Sunday, February 5, 2012

Favorite Annual Flowers from Seed

I had a plot in a community garden for almost ten years, and although I mostly grew vegetables, more and more flowers crept in as time went on. I grew a lot of annuals from seed, mostly just sown in situ. Here are some of my favorites:
 Larkspur was my favorite for its beautiful blue-purple color, upright spiky habit, profuse flowers and long bloom time. If I was able to keep up with the deadheading (which was rare!), it would keep reblooming well into summer, although subsequent blooms were smaller and less likely to be double. It was very easy to grow from seed, and once established it just kept on reseeding by itself. I only planted it once and enjoyed the flowers for many years. Also looked great in a vase, although the flowers didn't last long. They have a bit of a wild, informal look, but this is one of the annuals I would still consider growing in my home garden now.

Corn poppies
 Annual corn poppies made such a bright statement in June. I loved the varied colors and delicate texture. They were also super easy to grow from seed sown directly in the garden, and kept returning for years by reseeding. Foliage is cute and fresh looking in spring as well. The big drawback is that they totally fall apart after blooming - the foliage turns brown, the plants fall over everywhere, and in general they look just awful from August on. Because of this I probably would not grow them in my "city" garden now, unless you had some nice Perovskia or something to cover up for them.

Nigella 'Miss Jekyll'

 Nigella or Love-in-a-Mist is one of the most beautiful and elegant plants I've seen. I grew this all-blue cultivar 'Miss Jekyll', but the flowers come in shades of pink, white, and burgundy as well. In addition to having gorgeous flowers, the foliage is superb - soft and ferny. The seedpods are also ornamental - that's the purple-striped spiky balls you can see in the photo. This plant looks good at all stages of its life, and makes a great texture contrast in the garden. It is also incredibly easy to grow from seed sown directly in the garden, and reseeds itself happily, bordering on annoyingly. I did have to pull lots of seedlings every spring. The seedlings look very similar to dill.

California poppy 'Thai Silk Lemon'
I grew several cultivars of California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) over the years and this was hands-down my favorite. The yellow color is intense yet soft, and sets off that bluish foliage so perfectly. The texture of the petals was delicate yet somehow substantive. Blooms were abundant, and the bloom period was long. For me california poppies always bloomed heavily in early summer, then would take a break in midsummer heat, but would bounce back again by late summer into fall if I managed to keep them consistently watered. Occasionally some plants would die out in midsummer, but not many. Overall a great value in flowers from one little seed packet! These did not reseed too reliably for me, so I planted a fresh packet right in the garden every spring.

Pimpernel 'Gentian Blue'
I include Blue Pimpernel (Anagallis monelli) as a favorite because of the INCREDIBLE deep blue color, and the neat, dense habit which makes it a wonderful front edge plant. It also has a long bloom period. However, it's definitely got some issues: first, it does not germinate well at all. I tried both in situ sowing and sowing inside in flats - germination rate was always really pathetic. I am totally mesmerized by that blue color so I kept on trying, but some years I did not get any plants at all. Also, it's called "Poor Man's Weather Vane" because the flowers close up tightly in cloudy weather. Kinda neat, but not the loveliest garden picture with closed flowers! Despite that, if you can get the seeds to sprout, definitely worth growing as one of the few annuals with that color.

Aster 'Matsumoto'

 I love China Asters - they look like freaky space flowers to me! Not the best for a multi-season border, because they must be sown in situ in spring, then don't bloom until late August. The habit is a bit awkward - tall and vase-shaped. The plant looks almost like a bouquet that's been stuck into the ground. But the colors are wonderful, and I enjoyed having that burst of color to look forward to at summer's end. Very easy to grow from seed, but does not reseed at all. The Matsumotos were my favorite (the freakiest looking!), but there are lots of lovely cultivars.

Calendula 'Pacific Beauty'
 Calendula is an old standby, and deservedly so. It was always one of the first annual flowers to bloom in my garden, and definitely the last (I picked flowers into October and even November some years). If deadheaded continually (a task which you will get very, very tired of!), calendula is a blooming machine. The flowers can be a bit harsh toned, but some of the softer yellows are nice. Foliage and overall habit is a bit shaggy, but fits nicely in an informal type of planting. Incredibly easy to grow from seed, and keeps reseeding itself happily - but not invasively - year after year to infinity. This is a great plant for children - the seeds are large and easy to handle, and kids can pick as many of these as they want (you'll thank them!). The flowers look great in a vase.

Zinnia 'Uproar Rose'
 Zinnias, of course! I grew lots of different zinnias and loved them all. The single color forms that you can buy are great for a restrained design. This one, 'Uproar Rose', was probably my favorite. The blooms were huge and very double, and the color really popped without being harsh. Zinnia plants have a nice, solid, bushy habit and I definitely plan to use them in my city garden for added summer color among the perennials. Ridiculously easy to grow from seed sown in situ.

This is the best reference for growing from seed. I use mine all the time!


  1. I enjoyed reading about the kinds of flowers you grow from seed,and being the first to leave a comment here. Welcome to the world of blogging. I have a horrible time keeping up, and sometimes think about giving it up, but, I just do it when I get a chance, and enjoy doing other things as well.

  2. Thank you Sue! I am brand new at this blogging thing, and it has been fun so far, especially interacting with other gardeners and learning from other people's gardens! It's definitely a lot of work - I'll probably slow down a lot once spring gets here and I can get outside more.


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