Some old, favourite reliables

There is still time to sow annuals for a summer and autumn display, and, of course, garden centres are full of them, writes JANE…

There is still time to sow annuals for a summer and autumn display, and, of course, garden centres are full of them, writes JANE POWERS

ANNUALS ARE THE first plants that many of us grew as children – the hopeful sunflowers, the scrambling nasturtiums, the sweet sweet peas. They send a nostalgic glow straight to our adult gardening souls. And they’re easy and quick: they flower and set seed all in the course of one year. Most produce blooms for many months.

Almost all flowering annuals require a sunny patch in the garden, but a few, including busy lizzy (Impatiens), tobacco (Nicotiana alata and N. sylvestris) and violas, will grow in shade. Most annuals are well supplied with nectar and pollen, and are much visited by insects.

When choosing varieties, avoid those with double flowers (that is, lots of additional petals), as the extra bulk in the bloom usually means that the nectar- and pollen-bearing parts are either absent or hard for insects to find.


Cornfield annuals have long, wiry stems, and can hold their own among naturalistic perennials and grasses. Dublin gardener Helen Dillon pops a few cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) each year into her famous blue border, where they add to the smoky azure haze created by the agapanthus and Verbena bonariensis. Other similar European wild flowers that are gardenworthy include corncockle (Agrostemma githago), crown marigold (Chrysanthemum coronarium), corn marigold (C. segetum) and field poppy (Papaver rhoes).

The English or pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), which has been used as a herb for centuries (hence the pot in the name), is one of my favourite annuals – and it is much enjoyed by my local hoverflies and honeybees.

Care must be taken when selecting a variety, as the modern ones are almost all doubles and of no use to pollen- and nectar-eaters. When you are choosing from a catalogue or from a selection of packets in a shop, check the picture to make sure that the central boss is clearly visible on the flower.

There are hundreds of other annuals: their seed is inexpensive to buy, so they are a most expeditious way of filling up a new garden while you decide on more permanent planting.

This is an extract from Jane Powers’s new book, The Living Garden: A Place That Works With Nature, published by Frances Lincoln, £25/€28


MS Meath Plant Sale, Wednesday, May 4th (9.30am-12.30pm), Skryne Community Hall (near Dunshaughlin). The Cottage Home Child and Family Services Plant and Bake Sale, Friday, May 6th (10am-1pm), St Paul's Church, Silchester Road, Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Pick up an Irish pot

Kiltrea Bridge Pottery sale, near Enniscorthy, continues until Monday, May 2nd. See for opening hours