COLOURFUL ANNUALS ARE EASY
Most gardens at some time always have some bare areas needing something to brighten them up. Although this winter was very mild, the previous two winters really sorted out a lot of not too hardy plants leaving bare patches which need replanting or continual weeding. Annuals can be used to add some summer colour and interest to these areas. They are also invaluable in the new garden as freshly planted permanent planting may yet be a few years away from filling up their space leaving a lot of bare ground.
Annuals do not need rich soil and may flower better if the ground is quite poor, though to get good germination and establishment it is worthwhile ensuring the soil surface is well prepared adding some well rotted compost or old used growbags into the top few inches. Do not use any fertiliser otherwise you may get lush growth at the expense of flowers.
Some annuals are so colourful that it is well worth setting aside a special border to grow them in every year. They will flower best in full sun on well drained soil even if it is a bit dry so long as they have enough moisture to get them established.
Sowing and planting
Seed sowing can be started at the end of March to mid April direct onto the ground where they are to grow. If you only have a small patch of ground then just broadcast the seeds lightly and rake them in. However if your border is a fair size and you are growing a range of annuals it may be better to mark out drifts with builders sand then sow each type in rows in its own patch. When these grow to a few inches they can be thinned and transplanted to where ever they are needed. This method also makes weeding a lot easier. It gives a more natural appearance when planting up drifts if the different plant types overlap. Some types such as Livingston daisies and Osteospermums can be sown in plug trays and grown on for a few weeks before planting out. They will need to be kept well watered until they get growing.
My favourite selection
Many half hardy bedding plants such as petunias, marigolds and geraniums are treated as annuals, but these are best for traditional beds, tubs and hanging baskets, so I am concentrating on the hardy annuals usually sown direct onto the ground or raised for a few weeks in plug trays.
You can also buy a wide selection cheaply from your garden centre as plug plants to try out something new.
Top of my list has always been the Shirley poppies as they are very easy to grow, very colourful and often find themselves the subject of a painting. Californian poppies and poppy Ladybird are also firm favourites. The best fully double pink poppy is varieties of the opium poppy Papaver somniferum which arrived as a stray weed in my garden but put on such a fantastic show that I saved seed for future years.
Godetia, Livingston daisies, osteospermums and candytuft are very showy at the front of borders and clarkia, cosmos, cornflower, larkspur and amaranthus better at the back.
If you have young kids around grow some statice or helichrysum (everlasting flowers) at the front as they love to feel the rustling flower petals.
Calendula and nasturtiums are easy and give a great show, but keep them dead headed as if left unattended they can become very invasive in the following years as the seed remains viable for years and germinates readily.
Nigella (Love in a mist) is another favourite with soft blue flowers.
Plant of the week
Daffodils are the largest and boldest members of the narcissus family flowering from February to April as the traditional herald of spring. Golden Harvest and King Alfred are the two most popular trumpet varieties, but Mount Hood is a brilliant white with a great perfume. The range also includes doubles, the highly scented Jonquils, paperwhites, miniatures and numerous others.
They naturalise very easily so are often mass planted in drifts in grassed areas, deciduous woodlands and shrub borders and will fit in perfectly in herbaceous borders. Once planted they will flower reliably every year. They make excellent cut flower and their scent can be heavenly. Grow them in tubs and pots to flower early then planted in the garden once the foliage has died down.
Painting of the Month
Chinese Beauty is a large acrylic painting on canvas showing a close friend Hongmei Li dressed in a Tang dynasty gown. Hongmei spent some time with us in Scotland while studying for her PHD trying to identify an unknown nematode devastating the Chinese pine forests. She was also a very keen photographer and brought with her a small portfolio of fantastic photos of herself in traditional costume taken in a studio in China. Several paintings of Hongmei followed, so she had memories of her wonderful time spent at her Scottish home in Dundee to take back to China.
She was my only Chinese model and a great friend.