I used to fill my borders with perennials only, but then I discovered Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia). And I realized: why wouldn’t you mix annuals with the perennials? They add so much color over such a long period.

Mexican Sunflower mixes well with perennials

This year I’m hoping to mix in more annuals than usual. Here are the species and varieties I’ve ordered.

(I’m thinking I’ll start a few of each inside and direct sow the rest of the seed once the snow has melted. We’ll see how it goes. It will be interesting to compare the performance of seed started indoors and those directly sown.)

Cleome ‘Sparkler’. Not the variety I ordered but close.

Cleome (Cleome hassleriana). We ordered 2 varieties: ‘Violet Queen’ and ‘White Queen’. Cleomes are known to self-sow in climates a bit warmer than mine. I like Cleomes, but haven’t had great success with them. In past years I have bought a few mature plants on occasion and tucked them in among the perennials.

Giverny cosmos
Lilac Cosmos at Giverny

Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus). My history with Cosmos is pretty much like my experience with Cleome. They do not self-sow in our garden, though I’ve heard they will do so in warmer zones. This year I’ve ordered 3 interesting varieties – ‘Sensation Radiance’, ‘Apricot Lemonade’, and ‘Cupcakes White’. All have single blooms, which I much prefer to the doubles. Both Cosmos and Cleome are late season annuals.

‘Italian White’ sunflower

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus). After Mexican Sunflower, ‘Italian White’ Sunflowers are my favorite annuals. This is a branching sunflower with many smaller blooms. We’ll plant them again this year, and also try a second sunflower variety for the first time: ‘Lemon Queen’, which is another branching type with soft yellow flowers.

Amaranth ‘New Mexico’. Photo from Select Seeds.

Amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus). ‘New Mexico’. Hypochondriacus? I tried unsuccessfully to find out the origins of this species name. Does this plant inspire imaginary diseases? I would like to know. In any case, this is the first time I am trying Amaranth. I think it will contrast nicely with the Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) in the sunny bed north of the ‘Donald Wyman’ Crabapple. Also, songbirds eat the seeds. Known by several common names, including Prince’s Feather and Love-Lies-Bleeding.

Mexican Sunflower

Mexican Sunflower ‘Torch’ (T. rotundifolia). As regular readers of this blog, know, Mexican Sunflower is my favorite annual by far. A butterfly magnet, and you can’t beat those intense orange flowers!

I should note that rabbits are fond of annual sunflower seedlings, and I’m guessing they like Amaranth as well, as the young leaves are edible and tasty (so I’m told). I’ll need to protect both with chicken wire. The rest of these annuals are rabbit-resistant, at least to some degree.

Next up: annuals for containers.

28 Comments on “Ordering Seeds Part 2 – Annuals For Mixed Borders”

  1. You had not tried ‘Lemon Queen’ already? I read about them somewhere. I really like ‘Italian White’ but have not grown them in a long time because I like so many other white flowers. Their version of white looks rather pale and yellowish compared to plain white, although mine seemed to be a whiter shade of yellow than what they looked like in other gardens. I sort of think that ‘Lemon Queen’ would be more compatible, and . . . different from white. However, the richer yellows, oranges, reds and browns are what I prefer. They are obviously not trying to be white or even light yellow. They are some of the only flowers that I like in mixed colors. (I really am no good with color.)

  2. I think you’ve said you have clay soil there and maybe that’s why you have trouble with cosmos. I’ve planted it in soil that was little more than sand and it thrived. Cleome seems to like a richer more loam soil to really thrive, but it will take a lot of shade as well.
    In any event I’m sure your garden will be beautiful as always.

  3. This sounds like so much fun. I can hardly wait until I can get out there and plant. I have many of the same ones you have written about in packets just waiting for their time in the sun. Cleome I planted years ago and it returns every year for me. I move them about as they usually don’t pop up where I want them. Funny how some plants do well in on spot and not in another.

  4. Excellent choices. I have more or less the same seed… various Cosmos, Tithonia, the same Cleome and sunflowers. I think I first saw Italian White on your blog and am trying that one this year too. 😃 Soon the juggling of seedtrays will begin. Wouldn’t it be great if Spring would start in February and our last frosts were in March! 😉

  5. Jason, you have made me concentrate on sowing some milkweed and tithonia seed I have around. I like your cosmos. My amaranth always self-seeds. The “flower heads” are pretty but the leaves are always eaten by something. Are you having trouble buying seeds (especially vegetables) from catalogues? Every one with whom I have attempted to place an order are either “out” or on hold for home gardeners until the middle of February. Apparently, COVID has people returning to home gardening in droves and they can’t keep up with demand.

  6. I agree Mexican sunflowers are hard to beat, that lovely orange colour just shines in the garden. I love some of the comman names for plants, like Love-lies-Bleeding for Amaranth ‘New Mexico”…..there must be a story behind that one!

  7. Love dreaming about spring and summer adventures in the garden. “Lilac Cosmos at Giverny” transfers one immediately into a Claud Monet painting. Such fun. Mexican Sunflower has the most incredible and stunning color.

  8. Both the Mexican and Italian White sunflowers are luscious. If I had a garden, they’d both be there, although that lemon yellow one certainly would deserve a chance, too.

    I just went down the rabbit hole, etymologically speaking. I didn’t find a clear or easy answer, but I did learn that the prefix hypo- means ‘beneath,’ and chrondro- describes something related to grains, or having a granular structure. Looking at the photo of the plant, that sure makes sense, although I can’t quite figure out what’s beneath what!

  9. I often remind my friends to plant annuals all over the yard, esp. their gardens. IT’s a great way to keep color going all season long. I especially love black and blue salvia, zinnias, marigolds and annual bean vines (scarlet runner beans, purple hyacinth beans) for the hummingbirds.

  10. Hi! I live in Villa Park IL and I have had Cleome reseed successfully quite a bit on its own, however it was perhaps in a micro climate location due to our 1.5′ high deck next to it and an underground perforated water pipe for removal of excess water away from the house.

  11. Great selection! I’ll be trying Cleome and Tithonia for the first time this year. Could you give me some tips on growing Tithonia, as I gather this is one of your favourites? Does it need the sunniest spot available, or will it be ok with a bit less sun? I’m on clay btw, in Belgium.

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