Can you grow Annuals in a Perennial Flower Border?

Annuals are not always true to their name as many which we grow from seed each year are in fact perennial plants that originate from warmer climates than our own. True annuals are often more delicate, etherial and ephemeral elements in our gardens and I would encourage everyone to grow at least some every year – Nigella, Clarkia, Limnanthes and Nemophilla are just a few of my many favorites.

The tender perennials we can grow as annuals are some of the most useful as they have the ability to not only flower over a long period, but their adaption to warmer temperatures often means that they can cope with the heat of summer better; of course I am generalising here. Some of the most useful are Salvia farinacea, Petunia, Begonia, Impatiens and Lobelia.

Growing your own from seed is not difficult, but the drawback with this second group of annuals is that many take a very long time to mature and start flowering. Last year I grew a wide range of annuals, both hardy and half hardy, but my greatest problem was with one of the most useful – Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria’.  Sown indoors on the 19th of February they germinated well and were grown on under cover until the middle of May when it was warm enough to risk them outside. Early summer proved to be cool and dry with the result that my small plants grew slowly, getting taller and taller, but not flowering. It was not until mid August with plants much taller than they should have been that they started to flower. Perhaps I should have kept them in the greenhouse until the end of June.

Salvia farinacea

Salvia farinacea, August in Michael King's garden.

To answer the question posed by this post – yes you can and should consider adding annuals to your perennial borders – but don’t. rely upon them to play a leading role. Some years they will astound you with their vigor and others not.

This year I am taking a rest and will only be growing a few annuals to slip in amongst my perennials. Of these the most important will be Antirrhinum braun-blanquetii, this tall growing species from Spain and Portugal makes candelabras of soft yellow flowers that should have the stature to hold their own in the midst of a perennial border.

Now is the time to get hold of the seeds you need and get sowing; these perennial annuals are well worth the trouble, but apart from the few most popular varieties rarely will you find them for sale in your local garden center.

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7 Responses to Can you grow Annuals in a Perennial Flower Border?

  1. I am really enjoying your blog and hope you make it to Blotanical soon. I don’t use annuals in my perennial beds if I have to buy or grow them—too busy running my nursery. But I love the annuals that come back on their own like nigella, viola, opium poppies, coreopsis, alyssum, nicotiana. I am also a big fan of biennials that return on their own like foxglove and mullens. It is always exciting to see where they will pop up.

    • Michael says:

      Dear Carolyn,
      Yes, the hardy annuals that keep on returning are a delight, the trick is being able to recognize their seedlings which is not all that easy. Biennials are really indispensable as many flower in that intermediate period between spring and summer. I also grow lupins as annuals/biennials as after flowering they are a mess.
      I hope you didn’t find my post about snowdrops and hellebores too offensive. I really have a love hate relationship with them.
      I will keep following your blog for sure. M

  2. I was given your book for Christmas – and I am delighted to find your blog, which Helen / Patient Gardener (http://patientgardener.wordpress.com) told me about
    K

    • Michael says:

      Dear Karen,
      Thanks for getting in touch. I have enjoyed a brief look (so far) at your site. What I will be doing is looking through your list of links as I am keen to get in touch with people who share my interest in perennials. I will be publishing a new book soon via the blog on my ideas for perennial meadows which may be of interest to you.
      Will keep in touch,
      Michael

  3. Hi – come across your blog as I am tasked with approving it for Blotanical. Love it, I am just discovering meadows and priarie gardening so you blog is right up my street.

    • Michael says:

      Dear Helen,
      Thank you for the quick and favorable response to my application to Blotanical. It is good that you left a comment on my blog as the links via blotanical emails did not work!
      Blogging is new to me and there is a lot to get to grips with. I have found your site and enjoyed reading. I will be following up on some of your recommended links as I am eager to find like minded people to share ideas with. Will Keep in touch.
      Michael

      • Bob Benditzky says:

        You are doing a great job with your blog!! There is SO much to learn. Keep up the good work. I love your posts.

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