Hardy annuals are worth their weight in gold. They’re a cheap way of displaying colour – perfect if you’ve got a new garden or even just a new border that you need to fill quickly and cheaply. And they’re easy-peasy to grow. No molly-coddling in propagators or greenhouses required; hardy annuals can be sown directly in the ground where you want them to flower.
Another advantage of hardy annuals is that many of them can be sown now, in early autumn. This not only lightens your load come spring, when masses of seeds need to be sown, but it gives you earlier flowers. You could also sow again in spring, to stagger the display and give you an even longer season of colour. There’s lots to choose from, but these are some of my favourites:
Bright orange or yellow calendulas (English or pot marigolds) really stand out as a row of flowers for cutting, or as decoration in a veg patch (where they do a great job of attracting hoverflies). Try ‘Indian Prince’, which has bright orange petals with a darker red reverse or ‘Porcupine’, with quilled spiky petals.
Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) come in a range of colours, but there’s something about that glorious sky blue of the original that keeps it at the top of the popularity stakes. For a frothy foil around the base of your other plants, try sowing love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) into border gaps. Its fine, ferny foliage is topped with pretty blue flowers, but it’s the seed-heads that are really noticeable. After the flowers fade, they puff up into hollow round pods that start off green, then dry to brown before they burst and spread their seed around.
Corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) have gorgeous, tissue paper-like flowers. They come in a range of colours, mainly reds, whites, pinks and everything in between, but look for ‘Cedric Morris’ for beautiful flowers in shades of soft pastel pink.
Cottage garden favourite candytuft (iberis) doesn’t seem to be grown that much these days, which is a shame, because its flowers (usually white, but there are pink varieties too) are so pretty, made up of lots of tiny flowers. Their subtle scent is an added bonus and they also make a good cut flower.
MUST-BUY PLANT... Phlox
Everyday: Phlox paniculata
Phlox are great border plants, with big heads of pretty flowers, some of which are scented. Keep well watered so they don’t succumb to mildew.
Extra-special: Phlox paniculata ‘Prospero’
This variety has the added bonus of striped flowers – each white petal is painted with delicate mauve brushstrokes that make the blooms stand out.
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