Su­per­charge your bor­ders

Now is the time to or­der gar­den an­nu­als, says John Hoy­land

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - John Hoy­land is gar­den con­sul­tant at Glyn­de­bourne

Ahuge part of the plea­sure of gar­den­ing lies in an­tic­i­pa­tion. Some­times, it’s pic­tur­ing loung­ing, decades hence, in the shade of the sapling you’re in the process of plant­ing or imag­in­ing the taste of fu­ture fruits as you’re prick­ing out tomato seedlings. how­ever, the great­est source of gar­den day­dream­ing comes in the com­pact, neatly pack­aged form of the seed cat­a­logue. There are few greater de­lights for the ded­i­cated gar­dener, how­ever large or small their plot, than set­tling in by the fire on a cold win­ter’s evening with a glass of some­thing sus­tain­ing and read­ing through a glossy tome.

Sup­pli­ers send their cat­a­logues out early, some ar­riv­ing at the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber, but mine re­main un­opened un­til the end of the year and the post-christmas lull. There is lit­tle to do in the gar­den then and less­en­ing de­sire to be out in the cold air and grey light, so it’s the per­fect time to con­jure with the colours, per­fumes and ex­u­ber­ance of high sum­mer.

Wiser gar­den­ers will have got their or­ders in and al­ready sown sweet peas, um­bel­lif­ers and other hardy an­nu­als. Mine will be planted in Fe­bru­ary and will soon catch up.

Paper cat­a­logues are ex­pen­sive to pro­duce and most seed sup­pli­ers now con­cen­trate on the in­ter­net to sell their seeds, so, in re­cent times, mak­ing seed or­ders has meant sit­ting with the ipad as well as with printed cat­a­logues. The in­ter­net al­lows sup­pli­ers to pro­vide more in­for­ma­tion and im­ages than they could ever af­ford to in a hard copy.

Sarah Raven’s web­site tempts with beau­ti­fully dreamy pho­to­graphs of an­nu­als and advice from her ex­pe­ri­ence of grow­ing them. Al­though not as sump­tu­ously il­lus­trated, Seeda­holic has lots of cul­ti­va­tion tips and back­ground in­for­ma­tion about the seeds it sells, which makes for an en­gross­ing read.

Of the paper cat­a­logues, Chiltern Seeds is in­vari­ably a good read and its pages are

packed with ex­cit­ing plants. Spe­cial Plants Seeds has a much shorter list, but there are al­ways un­usual an­nu­als in there and, al­though Plant World Seeds of­fers fewer an­nu­als, it, too, of­ten in­cludes sev­eral outof-the-or­di­nary va­ri­eties.

I sus­pect that, like most gar­den­ers, I will make lists of ev­ery­thing I want to sow and then re­make them a sec­ond time, then a third time, in or­der to buy what, re­al­is­ti­cally, I can ex­pect to grow. The rest can wait for an­other year.

The bulk of my list—in fact, in some years, it’s the en­tire list—will be an­nu­als. No other group of plants is more colour­ful, more florif­er­ous, longer-flow­er­ing or eas­ier to grow than an­nu­als. An­nu­als al­low you ef­fort­lessly to ring the changes, bring­ing a fresh­ness and live­li­ness to your gar­den that peren­ni­als and shrubs don’t.

My list al­ways con­tains a mix­ture of the rare and the com­mon or gar­den, as well as some old re­li­ables and a sprin­kling of new in­tro­duc­tions. Al­ways at the top of the page are Ammi ma­jus and the denser flow­ers of A. vis­naga, el­e­gant white um­bel­lif­ers that will com­ple­ment any colour scheme. The light­ness and airi­ness of these are es­sen­tial both to weave through bor­ders and to have as cut flow­ers.

Cleomes are an­other per­ma­nent fea­ture of my or­der. Apart from sun­flow­ers, there are few other an­nu­als that have their stature. In re­cent years, Per­si­caria ori­en­talis has joined them in my club of favourite tall an­nu­als. If you haven’t grown it al­ready, do give it a go: it fea­tures im­pos­ing, 8ft-tall, bam­boo-like stems from which dan­gle deep-red velour tas­sels.

If you don’t like it, don’t grow it again. Not hav­ing to make per­ma­nent de­ci­sions about your plant­ing scheme is one of the ad­van­tages of an­nu­als.

Which­ever ones you choose to grow, you’re guar­an­teed to get vi­brant flow­ers through­out the sum­mer, par­tic­u­larly if you pick stan­dards such as pop­pies, cos­mos, an­tir­rhinums, marigolds, sweet peas and zin­nias. The list could go on, ex­actly as my seed or­der will. With so much choice, it’s easy to grow some­thing novel or that you haven’t tried be­fore.

Every year, seed sup­pli­ers and plant breed­ers in­tro­duce new va­ri­eties, of­ten

dwarf forms of pop­u­lar plants. There’s a new dwarf sun­flower avail­able, which I won’t be try­ing (I want my sun­flow­ers to reach for the sky), but I will sow one of the new nas­tur­tiums that are said to have lu­mi­nous red-and-gold flow­ers.

In no time at all, sum­mer will be here and the seeds we or­der now will have grown into daz­zlingly colour­ful, per­fumed flow­ers fill­ing every part of the gar­den. Take time to en­joy them, be­cause, by then, of course, the bulb cat­a­logues will have ar­rived and we will be dream­ing of pots of tulips and the first daf­fodils.

Pre­ced­ing pages: Bold pink Zin­nia el­e­gans cre­ate a strik­ing mix with orange Titho­nias and Ar­gy­ran­the­mum, yel­low mar­guerites. Above: The glo­ri­ous an­nual border at As­ton Pot­tery in Ox­ford­shire in­cludes a fiery mix of Tagetes Orange Gem, Titho­nia Fi­esta del Sol, sun­flow­ers, Cal­en­dula Orange Sun­rise, cos­mos and nico­tiana, sown from seeds and cut­tings. These will flower un­til the first frosts

Cos­mos bip­in­na­tus Dou­ble Click with C. bip­in­na­tus Candy Stripe. Cos­mos are easy to grow and pro­duce more flow­ers per square yard than any other plant, says plantswoman Sarah Raven. New this year is rich carmine Dou­ble Click Cran­ber­ries (see box, page 86)

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