Favorite Spring Annuals?

A recent article by Linda Wesley in Fine Gardening magazine has inspired me to think more about using annuals to supplement the spring color in my flower beds. Yes, I have spring bulbs and early-blooming perennials, but there’s still an awful lot of bare brown spots in April and even in May where later-blooming perennials have yet to make their presence felt. Eventually I hope most of those areas will be covered by bulbs like Muscari, Crocus, Scylla, and species tulips – but in the meantime I feel the call of the annuals.

I had initially been considering pansies, stock, and forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica). (Though I haven’t been able to find a retailer who sells forget-me-not seed.)


But the article got me thinking about other alternatives I have never grown before, including:

  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis).
  • Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena).
  • California poppies (Eschscholzia californica). (Frost tolerant, according to the article. Who knew?)
  • Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas).

A couple of the annuals mentioned by Fine Gardening are not on my list of options. Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), because Judy doesn’t like snapdragons. Also sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), which I have never grown, because they grow so tall. I want annuals that will graciously fade into the background to make room for the perennials and summer annuals.

So, which cool weather annuals have been most successful for you, and which are your favorites?

16 Comments on “Favorite Spring Annuals?”

  1. Calendulas seem to do the best down here in Kansas City and are available at better retailers. They were a staple when I grew in Sydney and will be asking my nursery to start trying some of the more exciting new varieties. Pansies have become as obligatory as mums. If they become pedestrian, I want none of that. Look forward to your reports.

  2. I love forget-me-nots – I’m surprised you cannot find seed. They are supposedly biennials, but they don’t seem to understand that. My solution in spring is lots and lots of daffodils – the rabbits don’t eat them – but I added some other bulbs this past year. Sweet peas are difficult to control once established. I have iris and peonies, but I’m planning on abandoning them. Poppies sound like a great replacement.

  3. I actually really like Poppies in spring…especially the Opium Poppy…there are some beautiful blue/purple varieties…an they all re-seed, so you have some every year. I was never overly-fond of the orange California Poppies…but they have them in a few different colors now, and I’ve been meaning to give them a try 🙂

  4. In my experience, forget-me-nots make a great understory for bulbs. They do however have a few positives and negatives. They readily self-seed and can crowd out other plants that are coming along early in the season. Another draw back is that they go brown and are prone to mildew after they are finished flowering. I yank most of mine out the moment they fade and leave only enough to re-seed (but not take over) for next year.
    Calendula self-seed themselves in my front garden every year. They tend to come into their own mid-summer (a little late for bulbs) and with deadheading flower well into fall. The flowers are bright and colorful, but the seed heads that emerge are a bit ugly. Another good reason for deadheading.
    I love pansies for early in the season. I usually buy plants and that could get a bit pricey if you are going for a massed look. Not sure how easy they are to grow from seeds.
    BTW I thought you might like to know that the link you left on my blog does not send me back here, but takes me to a dead end at your profile. Fortunately, I had made note of your address. To up traffic you might want to make sure that profile has a link back to your blog.

    • Thanks for the info on forget-me-not and calendula. Sounds like calendula is not what I want in terms of bloom time. Also, thanks for letting me know about the link problem, maybe there was a typo when I put in my url. Funny thing, when I click on your link I also go to your profile, not your blog. Strange.

  5. Thank you for visiting my blog, lovely to hear from new people! I too love forget me nots, they are great for filling in spaces early on in the year. Going to sow some Cosmos for later on when sometimes borders need a boost.

  6. I wonder if Cosmos would work in springtime? I’ve never tried them until after frost, but they’re definitely frost-tolerant in autumn. If you got them good and established inside or in a coldframe or a greenhouse, perhaps they would do just fine. And yes, Snapdragons and Pansies would be a pick for me, too. Another thought–how about a blooming groundcover perennial like Lamium? It comes in so many varieties and shades of foliage and blooms–from white to purple to pink. Mine bloom from April through October. Lamium is a beautiful, carefree plant that would be a nice companion to spring bulbs. (Mine are growing in separate areas, so I might have to try mixing them myself!) I didn’t realize Poppies are frost-tolerant, so thanks for that info, too.

  7. And there was me yesterday ripping out fistfuls of forget-me-nots that had sown themselves from the spring’s flowers and formed dense clumps across the space I was saving for hardy geraniums! They seem to grow, flower and set seed here very fast, we often see two generations in a year.
    I like to grow wallflowers from seed to flower with the tulips in late spring, along with a few self-sown forget-me-nots. Opium poppies self-sow here and I love them, though they are more summer-flowering than spring.
    I sow many annuals each year, some new and some old favourites such as calendula, nicotiana, gypsophila, various salvias and grasses. I’m a fan of snapdragons I must confess, though I tend to prefer them in single colours to mixed so they are not so brash. This year two of my favourites were linaria maroccana, which are 1-2 foot high with small snapdragon-like flowers in a bright mix of colours which I loved, and a pretty annual gypsophila (G. muralis Gypsy) with pale pink flowers.

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