Top 10 hardy annuals for the garden

Hardy annuals are among the easiest to grow and most economical of all flowers. Graham Rice looks at some of his favourites, many of them winners of the Award of Garden Merit

Link to supplier details and more infoEverlasting Australian beauty

Better known as helipterum, Rhodanthe chlorocephala subsp. rosea ‘Pierrot’ is an attractive long-flowering bloom makes an impressive garden annual, a long-lasting cut flower, and can also be dried for the autumn and winter. The white flowers have a bright yellow ring around a black centre, making a very attractive contrast and are carried on long upright stems. They’re at their best from mid-summer into the autumn. Also given a Fleuroselect Quality Award. 45cm (18in).

Link to supplier details and more informationLadybird poppy

Papaver commutatum 'Ladybird' is one of the most dramatic of easy annuals, like the familiar native field poppy on steroids. The foliage is nicely divided but the glory is in the flowers. Vivid shining scarlet, the colour is bright and intense, but not gaudy, and each petal features a bold black blotch at the base. The plants are neat and bushy, and if dead-headed promptly will bloom for a long summer season. In autumn, leave a few flowers to self sow. 38-45cm (15-18in). AGM

Link to supplier details and more infoLacy and delicate

Orlaya grandiflora is an annual that combines well with so many other plants –  and which is bright in its own right. Featuring prettily-divided fresh green foliage, the slightly domed heads are more colourful than similar Ammi majus. The small central florets are surrounded by a ring of much larger ones, creating more impact. Good in dry soil, and an excellent cut flower too. ‘White Lace’, also with an AGM, is similar but slightly taller. 45-60cm (18-24in). AGM

Link to supplier details and more infoNasturtiums, but not as you know them

Nasturtiums, especially dwarf nasturtiums, are notorious: their flowers are so often smothered by the foliage that all you see is leaves. In most soils, plants in the Whirlybird Series not only hold their brightly coloured flowers above the leaves but the flowers look upwards showing themselves off to the best effect. There are six colours; for the best display keep the plants dryish and grow in soil that is not too rich. 30cm (12in). AGM

Link to supplier detailsAn essential love-in-a-mist

Nigella damascena 'Miss Jekyll'. Love-in-a-mist is justifiably one of the most popular of all hardy annuals, from soon after germination until the autumn seedheads, this is a lovely plant. Finely divided leaves make an attractive rosette from which spring vertical stems carrying sky blue flowers are followed by inflated seed pods. The flowers are lovely in the garden and when cut, the seed pods too, and the green pods with their purple stripes can be dried to biscuit brown. 45cm (18in). AGM

Link to supplier details and more infoPoached egg plant

Limnanthes douglasii is a splendidly cheerful low annual, with its poached-egg flowers set against divided, fresh green leaves. It has the happy capability of enjoying conditions a little more moist than will suit many hardy annuals – even in winter. Once you have it, you’ll find self sown seedlings that germinate in the autumn will make lush mounds of leaves where other winter annuals might rot off and then they flower prolifically in spring. 15-20cm (6-8in). AGM

Link to supplier details and more infoBee magnet

Echium vulgare 'Blue Bedder' is one of the best bee plants of all. You can often hear the bees buzzing on the blooms before you’re close enough to see them. Bright pink buds quickly open to rich, sparkling, violet-tinted, blue flowers over slightly rasping foliage for a long summer season. The rounded plants are ideal in a sunny place and happy in relatively poor soil. They will also often self sow for the following year. 30-45cm (15-18in). AGM

Link to supplier details and more infoA loveable sunflower

Helianthus annuus 'Valentine'. This is a sunflower with a little more style than most. Its soft, creamy white rays become a richer, deeper yellow shade close to the deep black centres and the 6in/15cm flowers are not too large, just right for the size of the plant. Like all sunflowers, ‘Valentine’ is easy to grow; just protect the young seedlings from slugs, and it lasts very well in water if you cut the stems just as the flowers are opening and use flower food. 1.5m (5ft). AGM

Link to supplier details and more infoEasy cottage garden colour

A regular star of RHS plant trials since 1953, Linaria maroccana Fairy Bouquet Group contains both pastel shades and brighter colours, and many bicolours. The dainty little flowers – like miniature antirrhinums – line the vertical stems which branch to form secondary spikes as the main spike fades. Blooming for a couple of months in summer, this is a lovely flower for informal summer cottage-style bouquets. Also worth sowing in the autumn. 38-45cm (15-18in). AGM

Link to supplier details and more infoDainty cut flowers

Ammi majus ‘Graceland’ - dark green, feathery foliage makes the perfect background for an unusually long-lasting display of flat, lace-like heads of dainty white flowers opening from green buds. The upright plants are ideal among perennials or other tall annuals, and are especially attractive to bees, butterflies and other insects. They also make valuable cut flowers where they bring a lightness and airiness to displays of bolder flowers in pastels or brighter shades. 1.4m (4½ft). AGM

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