Annuals

lots of annual plants on display

Annuals are the ‘decoration’ of a garden—the embroidery on a plainer background. They are perky and impermanent, making patches of color for a few weeks and then fading. For the most part they are undemanding and will grow in any sort of soil.

They can be scattered haphazardly and left to fend for themselves, or they can be carefully thinned out and propped up with low brushwood when they will make quite large plants with more showy heads.

Sometimes, if they have flowered early during a good summer they will seed themselves and if the seedlings stand the winter you will get big plants which will flower early. Annuals fill in the gaps left by bulbs or the patches in the front of the border that are not yet filled or are left especially for them.

There are hardy annuals and half-hardy annuals. The former can also be sown at any time from the middle of March until early June. It’s better to choose a time when the weather is ‘gentle.’

Too wet and too cold soil will not help germination and sowing in a strong wind only results in the seeds blowing all over the place. Pick a comparatively mild day when the sun has warmed the soil a little, and rake the soil in the chosen place to as fine a tilth as possible.

Brush the top 1cm/½in of soil to one side with your hand and flatten it very gently, then scatter the seeds as thinly as possible and either brush the topsoil back or sprinkle peat or sifted soil over them to the depth of about ½cm/¼in.

Put in a label to show where they are and if you have a cat cover them with some wire netting. Cats are idle creatures and a patch of soil that is easily scratched over saves them a lot of trouble.

According to the time of year and the weather the seeds will take 2-4 weeks to germinate. When they are big enough to handle, thin them out according to the instructions on the packet. This can be a tedious job but is well worth while.

Some seeds are very minute and it is extremely difficult to sow them thinly. Others are big enough to be put in place. The instructions on the packet usually say how far apart they should be and how high they should grow.

You cannot really do anything with the seeds you thin out. Just occasionally if it’s a mild, damp day they will transplant if put immediately into a hole made with a small stick.

But even then they will need watching and watering and unless you have a lot of time and enthusiasm this is not worthwhile. Concentrate on those that are left and as they get bigger put short, brushy twigs all over the area.

Although they should make plants strong enough to stand alone, a summer storm soon flattens them.

Half-Hardy Annuals

Half-hardy annuals are those which have to be sown in seed boxes or tiny pots and only put outdoors when all danger of frost is past.

This can mean pricking them off from the seed box into another box, so that they make plants large enough to handle when it is time to put them outside.

A greenhouse is the ideal place to start growing them, but a sunny window sill or anywhere that gets good light and is frost-free will do. If all that is too much bother, boxes of pricked out half-hardy annuals can be bought.

Biennials

some really nice looking biennal flowers

Biennials are the plants that are sown in early summer of one year, planted into the position in which they are required to grow that autumn and they will flower the next summer.

Their cultivation requires a specially set aside space in which to sow the seeds, and in a small garden this may be difficult. As with the half-hardy annuals one can buy boxes or plants of biennials which can be put straight into their flowering position.

It’s really a question of whether you would rather pay for someone else’s time and labor or do it yourself for the price of a packet of seeds.