Buy your annuals now but watch out for frost

A cornflower, once an iconic plant in cornfields but now rarely found growing wild.
A cornflower, once an iconic plant in cornfields but now rarely found growing wild.

Annual flowers may well be fleeting by comparison in terms of longevity as plants but they have such an important role to play in our summer displays.

Visit any garden centre around now and you’ll find hosts of people around the half-hardy plug-plants section, examining everything from asters to zinnias.

Buy by all means but remain cautious about the weather.

If you’re going to plant them out be prepared to offer some protection against frost until May is well advanced. If they’re destined to face a holding situation indoors as mine are, offer an environment with full light and on the cool side to encourage continuing steady growth.

Hardy annual displays are arguably the least expensive and easiest option when it comes to covering bare border patches with summer colour.

Agrostemma, anagalis, candytuft, cornflower, calendula, cerinthe, larkspur, love-in-a-mist, popular names that just trip off the tongue.

Try the annual chrysanthemum carinatum Sunshine Mix if you want a riot of colour from one packet but you’ll find lots more by browsing the seed choice in any store with a gardening section.

The price varies from £2 to £3 per variety according to the type but the seeds can be counted in hundreds, often more than enough to fill a square metre gap in the border.

Choose a sunny spot if you can. Sprinkle a general fertiliser over the surface and fork it lightly in. Tread gently on the patch to make it semi-firm then rake it level.

Rather than broadcast the seed, use the back of the rake to make drills 15 centimetres apart.

Sow into these, thinly first, then more densely to achieve even coverage.

Lightly cover the seeds with soil and when germination occurs you can easily differentiate between the weeds and flower seedlings. As the plants develop and mingle the lines disappear.

Some of the taller annuals will need twiggy supports and these should be put in place at an early stage to obviate wind damage and bent stems.

A little extra work yes, but a small price to pay for the dazzling display!