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.  


  1. I looked at this post and I thought well we don't grow many annuals... but actually a lot of them are in our garden like opium poppies and calendula and a pot of cosmos. No cerinthe in your border?
    The annuals I really like are ones that self sow and fill the gaps!

  2. I am a big fan of annuals too - and I also do an annual border every year. You are so right, the zap of colour that they give the summer garden is wonderful.

  3. Hi Janet - No Cerinthe this year.

    I always think Cerinthe is on the weird side, so when we have grown it, we have put it in the smaller borders or pots so we can see it and keep saying “That’s really weird”

    Maybe next year, now that you have raised it, it is a good idea.


  4. I am absolutely amazed at the nicotania sylvestris in my garden this year...grown from seed...I have decided to grow all in pots until they bloom to speed them up...then plant them all over the garden....the garden "glows" until late evening from June until ? and fill in the gaps in my northeast/partial shade garden...even though floppy...highly recommended! Another white annual....matricaria (german chamomile...fantastic "mini-chrysanthemum" plant...if any one wants seeds please let me know (pics on my website)...

  5. I always have pots of annuals out on my courtyard every year. They add that burst of colour against the background of green shrubs and trees. Of the lovely annuals you've listed as growing in that gorgeous bed, I can only really grow the Dahlias, the Cosmos and the Rudbeckia and they are all brilliant.

  6. I couldn't agree more--annuals provide long-lasting color through the season, especially this time of year when here in the U.S. Midwest not much else is blooming. You have a nice variety of different blooms--my favorite annuals, especially to grow from seed, are cosmos and zinnias. So easy and so colorful!

  7. We were always over the top with annuals, slowing down with them now mainly because of the work involved. Already you have me rethinking. Like the new look!

  8. Amazing photographs! I love to mix annuals among my herbs. I love the look of cosmos but didn't add them in my garden this year...Beautiful blog.

  9. You have given me some extra ideas for planting annuals for next year. Thanks.


Thank you for leaving a comment - it is always great to hear about other peoples gardens and lives. If you ever drop by the nursery, make sure you say hello. (Margaret & Donald)

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