An annual injection of colour

Annual flowers are often dismissed as being just for bedding or filling baskets and troughs, but Hardy and Half Hardy Annuals are a great way to add colour in gaps in your borders, for cutting for flower arranging, or grown near your vegetables to encourage beneficial insects. Now that the soil is getting warmer there are lots of inexpensive seed that can be sown up to the end of April and into May to give colour right through to the first frosts of autumn.

The definition of an annual is a plant that will grow, flower, set seed and die all within one growing season. The term ‘hardy’ annual covers those that can withstand a bit of cold as against the ‘half-hardy’ annuals which are more tender and can’t be planted out into the garden until after the last spring frost.

Many half hardy annuals need to be planted relatively early (February to March) under glass so that they have developed enough to survive outside and be mature enough to flower in a British summer, but if you didn’t get round to sowing seed earlier don’t despair, there are lots of things that can be sown outside for the next month.

Just a few examples of annuals that can be planted straight into the garden, where they are to flower:

Cornflowers, Corncockle, Nasturtiums, Sweet Peas, Scabious, Stocks, Annual poppies, Californian poppies (Escholzia), Love-in-the-Mist (Nigella damescena), Godetia, dwarf annual Lupins, Pot Marigolds (Calendula), Poached Egg Flower (Limnanthes douglasii), Sunflowers and Larkspur to name but a few.

Many of these cottage garden favourites have been developed and bred to produce new and exciting variants on the originals. There are, for example, a huge range of cornflowers from the traditional blue and pink flowers to the dark burgundy “Black Ball”.

Nasturtiums too have come a long way from the familiar orange and yellow flowers, the new ‘Whirlybird’ cultivars offer brighter jewel like colours and flowers that are held well above the leaves and are upward facing, unlike older varieties.

There are a wide range of absolutely sumptuous Californian poppies with frilled petals and shaded flowers with exotic names such as Apricot Chiffon and Thai silk (Thompson and Morgan seeds).

Even the good old pot marigold doesn’t have to be bright orange, if you want subtle colours try the pale apricot Calendula ‘Sunset Buff” or creamy ‘Snow Princess’ (Mr Fothergill seeds).

There are a fantastic number of Sunflowers on the market too, so you don’t have to go for the bright yellow 8 foot tall plants you grew at school. There are red, pale yellow, white, and even double flowered versions, they come tall and small, single flowered or multi-headed, some specially bred for picking and all really easy to grow in a sunny spot. Try ‘Jammie Dodger’ a red and yellow cultivar, or ‘Red Velvet’ with large red flowers or for cutting the multiheaded dwarf ‘Junior’ (Unwins seeds).

So get to the garden centre, or browse on-line and get sowing those hardy annuals, they’re cheap, they’re easy (just plant in a sunny spot and remember to water them) and so rewarding.