AG’s Letters page editor Wendy Humphries is keen to get summer colour underway using hardy annuals
While rummaging through my tins of seeds today, it seemed sensible to grab the packets of hardy annuals – or sprinklers, as I like to call them. Not only are they brilliant value, they are robust enough to be sown direct into gravel gardens, crevices, containers and gaps in the borders.
This will be easier than starting them off in pots and modules right now if compost is in short supply.
The best time to sow hardy annuals is when the soil has warmed up… a good clue is when tiny weed seeds start to appear. Most seed packets recommend sowing from March onwards for good germination.
Wait until later in spring to sow the less robust half-hardy annuals such as cosmos and sunflowers.
My borders are a mixture of perennials mingling with roses and a few evergreens to give them some structure. Many of my roses have suffered badly with blackspot over the past couple of years, so these have been pulled up and I’m left with quite a few spaces. Hardy annuals will be perfect to fill these gaps during summer.
A common problem is having space to start your seeds off, the answer for me is a newly created seedbed. One particular area in my garden gets good sun and is free draining, perfect for starting annuals, yet I’d hung onto a bed of boring campanulas just because they were there.
Once you have your soil, you can improve the soil with some well-rotted compost if you have any.
This seedbed was cleared of weeds, dug over and improved with some compost and raked level. I then made straight drills, watered them thoroughly and sprinkled cornflowers and eschscholzia seeds in to separate rows. Seeds were covered lightly with fine soil.
When the seeds pop up, they’ll be thinned out to the distance given on the packet – being someone that hates waste, I always transplant the thinnings.
After all, if they’re small enough they won’t have developed a tap root and can be moved to a new position without a problem.
I find the transplanted seedlings often do better than those sown where they were intended to flower. My plants that remain in the seedbed will be used as cut flowers.
If you have larger areas to fill, divide into sections and sow into curved drills for a more natural look.
Hardy annuals do well sown to complement a permanently planted tree or shrub. I chose violas to surround a newly repotted witch hazel, and I’ve done the same with my olive and bay trees using nigella (Love in a mist).
The surface compost needs to be top-dressed first and watered well, then seeds are sown thinly into a circular drill made with a trowel.
During the 2018 First World War Centenary commemorations, our church received a ‘silhouette’ figure of a Tommy soldier, just one of a number in local area. Sadly ours had been vandalised and we bent him back into shape and sprayed over the scratches.
I thought it was time to bring the verge around him to life with poppies. This sowing should be flowering by July.
Although hardy annuals have distinctive leaf shapes, when sowing direct it’s amazing how quickly I forget where things are, a label is a good reminder.
So go on, sow your packets of hardy annuals now, it takes very little time and you will be rewarded with flowers from eight weeks’ time.
Some hardy annuals to sow:
Hardy annuals worth sowing in April and May (these marked * can also be sown direct in autumn for flowers next year)
Ammi majus*, Calendula (pot marigold)*, cornflower*, Eschscholzia (Californian poppy)*, Larkspur*, poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii), Nigella (love in a mist)*, Papaver commutatum ‘Ladybird’*, Papaver rhoeas*, P somniferum
We are here for you
Although many people are coping well with self-isolation, others are really struggling and feeling completely forgotten and alone.
Here at AG we are doing our best to keep connected to our readers though the magazine, this website and also through social media.
Our gardening ‘agony uncle’ John Negus is also still working hard. Send him your problems and questions, with pictures if you can, and he will get back to you with an answer withing 24 hours, as he has been doing for decades. Contact him using the AG email address at firstname.lastname@example.org
We already have thriving Facebook page but are also on Twitter and Instagram. These sites are a brilliant way of chatting to people, sharing news, information, pictures and just saying hello – we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Best of all, as gardeners are generally lovely folk, more interested in plants, hedgehogs, tea and cake than political shenanigans and point-scoring, so the chat is friendly and welcoming.
So please drop by, follow us, ‘like’ our posts and say hello – the Instagram feed is in it’s really early days so the quicker we can get that going with your help and support, the better!
You can find us at:
Don’t forget to give someone you know or love a call. They might be feeling low and lonely and hearing from you will make their day. Happy gardening!