It seems, perhaps, a bit over keen to be sowing seeds for next summer before this one is hardly over, but bear with me because sowing hardy annual seeds in September has totally transformed the way I garden, and I’m more than a teeny bit excited about it!
I don’t have much in the way of spare time at the moment, so really I want maximum glamour and style in my garden for the least possible effort. I also want shed loads of flowers to cut for my home too. Oh, and I don’t want to spend a fortune! Which all sounds ridiculously demanding but the good news is that an early autumn planting of hardy annual seeds scores on every count, and could hardly be easier. What is more, many varieties come into flower earlier, grow far bigger and are often more floriferous if sown now. So if you fancy borders, raised beds or containers full of the sort of beautiful, airy flowers that bloom for weeks on end and give you armfuls of gorgeous blooms for a few quid and minimum work, here is how it has worked for me.
Come late august and September, I start clearing some patches in my flowerbeds, and in my cutting patch, where annual/bedding type plants have gone over and been yanked out for the compost heap, perennial plants have been cut back or moved and generally where late summer sprawl has been chopped back to leave areas for annuals to flower in the following late spring and early summer.
On a day when it is not windy, I clear the patches, making sure any weeds are removed, and rake/fork over just a bit to loosen any clods and create a nice fine, crumble-topping textured soil base. No need to add anything to make the soil richer, most annuals like a fairly poor soil, just make sure there is decent drainage and it is a nice, sunshiny spot – deep shade and annuals don’t mix unfortunately.
Then, I water the area, (so much better before you scatter the seed, rather than watching your seeds all swim away in a slooch from the watering can or hose!), and simply sow the seeds as per instruction on the packet. Then I stick a plant label in the ground so I remember what is where and don’t yank out the seedlings a few months later thinking they are weeds. Yes, gutting! If I’m feeling particularly cunning, I only plant half the seeds, and keep the rest to plant the following mid spring to get a second harvest of flowers in mid to late summer when the autumn sown lot have finished blooming. This way one packet of seed can provide months of summer flowers. They will look a bit like weeds over the winter and you may well need to pull a few out so the others have room to grow. Feels awful but just chuck them away and don’t worry about the little seedlings left being nuked by the frosts or snow – they really are hard as nails.
Here are some of my favourite annuals that love being direct sown in the ground in the autumn, come up bigger and bolder for it, and will add height, and colour and a delicious meadow-y glamour to your plot. They are my stalwarts, and the photos show the flowers in my garden, grown as described. They all make wonderful cut flowers.
Nigella. (Love-in-the-mist) Blue or white varieties romp away from an autumn sowing and will scatter their seed with such rampant promiscuity you will probably be pulling handfuls out as weeds every spring as I do. Loves growing in gravel I have discovered. The flowers are so pretty and even the seedpods are funky enough to add to bouquets.
Calendula. Brightest, clearest orange – zingy gorgeousness that looks swoony with blues, purples or nearly blacks. ‘Indian Prince’ is my favourite.
Cornflowers. Blue, almost black or pink – all flower for weeks on end if you deadhead regularly.
Ammi majus. Ahhh, airy, white clouds of meadow-y loveliness! Pretty in the garden and as a cut flower. It looks elegant on its own arranged in a simple glass bottle, but happy to waft graciously in a mixed bunch.
Orlaya grandiflora. A bit like a less hazy version of Ammi, tighter and more definite blooms with larger petals – another prolific self -seeder.
Poppies. Not long living as a cut flower but so much prettiness in such gorgeous colours, who can resist? The towering ”papaver somniferum” poppies have beautiful soft grey-green seed pods that look stunning in a mixed bunch of flowers.
Larkspur. A bit like delphiniums. I am relatively new to growing them, but love their cottage garden charm and considerable height.
Scabious. My favourite one, ‘Black Cat’ is deepest wine red, almost black, with the softest velvet-like texture, plus longs stems and great vase life.
I have had so much pleasure both in discovering how wonderful all these easy natured, prolific annuals have looked in the garden but also the way that the more you cut them, (snip above a bud, not to the ground), the more they bloom. I’m totally smitten, and hope you might be too. Happy planting!
Thanks for reading!
PS. I purchase most of my flower seeds from Sarah Raven – so what you see here is what you get – also, some of my photos can be seen on the SR website!