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.


Cornflowers are a lovely ‘starter seed’ to sow and will grow quickly


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.


Clear and enrich soil with lovely well-rotted compost before sowing


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.


Sowing seeds in drills helps you work out what is a seedling and what is a weed!


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.


Sow annuals under shrubs for added colour


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.


Poppies have been sown around town and villages to remember the fallen


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.

Don’t forget to label your seeds and where they have been sown!

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


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