Aching for annuals

by James Alexander-Sinclair

I don't usually grow much in the way of annuals in my garden (apart from dahlias and poppies, of course).

White Nigella flowerAre you snowed under with seed catalogues? It seems that even before the summer stutters to an end we have to start thinking about next year.

I don't usually grow much in the way of annuals in my garden (apart from dahlias and poppies, of course). Mostly because I'm a bit short of space for any more plants but also because of laziness. I am beginning to see the error of my ways ... I want more. Not so much the petunias or busy Lizzies (even though white ones are a very effective way of making a shady corner glow) but something exotic: annuals that are more Carmen Miranda than Beryl Reid.

There are five annual stalwarts here. The first two are used to fill the gaps that I occasionally tear in my borders. Cosmos bipinnatus (tall, feathery leaves, endlessly flowery) and Nicotiana sylvestris, which looks slightly spectral and smells delicious in the evenings. The third is the irrepressible Nigella that seeds itself in the gravel under my pergola.

The other two are climbers. The first is Ipomoea purpurea, morning glory, which covers a great expanse of wall outside the kitchen. I like to go out every morning to count the flowers: on a warm day they are all gone by lunchtime. The other is Cobaea scandens, which grows happily out of a pot putting out pretty ovoid leaves with inquisitive tendrils that stick to the brickwork like flies' feet. Very late in the season it produces propeller-like buds from which emerge gorgeous flowers that change from limey green to deep purple-blue as they age.

But this is no longer enough. Next year I want cornflowers (a pretty easy option: direct sow where you need them in spring) in blue and purple; I yearn for chirpy orange calendulas; I pine for the delicate pink Nicotiana mutabilis and, more than anything, I want Persicaria officinalis. I met this plant for the first time at the RHS Show at the Inner Temple a week or so ago. It formed the backbone of some spectacular annual beds - along with Ricinis communis (the castor oil plant), which is also on my wish list. Persicaria officinalis (or orientalis) is about 2m high with sturdy stems that don't need staking and heavenly hanging pink flowers. In America it goes by the name of Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate, which is another big selling point.

I'm sure there are lots of other interesting annuals out there that I'm yet to discover. Anybody else looking for something different?

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Gardeners' World Web User 29/09/2008 at 08:35

I grow several perennial persicarias but didn't know there was this gorgeous annual form. Thank you for introducing us.

Gardeners' World Web User 29/09/2008 at 15:58

I went along to the Inner Temple show and I was wondering what the stately pink-flowered plant was. Now I know, I'm tempted to grow it too.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/09/2008 at 10:47

I am trying to get seeds of Persicaria orientalis, no luck so far. Can anyone help?

Gardeners' World Web User 08/10/2008 at 17:20

Try Great Dixter, Janet. (Christopher Lloyd's great garden in Sussex: they do mail order)

Gardeners' World Web User 23/10/2008 at 20:16

first time ive have grown double begonias had a very good display now ive dug them up can you save the tubers (ithink that is what you call them) and replant next year

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