Make room for hard-working annuals

Annuals are a cheap and easy way to fill your garden with colour from early summer right through until the first frosts.

They are plants that grow, flower and set seed in just one season so everything is packed into just a few weeks.

Indeed, little else works as hard in the garden, as they produce masses of flowers that are designed to pull in the pollinators.

How to grow annuals

Annuals are known as either hardy or half hardy – usually abbreviated to HA and HHA in seed catalogues.

Hardy annuals can be sown in the autumn as they are more robust. Some will tolerate a little frost, others will need the protection of a cold frame, cloche or horticultural fleece if temperatures drop. Sowing seed in autumn will give you an earlier display the following year.

Half-hardy annuals need more cosseting and should be sown in spring and not planted out until all risk of frost has gone.

Either way, they are easy to grow from seed, making them ideal for filling a large area at low cost.

Annuals can be sown directly where you want them to flower and some, such as poppies, are best grown this way as they do not like to be transplanted. Do not add fertiliser to the soil as this will produce foliage at the expense of flowers. For an informal look, scatter the seed over weed-free soil. Plants can also be sown in rows.

If you start the plants off under cover, sow in seed trays and prick out into modules or individual pots when the first set of true leaves appears. Grow the plants on and gradually harden them off before planting outside.

Our pick of the annuals

Calendula officinalis – the sight of a marigold never fails to raise a smile. Varieties range from shades of yellow through to orange with double and single flowers. These self-seed freely but are easily moved, if they are in the wrong place.

Lathyrus odoratus – it wouldn’t be summer without jugs full of sweet peas scenting the house. The colour range is vast and many varieties have beautifully marked flowers. Do choose those that are highly scented.

Tropaeolum majus – nasturtiums are wonderful for scrambling over banks or hanging down over walls. New varieties have widened the colour range available and some have beautifully marbled leaves as well.

Nigella damascena – love-in-a-mist is one of those plants that really earns its keep. Intensely blue flowers set into feathery foliage are the perfect soft foil for many other plants. Then, the seedheads look good left in the border or dried for arrangements indoors.

Helianthus annuus – fields of sunflowers are one of the glories of summer in France and Italy. They are easy to grow and varieties range from knee-high to 6ft giants with colours that include rusty reds, browns as well as the traditional yellow in double or single flowers.

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