Darsham Nurseries Cafe, potager, kitchen garden, vegetables from seed, harvesting vegetables,
The Daily Dibber

Kitchen gardener for the Darsham Nurseries Cafe. Seedaholic. Grower and lover of food and flowers.

An Annual Education

Black Friday has been and gone, the price of Christmas trees is one of the topics of the day. The postman is already fed up with me, he doesn’t even knock any more, just opens the door and throws the parcels in!

Outside the grass is waterlogged, its cold, damp and winter is fully upon us.

The lights inside the house stays on all day, just as I get used to the daylight it starts to fade. This for me is a time for to make plans, reflect and collect seed.

I have been growing annuals for over ten years, and I still love them. They are exciting and quite addictive.

Annuals are urgent by nature,they have an awful lot to do in a short time. They have to germinate, grow, mature, flower and set seed in one season.

Most flower within 2-4 months of sowing, then usually provide you with enough seed to do it all again next year for free. Personally, growing them from seed gives me a creative buzz and a huge sense of fulfillment. Collecting the seed, growing it, and planting it out in it’s final place is so rewarding. If you have a garden that has a solid framework of shrubs and perennials, you have within your power a chance to make that space look unique each summer, without digging anything up or incurring huge expense.

Annuals are fun, you can indulge yourself as the seed is not expensive. Other than buying expensive houseplants, growing annuals is the only way in fact that we here in this cold climate can extend our range of flowers and grow varieties found in more tropical climates.

I find the range of annuals traditionally stocked in garden centres and nurseries disappointingly limited and well …boring. Cosmos, Lobelia and Petunias are all great plants, with numerous uses, but there are many, many more annuals that are fast growing, colourful and equally beautiful if not more so. For example Sunflowers do not have to be just yellow, flowers can just be green, annual climbers can be grown to trail down as well as climb up.

Garden owners here in England are not offered much choice, and whilst they usually visually appreciate the less common annuals, they seem to think that one has to have exceptionally green fingers to be able to grow them successfully to maturity.

This is not the case. Annuals on the whole are straightforward, just using normal multi- purpose compost, a few seed trays and a bright spring windowsill will suffice. Two or three varieties can fit in one tray, so a typical window-sill will allow you to grow up to ten different annuals. Some annuals are so fast growing that you have to forward plan for their large root systems, but it’s not rocket science, and if you have the time, it’s hugely rewarding. Logically if a plant is going to reach say 6ft in four months, then you just have to put in place a simple system that allows them to do just that.

One of the most frustrating dilemmas for me now that I work in horticulture is to try and figure out a way to communicate the power of annuals to others. It’s really difficult as they on the whole really need to be planted in their final positions a few weeks before they start to bloom. Without flowers no-one wants to buy them . It’s a chicken and egg dilemma.

This year in the potager we have lost count of the number of enquiries from customers wanting to know the names of the Amaranths, Zinnias,Sunflowers and Salvias. This subject is one of my passions and it seems a good time to compile yet another list. These annuals are not particularly rare, just rarely seen in an average english garden border.

In no particular order:

Amaranth 'Green Cascade'

Amaranth ‘Green Cascade’

Amaranth, is a fabulous plant, needing light and keen to germinate the seeds don’t need covering. As this grows in the wild in hot climates, watering and food can be kept to a minimum. I prick them out into larger pots of at least one litre and keep them in the polytunnel until late May. When planted out into their final positions they then should reach 3ft in height with tons and tons of tassels, which are incredibly to see and touch. A dramatic long-lasting cut flower.

'Amaranth Coral Fountain'

Amaranth ‘Coral Fountain’

Treat this amaranth exactly the same as ‘Green Cascade’ and you will rewarded with soft peach dreadlocks, just divine. In a raised bed, they tumble over the edges.

'Ageratum Blue Horizon'

Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’

Ageratums are very easy to grow, the flowers up close resemble miniature soft purple thistles. Planted in a group they dominate a border in late summer, but in a good way.

