Growbag Blog

Kiss me Hardy Annuals!


What fun hardy annuals are! Lots and lots of easy, pretty things from seeds scattered over a bit of soil – even a most frightful horticultural snob like Laura can’t get sniffy about that, surely? 

Now I am well aware that the clever-clogs among you will be saying “Why are the Growbags talking about hardy annuals NOW? ‘Hardy’ means that these plants all survive frost, so I (cue: very smug expression) sowed all my Orlaya and Scabious etc. etc. last September, and they are already looking FAB!” Okay, well, good for you, and I have sown a few like that in the past.

But, for me, too often the little plants did not make it through the winter, or their flowers ran out of steam in mid-summer of the following year, just when I need them to be full-throttle.

Sow them during April and May, and you will be enjoying their bright colours and fulsome flowering all the way through to the first frost of next winter.

Cerinthe major – a favourite of our dad’s.

And so many of them are so generous with their seed! Leave the gorgeous seedheads on love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascene) and you will have Love-in-a-Mist there for ever. Ditto, Californian poppies (Eschscholtzia) pictured at the top of the blog, and even the delectable Cerinthe major ‘Pupurascens’ .

A couple of tips – nasturtiums flower miles better in poor dry soil and the ‘Whirlybird’ varieties hold their flowers nicely above the leaves; the poached-egg flower (Limnanthes douglasii ) is a bit of a spreader but bees go bonkers for it.

Poached-egg flower – can get a bit over-enthusiastic

If you sow the pretty little Crepis incant  be prepared for your visitors to be appalled that you have a thriving crop of dandelions (I speak from experience); and lastly, you can eat the leaves of borage, wilted like you would with spinach though Caroline is far more likely to need the blue flowers for Pimms. Chin, chin!


Gawd, here we go again, hello birds hello sky, you can  just sprinkle seeds willy-nilly all over the garden and have carpets of delightful flowers all summer long. Well let me tell you my experience of sowing hardy annuals is a much more embittered process, involving slugs, seedlings mistaken for weeds and pulled or complete no shows.  I usually only resort to it if some perennial has popped its clogs and left a gap in the ranks.

But Elaine’s enthusiasm (enviable in one so old) did get me rummaging in the bottom of my seed box to see if what I could find; Ahhh sunflower ‘Moonshine’ (free with Gardeners World magazine circa 2014) – worth a shot at the back of the hot border, Argemone mexicana (Chiltern Seeds a couple of years ago) might try those at the front of the gravel garden, Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’ (marigolds, Caroline) and Ammi visage, (Bishop’s Weed)  both freebies with Gardeners Illustrated in recent years – they know a thing or two so I’ll give them a go under the kitchen window where I have just dug out the alliums – the guano from our bird table has rendered them incapable of doing  anything other than produce copious foliage.

Why dont they look like this real life?

Finally there was an obscure little packet labelled Volutaria muricata ‘Desert Star’ also once a free gift with Gardens Illustrated – I had to look it up – 3 foot high relative of the knapweed with soft lilac flowers with a creamy centre, irresistible to bees and butterflies – now I’m suddenly interested- these will be sown in small clumps willy nilly all over the garden (there were also some nasturtium seeds, but I’m sorry, nasturtiums are for children).


Laura’s attempt to humiliate me over my love of nasturtiums won’t work. I’ll get a packet today and ignore her furrowed brow when she sees them romping gaily along my borders – it’ll be very similar to her audible exhalation when she spotted my Linaria ‘Fairy Queen’.

But actually something like nasturtium ‘Black Velvet’ is a dangerously sexy, adult-only affair, far too sophisticated for Laura. Sow it in your more intimate little garden corners. It’s very grown-up I can assure you.

Classy in a different way Louise’s Great Plant this Month and for those of you who have been following our debate on whether you can move paeonias successfully Louise has the final word on this.

Strictly for after the water-shed – Nasturtium ‘Black Velvet’

Generally though I find that shaking seeds onto the tundra of coastal Scotland isn’t really a goer at any time of the year. It could be because they don’t get sufficient periods of peaceful nurture to gain any height or strength. Laura  suspects incompetence. My efforts with night-scented stock and cerinthe only produced about five stringy plants all of which clearly longed to commit hari-kari.

Phacelia – it’s child’s play!

If you have similarly challenging conditions try Phacelia tanacetfolia. Two years ago Chiltern Seeds sent The3Growbags a small number of HA seeds (I’m using the acronym like ‘da boss’ here despite being a child apparently).  Mine all foundered in short order apart from the Phacelia which continues to reseed every year delighting me and all the local insects. Laura said that being basically a field crop, Phacelia was achievable even for people like me – so it should definitely be achievable for you.

NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags, just pop your email address in here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

6 replies on “Kiss me Hardy Annuals!”

Half a hundred years ago, there were two Annual flower borders at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. A large selection of seeds came from Suttons of Reading. The hardy sorts were sown directly in the borders at the beginning of Mat while the Propagating Department produced the half hardy sorts which were planted out at the end of May.. When sowing, parallel line were drawn deep enough for the seeds. Lines for adjacent group were made in a different direction. The reason for the seeds being sown in lines was that if weeds grew, they seldom if ever, grow in straight lines. It was a helpful guide to inexperienced staff to recognise what should be there and what should not.

Totally agree with you Caroline about sowing seeds up here. My garden faces north and is somewhat shady. I have, however, fallen for a packet of the Calendula. I will sow it it in a large trough in a sunny position.

Oh Sally I’m so grateful for your corroboration. My sisters have no idea what it’s like to be gardening in anything other than a lovely confined space in the warm south. I haven’t been as brave as you in sowing anything outside here in the Highlands this year (apart from broad beans and even they have put up a patchy appearance). I’ve sown sweet peas, cosmos, ammi visnaga, sunflowers (procut plum) and a few basil and tomato plants – all carefully nursed in pots indoors! I’ve been hardening them off but each morning I put them outdoors I feel they are looking at me reproachfully. You calendula will look fabulous en masse in a trough! Very best wishes to you XX

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