Painting your garden with annuals

Ah growing annuals I hear you think suspiciously. But they don’t come back.
Well no, but as I say to folks many times each year, They give you colour as no other plants will give you colour, and they last for months…usually to the first hard frosts or Christmas…and they are (relatively) cheap.

Well that’s my opinion, and I prove it by growing an annual border every year.
I love it, it is the place where you can plant and create fast growing colour, and try something different each year.

Each year I include some common ingredients, but always try to incorporate something new. I am always on the look out for new ideas and often peering into other peoples gardens as I walk around Inverness.

A great annual, beautiful feathery foliage and large weather proof cup shaped heads of pink, white, red and purple.
I grow it because it is fast and forms a mass of weed proof foliage in 4 weeks.  Pest proof and a great backdrop and filler. Cosmos Sensation is the best seed strain.

NICOTIANA (Tobacco plants)
I usually grow majestic Nicotiana affinis, a tall clean white with strong foliage. What more can you ask! yet it gives even more, and an evening stroll will show how much moths are attracted to it.  I vividly remember one warm late summer evening; I saw elephant hawk moths hovering at the flowers like huge humming birds – just wonderful.
I sometimes grow Nicotiana sylvestris or Nicotiana langsdorffii, which have elegant whorls of white flowers and are even taller.  Occasionally I try the green flowered strain, but it is never completely satisfactory.

Never grow the dwarf bedding Nicotiana - they just do not cut the mustard.
RUDBECKIA Favourite yellow daisies that take the colour display on to November. I like the black eyed ones and the green eyes variety Irish Eyes.

CALENDULA (Pot Marigold)
Always good and in a wet year they retain their colour and vigour like no other . I like the big fat orange flowers.
POPPIES…..Lots of poppies.
ESCHOLTZIA (The Californian Poppies)
Such elegant funnel shaped flowers. When I am trying to paint a border with colour and imagining Monet in my mind’s eye, I love to use the single colours, however they can be hard to get.
The original orange Californian poppy and the white are lovely, and very impressive as a colour block.

Opium Poppies
You cannot help loving these big blousy poppies. Doubles are the most telling and I have had huge reds and pinks and this year black and white, all wonderful. They are short lived of course and will break you heart when you find them all lying down after wind and rain. But beauty is fleeting and always worth any effort.

MATTHIOLA (Night Scented Stock)
Thin straggling plants with lots of single pink and puce purple flowers, so why grow it? - for the most delicious scent in your garden. The scent begins to rise in the early evening and is like old fashioned scented sweeties, once smelt always desired.

Yes annual grasses are lovely, and wonderful with poppies growing through them.  I love barley grass Hordeum jubatum, so elegant and you have the love the quivering heads of quaking grass, Briza maxima.

I have written about the magnificent Onopordum, the Scot’s Thistle, but I like growing others such as Milk Thistle, with its white splashed leaves and the lovely little Galactites. Lots to experiment with.
Dahlias were out of fashion for years and then Christopher Lloyd showed us all what a mound of dark foliage and bright flower can do.
Favourites for me are Arabian Night, tall and red flowered and it actually came through the winter for us for about 8 years before real winter returned.
Bishop of Llandaff is now everywhere, but this year I found his colleagues, Bishop of  Canterbury, Bishop of Leeds and Bishop of Durham, great fun and all good.
This year my new (old plants) are annual Scabious, Larkspur (but the mice have eaten almost every one) and Double Stocks. It’s nice to rediscover old friends.
I learnt to love annuals when we lived in the Falkland Islands. There the gardens were a blaze of summer colour -  Livingstone Daisies, Godetia and Nemesia. I have been trying to recreate that picture in my minds eye ever since.  

An Imposing Imposter - Onopordum (The Scots' Thistle)

Each year we see the magnificent stems of Onopordum Acanthium rise from the silver over-wintering rosette.
We carefully position the young plants each year so that they are near to the driveway where people walk up to the nursery. Many photographs have been taken of visitors standing beside a 2 metre high "Scots' Thistle".

But is it an impostor? If so, it is a very handsome one.

The silver cottony leaves are fiercely toothed and grow quickly into flat silver rosette in the first summer. It stays that way over the winter and in spring it begins to build.  In June the silver stem rises, the mace like buds opening to a glorious purple thistle head.

It is also called Cotton Thistle and comes from Southern Europe & Asia, but believe me it looks magnificent growing in Scotland, and has long been naturalised and taken on the local accent.

Choose a sunny well drained spot and plant any time from April to August.

One for adventurous gardeners yes, but for beginners too, easy and satisfying.

It is our August 'Plant of the Month' at the nursery and available through our online catalogue.

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