Panicum 'Frosted Explosion"

Panicum ‘Frosted Explosion”

This is a favourite with flower arrangers. But for me it’s what this grass does as the sun prepares to set that makes it special. This wispy delicate grass takes on soft bronze and pink tones and lights up containers and borders.



I don’t know why exactly, but these remind me of those vintage tiered cake stands. Reaching 6ft in a season , it’s essential that the seedlings are pricked out as soon as possible into large pots. The root systems are large and as soon as the roots start to push out of the base of their pot, this is the signal that they want to be planted out. I use them at the back of a border that has protection from the wind. This is a dramatic plant, with tiers of deep burnt orange flowers. Be warned, it’s very prickly.

'Sunflower Shock o Lat'

Sunflower ‘Shock o Lat’

A showstopper, this can and will, with care reach 9 ft. Multiple branches of repeating blooms, the seedlings of this giant also need a large pot. They grow at an astonishing rate and can be quite difficult to plant out due to their size in mid may. I lay the pot on it’s side and coax the roots out. Stake these as soon as they are planted, then watch and wait. Get the vase ready.

Chrysanthemum 'Painted Daisy'

Chrysanthemum ‘Painted Daisy’

Simple but also complex, this pretty annual chrysanthemum is rarely seen here, but is incredibly easy to grow.

Ricinus 'New Zealand Purple'

Ricinus ‘New Zealand Purple’

Ok this is poisonous, but I have been growing this safely for years. Slow to germinate, but soon catches up as the temperatures rise. I start the seed in early February in a heated greenhouse. The longer the growing season, the larger the specimen. Deep, rich, with structurally beautiful leaves, again due to its height this is best at the back of a sheltered border.

Didicus 'Blue Lace'

Didicus ‘Blue Lace’

With it’s delicate, dainty blue umbels this is not a dramatic plant. Up close it’s like an gentle blue allium, the umbel shape is made up of hundreds of miniature flowers. I would plant this close to foot traffic where it can be examined and appreciated.

Pennisetum Glaucum 'Purple Majesty'

Pennisetum Glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’

Upright thick purple stems that darken with exposure to full sun, this has always been one of my favourites.

Amaranth 'Elephant Head'

Amaranth ‘Elephant Head’

Yes, it’s a comical shape that makes grown adults snigger. This amaranth certainly will divide opinions, but I love it. It’s rarely seen, interesting, long-lasting and used as a cut flower it always raises eyebrows.

Thunbergia ' Superstar Orange'

Thunbergia ‘ Superstar Orange’

Not for the fainthearted , this climber is bright and brash but easy to grow and begs to be allowed to trail up or down. I have used this in hanging baskets, where it’s tendrils hang down happily intertwining with each other. This year I planted 6 in a 20 litre pot and tucked it in at the base of a Japanese Angelica tree, where in late summer it covered the trunk with masses of deep orange flowers. The seeds are expensive, but if you leave it alone for a few weeks after flowering, you can collect lots of hardened seed pods. Collect, dry and repeat again next spring.

Cobaea scandens 'Purple'

Cobaea scandens ‘Purple’

This climber is very impressive if you can manage to transplant it successfully. Seeds are sown sideways, like cucumbers seeds, germination is straightforward, but the tendrils are initially very delicate like fresh pea shoots. I plant the seeds direct in large pots with canes and transplant them with these original canes intact. This can easily cover a shed in a season and the flowers are delightful.

Cornflower ' Black Ball'

Cornflower ‘ Black Ball’

Most people are familiar with blue cornflowers, “Black Ball’ is dark and rich like concentrated ribena, fully edible these petals would look great in a salad or as a last minute cake decoration.

Linaria 'Spanish Dancer'

Linaria ‘Spanish Dancer’

Bi-coloured pink and yellow delicate flowers emerge from wispy foliage. This Linaria has a slight trailing habit, and looks good planted by itself in containers.

