One of the best things to do on a cold, wet December day is to think back to those sunny days in the summer and reflect on what worked well in the garden. Sometimes it is a vista or combination of plants that have matured gracefully and now perform well year after year. At other times it is just a moment when some of the short lived annuals all come together and you stand and look and admire. Within a couple of weeks the garden will have moved on.
In one quadrant of the new flower garden this year we allowed a number of self sown annuals to develop whilst some of the new perennials were being planted and growing on. The annuals included Love-in-the-mist (both the blues of Nigella damascena and the white Nigella hispanica ‘African bride’), Corncockle (Agrostemma githago) and some beautiful mixed colour pink poppies with their thin tissue paper petals (Papaver rhoeas ‘Falling in Love’). This informal combination grew freely amongst the tall biennial Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus ‘Auricular Eyed’).
The effect was charming and created a relaxed ‘meadow-style’ bed. Along with the mass of different colours and the texture of the fresh green foliage the bed also had movement. The different components swayed and reacted to the breeze adding an additional dimension.
All of these annuals cut well and, if appropriately conditioned, allow you to enjoy these flowers for many days in a vase indoors.
The pictures here were all taken in the first week of June. It was a sweet spot when all the flowers were emerging together and in their prime. As well as the overall effect I also like to look at the detail of the individual flowers. The tiny, delicate rows of fine dots in the Corncockle and the blue wash in the centre of the Nigella hispanica are particularly lovely.
At its peak this meadow style planting was certainly a triumph. However, I think it is worth highlighting that it is relatively short lived. This is certainly a downside in a garden where you want to try and create year-round interest. Once they have set seed the show is over and you do need to have something planted that will follow on. If you want a show next year you do of course have to leave the seed heads to mature and set seed. The Nigella seed heads look particularly striking and are well worth leaving to add interest to the late summer border.
My conclusion therefore is that whilst self sown annuals do indeed provide a spectacular show, in a garden setting you do need to set them amongst other follow-on perennials or small shrubs that can continue the performance into July, August and the autumn.