Growing annual flowers is one of the quickest and easiest ways of getting colour into your garden.
There are a wide range of flowers and foliage plants available to grow in this way, and you can buy seeds or plug plants to give quick bursts of colour which often require very little effort.
Whilst the notion of bedding plants can seem rather old fashioned, I think there is nothing wrong with experimenting with what is available and having some fun in the garden.
I will add a note of caution that if you plant your seeds before the frosts have finished this can lead to dead or damaged plants, but with a little patience and care you can soon have some bright, bee-and- butterfly friendly, flowers.
When should I sow annual seeds in my garden?
As mentioned above, there are lots of seeds you can buy; some will be which are called ‘hardy’ annuals, which means they can take some cold weather.
You can sow hardy annuals in the autumn if you have the space so that you are ahead of the game in spring. Some will also self-seed which means you will have them back in your garden the next year, popping up in unexpected but usually very pleasing parts of the garden. Nigella is one of my favourite annuals to grow and these will self-seed easily. You soon get used to what their seedlings look like so you can move or remove ones in the wrong place.
Just because some people like to grow them in rows does not mean you have to. It is your garden so your rules, so have some fun. I have taken to growing alysumm in my garden in recent years, mainly because my mum used to grow it. I had no idea what a great garden plant it would turn out to be and now I dot it around happily.
Go-to annual seeds
Annual seeds I always sow include Cosmos, which come in many colours and sizes and is very easy to grow; marigolds which are very tough and loved by bees; and nasturtiums because they are so cheerful and easy to grow.
Marigolds and nasturtiums I often recommend to friends with children who want to try and grow their first flowers. I think these are good seeds for children to start gardening with as they are easy to handle and are almost guaranteed to grow.
Poppies are a great favourite of mine. I grow some of the perennial orientalis poppies, but there are many different annual poppies that are also of good value to grow in our gardens. The annual Somniferum poppies come in a wide range of colours and forms and their seeds can lie dormant in the soil for decades. If you dig over a new piece of land, they often pop up the next Spring as they are triggered by the disturbance of soil.
The orange and yellow Welsh poppy (Papaver cambricum) flower for months and are often the first poppies to flower in my garden. Both of these poppies will self-seed very well, so if you are not a fan of random flowers then these might not be for you – however their seedlings, like the Nigella, are easy to spot and remove if you wish.
Sowing sweet peas
Sweet peas are a must-grow for me. Some people sow in autumn, but I have to confess I do not do very well with mine when I do this. I started sowing in February this year and had some germinating soon after. I then sow a few more in March and sometimes some even as late in May. This means they flower and finish at different times and, if I am lucky, I can have sweet peas in a vase in the kitchen up until the first frosts.
What I enjoy most about annual flowers is that for even the most experienced of gardeners, they are a great way of ‘ringing the changes’ in the garden. One year you can plant your nasturtiums in that corner and the next year it can be a riot of cosmos. It gives you so much choice. Best of all, if you do not like what it looks like you are not committed, you can just not do it again next year. You can even just pull them up and compost them, no one will judge you.
So have some fun with annuals, I am sure you will not regret it.