By this week, it?s pretty much carved in stone that it?s now safe to nip out, buy annuals and plunk them into the ground and certainly into containers.

Annuals are the eye candy of the summer garden. In the sprint for survival, they only have one year to grow, flower and then set seed. They make the most of their time with a gorgeous display.

Most annuals will come into flower a few weeks and will then carry on being floriferous until autumn. Some annuals, such as forget-me-nots look like they come back year after year, but they are actually scattering their own seeds at will to reappear next season in a slightly different spot. Other annuals, if constantly deadheaded to keep them from producing seed, will bloom their heads off until frost blackens them.

What a great boon these workhorses of the garden are. They will cover up any of the yellowing foliage of bulbs and fill in holes between perennials, which take a couple of years to bloom profusely. Many will grow in the shade where nothing else survives (impatiens for instance); and others you must have just for their luscious blooms, no matter what (some of the dahlias).

The other great thing about annuals is that you?ll probably be able to buy them with some part of the plant already in bloom so you can get a taste of the actual colour. Most grow so quickly in the dash to make seeds that you?ll have a reasonable show within a few weeks. You can put annuals and perennials together so that while the perennials are still striving towards maturity, you?ll already have a really good display of colour.
Choosing annuals is the hard part mainly because there are so many good ones. Be a little bit adventurous and try some of the new ones:

  • Black: You can have black plants such as Black Taro, Calocasia ?Black Magic? with huge black leaves directly in the garden or as a focal point in a container. Like lots of water. Black potato vine, Ipomea ?Blackie? drips out of containers with terrific style.
  • Purple: Plectranthus ?Mona Lavender? is the best annual there is. It has purpley leaves with a bright deep purple-blue flower which go on and on. The gorgeous foliage withstands drought in or out of a pot. Persian shield (Strobilanthus) has a silver metallic sheen on magenta field with gorgeous long 20 cm leaves.
  • Red: Bloodleaf (Alternanthera spp); there?s also A. ?Purple Knight? which is a good deep colour; Irisine has glossy red leaves almost grass-like and looks fabulous in a container. Dahlias in the Bishop series: ?Bishop of Llandaff?; ?Bishop of Oxford? and so on. They have purple foliage and brilliant blooms.
  • Silver: licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare); horehound, Marrubium incanum is a little used annual that has rich texture in its silver foliage. Both look great in containers.
  • Copper: Copperleaf (Aclypha wilkesiana) has a bronze-green mottle leaf with a red or bronze field. Can use it anywhere.

These are all show off plants which have to be put together carefully with an eye to making a tapestry of colour. Any of these plants will change your mind about flats of impatiens and petunias. They can be used together (black/purple/silver or red/copper) it only needs imagination and water to make these plants shine.


  • Plant three of each plant in containers and keep your colour combinations fairly simple. Don?t dot around a bunch of strong colours and expect to have a pleasing display.
  • To design an annual container pick no more than three colours in either the foliage or the blooms to meld together. Avoid the confetti look of colours dotted around.
  • Match the density of the plants with the size of the container. The bigger it is the most you can safely have of each plant without looking messy.
  • Once annuals start to go to seed, nip off the dead heads with your finger nails or a pair of little Japanese scissors to keep them fresh and lively.