image of Nigella Damascena on a summers day

Nigella damascena provides a beautiful display all summer long
Image source: Shutterstock

Once March arrives, Nic Wilson’s potting shed is launched into action as her annual flower seeds come out.

Here, the experienced gardener behind dogwooddays talks to us about the many roles that annual flowers play in her garden. Affordable, beautiful, and easy to grow, Nic shares her favourite annual flower combinations, and tips on how to use them to create a fresh new display every year.

Sowing annual flower seeds

Calendula officinalis nana 'Fruit Twist' from Thompson & Morgan

Calendula is a quick and easy annual that’s easy to grow in almost any garden
Image source: Calendula officinalis nana ‘Fruit Twist’ from Thompson & Morgan

You can sow many hardy annuals like calendula, sunflowers, nasturtiums and Californian poppy indoors from March, in seed trays or modules, then potted on and planted outdoors when they’re large enough. Alternatively, from April, sow annual flower seeds directly outdoors to create interest throughout the summer:

  • Scatter the seeds in swathes through mixed borders
  • Sow in vegetable plots to attract pollinators and as companion plants
  • Sprinkle over gravel gardens

When designing gardens, I often include annuals to add variety and fill gaps until shrubs and perennials develop. Many annuals self-seed, like nigella, borage and calendula, so they create maximum impact with minimum effort. They’re beloved by bees and butterflies, are ideal for cutting, and some provide edible flowers too. Annuals really do offer something for everyone.

Best colour combinations

blue-purple plants with a self-seeded green centre

Self-seeded nigella
Image source: dogwooddays

One breathtaking colour combination I wouldn’t be without is purple and orange. One of my favourites is the delicate bell flowers of Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ contrasted with Calendula officinalis nana ‘Citrus Cocktail’ or Californian Poppy ‘Sun Shades’. These flowers last for months and self-seed in my garden, but are easy to remove in areas required for other plants.

Blues and whites create a cool, sophisticated combination. I particularly like the lofty umbels of Ammi majus or Orlaya grandiflora underplanted with Nigella ‘Blue starry skies’ or the diminutive cornflower ‘Dwarf Blue Midget’.

I also love velvety chocolate-purples and deep reds set against white. Try planting the opposing shades of Scabious ‘Ebony and Ivory’ or a contrasting display of sweet peas like ‘Night and Day’.

Best annual flowers for containers

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ from Thompson & Morgan

Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ is ideal for containers
Image source: dogwooddays

One year I was given a packet of Coreopsis x hybrida ‘Incredible’ which I sowed in a spare container. The result was a blaze of colour throughout the summer – I’d definitely recommend these easy-to-grow, eye-catching flowers.

Other container successes include calendula, which I also grow in the vegetable garden as a companion plant.

My favourites are Calendula ‘Snow Princess’ which lasted through the winter this year, and my desert island flower, Calendula ‘Sherbet Fizz’ whose faded bronze petals I first met in Nick Bailey’s Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden at Chelsea in 2016 – it was love at first sight!

Edible delights

collection of sunflowers in a garden

Nic’s children like growing sunflowers
Image: im pany

Annuals offer quick rewards for children, both in terms of their prolific flowers and the edible qualities of some blooms. My kids like growing nasturtiums to eat their peppery leaves, petals and (later in the season) their pickled seedpods – a favourite pizza topping in our house.

They also grow sunflowers, especially the dwarf varieties and sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’ with its large, maroon-coloured heads. If you want to grow a range of different sunflowers, try sowing seeds from the T&M sunflower collection which includes ‘Harlequin’, ‘Italian White’ and ‘Velvet Queen’.

Head to our annuals hub page for more growing tips, variety recommendations and helpful video guides. For expert advice on growing flowers, visit our summer flowers hub page.

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