Everyone loves a cheery sunflower face whether it’s a multi-headed variety for cut flowers or a giant to win the tallest competition. Baby sunflowers are easy slug fodder and will require some protection. Often it’s the weak ones that get taken down first so keep them in full sun and make sure that in the beginning of their life there’s no competition or leaves for slugs and snails to hide under.
Sow from April – May and you’ll have flowers from the end of summer to early autumn. Germination usually takes around 10-21 days at around 20-30 degrees Celsius. You can sow direct, but sometimes it’s easier to start them off in doors and gradually aclimatise them to outdoor conditions when all threat of a frost has passed. Velvet Queen has lovely deep crimson flowers, Vanilla Ice has the palest lemon and Baby Bear is a dwarf variety suitable for containers and window boxes (if it’s not too windy, it’s rather top heavy!).
Pot Marigold, Calendula officinalis
This must be one of the easiest hardy annuals to grow. You can direct sow in the garden where you want them to flower. They are tough little things that will survive any number of attacks and flower. The petals are edible and can be used in soups and salads (or to dye rice yellow if you fancy) or you can steep them in oil for a wonderful moisturizer. They are much loved by all kinds of bees and other insects and work well in the vase. Summer isn’t complete without calendula in bloom.
Sow from April to the beginning of June and you can sow direct as the seed are big enough to handle. They prefer full sun, in free draining soil and work well in window boxes, containers and pots. They also work very well edging paths and are a good companion plant for vegetable gardens.
Nasturtiums are those lovely jewel coloured flowers that are edible and very spicy to eat. You can eat the whole plant; the young leaves in salads, the flowers or the young seedpods can be picked when green to use as a caper substitute.
Again, these are easy to grow. The seed are large and easy to handle. You can either start them off in pots or modules on a warm windowsill or sow direct in May. They need to grow in full sun, in very drained soil. They don’t mind very poor soil; in fact, they seem to thrive in it. It’s often said if you want good nasturtiums you should use floor sweepings as you would compost.
Nasturtiums are ideal for pots, containers and windowboxes as they don’t need lots of watering (they are fairly drought tolerant). As they are in the cabbage family, cabbage white butterflies can often take a fancy to them. If this happens, sacrifice the plant (in fact they are used in the vegetable garden for this very reason, to keep the butterflies away from the cabbages). Overly lush plants grown in too rich soil can suffer from aphids too; hence, why you shouldn’t over feed them.
The dark red Princess of India is my favourite. There’s also a variegated form worth look out for because the young leaves are lovely in salads.
These are the only half-hardy annuals in my mix and they are here because I think they are beautiful and make such good cut flowers. They have large daisy like flowers in shades of pink, crimson and white. They are also very long flowering, particularly if deadheaded. They can start flowering in June and go right they way through to the first hard frost.
They must be started off indoors. Occasionally they self-seed around in the garden but this tends to be too late in the season to get a good bout of flowers. You don’t need a propagator; just a warm windowsill and they’ll be up in four or five days. Prick them out into individual pots and once they have two sets of adult leaves start aclimatising them to the outdoor world, planting them out in late May or when all threat of frost has passed.
Poppies are the easiest of all seedlings to sow. Just open the seed packet and scatter the seed where you want it to grow. It’s so fine you don’t even have to worry about raking it in. Make sure the soil is free of weeds and will not get overcast by other plants as spring advances because the seed needs light to germinate. There are some fancy seeds out their but if you are on a budget by some poppy seed for cooking from the corner shop and scatter this about by the handful. If you sow now your garden will be covered in poppies by August. Thin out seedlings if necessary.
Shirley Poppies come in a range of subtle, pastel hues and field poppies are a brilliant red with those lovely black centers.