They may be short-lived, but annuals and biennials make up for their
brief spell in the limelight with a wealth of dazzling flowers. Some
also sport colorful foliage, and most are easy to grow from seed, sown
direct or indoors. Learn more about how to make these flowering plants a part of your garden design with the ideas below.
Creating Fleeting Combinations
Shrubs and perennials can leave gardens looking underplanted until they become more established, but with a sprinkling of annuals and biennials you can fill your borders with blooms without cramping the permanent plants. Hardy annuals can be sown where required for almost instant effect—although they may not germinate if sown too close to shrubs—while biennials have a two-year life cycle and give color early the following year. Many annuals and biennials, including love-in-a-mist (Nigella) and forget-me-nots (Myosotis), self-seed freely; you may only need to sow once to enjoy them in your garden for many years to come.
Making Foils of Foliage
Although the flowering annuals draw the eye, foliage plants provide
equally compelling displays. Multicolored coleus, with patterned leaves
in rich purples, reds, yellows, and greens, are a match for any bloom,
while tall Perilla frutescens provides the perfect backdrop to colorful
flowers. Silver-leaf and trailing annuals are useful foils for container
displays, or for something a little more dramatic, consider Euphorbia
marginata with its tall stems of green and white leaves and the exotic
hand-shaped foliage of Ricinus communis.
Meadow planting is increasingly popular, not just because it has a natural beauty, but once established they are low-maintenance—simply cut back once or twice a year. The brightest and most beautiful annual flowers thrive on very poor soils, so some may require you to strip off the topsoil before sowing your seed mixes. You can also sow annual mixes to add sparkle to perennial meadow flower displays, creating a backdrop of subtle color topped off with bright poppies and corn marigolds.
Planting Classic Containers
The long flowering season and colorful blooms of annuals make them the
perfect plants for pots and baskets. In the spring garden centers are
brimming with traditional favorites, including petunias, impatiens, and
geraniums in every shade under the sun. However, most of these are
tender, so keep your plants under cover until early summer to avoid
losses. Although it’s tempting to cram your containers with lots of
different flowers, their effect will be lost if they’re all competing
for attention. To prevent this, select one feature plant, such as a
white-flowered marguerite, and team it with matching flowers and foliage
Brightening the Shade
Most annuals and biennials will not burst into bloom unless flooded with sunlight, but a select few thrive in some shade. Natural woodlanders such as foxgloves (Digitalis) grow best in the dappled light beneath deciduous trees, while annuals that flourish in partial shade include sweetly scented tobacco plants (Nicotiana), colorful impatiens, and violas with fall-, winter-, spring-, and summer-flowering forms, so you’re sure to find one that will suit your conditions.