Design With Annuals and Biennials

Get ideas for using annuals and biennials in your garden.
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Summer Annuals Grow Fast and Cover Bare Ground

Summer Annuals Grow Fast and Cover Bare Ground

Create a free flowing mix of annual flowers of all different colors, sizes, and forms. Use the design basics of color, texture, scale, and form to create a visually appealing annuals garden.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

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.

Going Wild

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 plants. 

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. 

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