, contains ornately designed beds showing off mass plantings of annuals. Annuals are plants that are too tender to survive the winter, so are replanted each year. They are normally very showy plants such as petunias, begonias and alyssum. Typical annuals bloom continuously all summer, so provide color throughout the season. Canna (Canna Cannaceae) are often used in the large round, center beds. These are sub-tropical plants which are also considered an "annual" in New York, because it cannot survive our winters.
The designs of the beds on this tier are based on the designs used by Vanderbilt. They are often planted with annuals that have large, bright blossoms that look good from a distance (such as from the pathways). However, era pictures show that Vanderbilt often planted bushier plants with smaller flowers that encourage strolling through the garden. Many of these plants, such as heliotrope and browallia are not easily obtained in mass quantities now. Therefore, we frequently substitute with modern plants that have a similar color and/or shape.
The "Annuals" tier was the first one to be rehabilitated by the FWVGA when it was first formed in 1985. The NPS cut the beds based on designs left behind by Vanderbilt's last gardener, Alex Knauss. It was the success with these first beds that led the founders of the FWVGA to dare to tackle larger projects over time, leading to the garden that exists today.