While the sun shines?
Christopher Lloyd's garden
at Great Dixter is renowned for the planting effects
he achieves by using quick-growing annuals that flower
through the summer. Here he gives some tips on some
of his favourites and shows why now, rather than earlier,
is the time for sowing their seeds
There are several advantages in sowing the seeds of
flowers in May rather than earlier. First, the season
is on your side. Best to sow
them in containers under glass, but nothing more than
sun heat will be needed.
Once established the seedlings, either pricked
out into seed trays (I generally prefer a wide spacing
of 7 x 4) or potted individually, will not need to be
kept waiting before they can be planted out. So there
is no worry about their becoming starved or cramped
before they get into the garden. Third, there are a
number of rather tender
annuals that are far more easily handled after a late
I like to sow dahlias for bedding now. If they catch
cold, from premature hardening off, their leaves turn
yellow and they remain thoroughly miserable for a long
while. A strain
I am growing this year, and have enjoyed before, is
Collarette Dandy (from Thompson & Morgan). The flowers
are semi-single but inside the outer rays is a ring
or collar of petals of reduced size, often in a contrasting
Sown in mid May,
the plants will be right for planting out in mid July
and will already be showing flower buds.
They will make a good follow-on to foxgloves, Canterbury
bells or sweet williams, among others. If I remove the
spent flower heads (and a length of stalk behind them,
for the sake of looks) fairly regularly, I shall have
them flowering for three months.
Zinnias are also best sown in May. They'll germinate
in a matter of four days. Grow them in individual pots.
I like the largest growing, dahlia-flowered kinds, like
Giant Double mixed (Suttons). They will grow to 3ft
and have a wonderful range of colours. Again, they hate
to be cold in the early stages. I am also growing a
dwarf (1ft) strain called 'Chippendale', in which the
fully double flowers are mahogany brown but the rays
are tipped orange. It flowers for ages.
Closely related to Zinnia is Tithonia rotundifolia 'Torch'
(5ft) (from Chiltern Seeds). Its single flowers are
brilliant, pure orange. This is a far more imposing
plant than the smaller, more cramped-looking 'Goldfinger'.
Three plants spaced 3ft apart will make a good patch.
Give each plant a stake
and a tie when it has reached about half its full height.
Salvia coccinea 'Lady in Red' (2ft) is far more elegant
than S. splendens, which is the normal choice for bedding
in public gardens. 'Lady in Red' contrasts well with
the purplish-blue Salvia farinacea 'Victoria', though
that is a little slower off the mark as to when it starts
An annual climber
that gives everyone a thrill is the dazzling morning
glory, Ipomoea tricolor 'Heavenly Blue' (Chiltern Seeds).
That loathes cold but can be planted out in late June
or you can grow it in pots throughout its life –
just sink the whole pot into the soil. It crumples up
at midday, so you need to spend some mornings at home.
Coleus hybrids, usually grown as pot plants for the
amazing range and patterns of colour in their leaves,
are excellent bedding plants for late summer and up
till the onset of cold weather. Sowing them in May (preferably
early), I grow three seed strains from Thompson &
Morgan, pot the seedlings individually, growing them
on under cold glass and then plant them out in early
July, deciding then how to arrange them for leaf colour
combinations. Some sort of grouping is advisable so
that the result does not look fidgety. Coleus are good
in a shady border,
if the ground is in good condition and there is moisture
I also sow marigolds and Cosmos bipinnatus (the Sonata
strain, this year) in May, not because they would not
flourish from an earlier sowing but because they develop
so very quickly.
Christopher Lloyd’s garden at Great
Dixter is open to the public.
Seel also the Helping Hands workshop:
annuals/perennials from seed
our Superstore to see its fantastic range of seeds
reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com