Mirabilis Jalapa 'Pink'

Mirabilis Jalapa ‘Pink’

David and I strongly disagree about this annual. In America it self seeds rampantly. This is also known as the ‘Four o clock’ flower, as in the late afternoon the flowers open and stay open until the following morning. I think these are really pretty and perfect for containers dotted around a evening entertaining area.

Salvia viridis 'Blue'

Salvia viridis ‘Blue’

If you visited Darsham Nurseries in May or June this year, this was the star of the cafe raised beds in early summer. This annual is such a no brainer, its hardy, self seeds, and blooms for weeks. It’s low maintenance, fills a 2 ft gap handsomely with multiple purple spires.

Nemophilia 'Penny Black'

Nemophilia ‘Penny Black’

This is a very sweet little annual with almost black simple flowers with a white scalloped edge.I use this at the front of low borders or planted alone in a terracotta bowl. Nemoplilia does not like really high temperatures so aim for a May/June flowering period.

Tithtonia 'Orange'

Tithtonia ‘Torch’

More commonly known as the Mexican Sunflower, I fell in love with this several years ago. It can reach 4ft and unlike regular sunflowers it has a more bushy habit. This needs staking as soon as its planted out, I use a tripod system. Deadheaded regularly this will carry multiple flowers happily until the first real frost. The deep rich orange daisy like flowers are in perfect tune with the heat of late summer. Sadly it’s not a good cut flower.

Salpiglossis 'Kew Blue'

Salpiglossis ‘Kew Blue’

Deep rich and exotic, this is a stunner. It looks rare, expensive and tropical but it’s just another annual.

Ratibita 'Mexican Hat'

Ratibita ‘Mexican Hat’

It’s name describes it perfectly. Grown wild in hotter climates, I like to plant these in front of tall grasses, they seem to compliment each other.

Briza Maxima 'Quaker Grass'

Briza Maxima ‘Quaker Grass’

A great grass for vases, in the garden the slightest breeze moves the delicate flower heads, giving much appreciated movement on an otherwise still day.

Cerinthe 'Blue Kiwi'

Cerinthe ‘Blue Kiwi’

With its fleshy leaves, and drooping purple and blue flowers, it’s exotic looking but actually is fairly hardy. Great as a cut flower.

Sunflower 'Copper Queen"

Sunflower ‘Copper Queen”

Another giant, my house was filled with these all summer. Like ‘Shock o lat’ it needs support for it’s top heavy, but repays you many times over with its offerings of multiple bright orange wonderful flower heads.

Gypsophilia 'Covent Garden'

Gypsophilia ‘Covent Garden’

David introduced me to this, and in the potager it was a wonderful early summer contrast with the brassicas. Soft, delicate, and utterly feminine.

Marigold 'Harlequin Grand'

Marigold ‘Harlequin Grand’

Simply stunning in late summer. Everyone loved this at Darsham. Again this needs to be planted out before it starts to flower.But just look at it.

Ornamental Corn

Ornamental Corn

With maturity the tips of this corn turn pink, it’s effective in container planting, giving height and structure.



You just can’t beat Coleus for adding impact to smaller containers. They have such an array of vivid zingy colours. Germination is slow, but be patient, once the true leaves appear, this annual soon catches up.

Ammi Visnaga 'Green Mist'

Ammi Visnaga ‘Green Mist’

With it’s sturdy stems and greenish white large dome shaped flowers it’s easy to understand why florists love this.

Zinnias, Zinnias, never too many Zinnias.






Zinnia’s are simply wonderful. These are very, very close to the top of my list (even though they are here at the bottom) A joy to grow. A joy to cut. My tip for growing these successfully is to ignore my previous advice. These are best left in pots until they flower, then planted out. Snails and slugs are partial to a young zinnia bud, but mature they are left alone.

I hope that this list inspires you to grow or buy a new annual. Happy sowing!

Dec 2015

limegarden@sky.com • 7th December 2015

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