Heirloom Annuals

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Bachelors Buttons are an old favorite with the most intense blue color

Old timey annuals are back in! Pushed to the side for many years in favor of newer, supposedly better cultivars, I always remember growing these as a child and seeing them in my parents garden. I couldn’t wait to squeeze the snapdragon flowers to make the “mouth” open like a dragon when I was little. Or being fascinated by the pansy faces that I grew and pressing them between the pages of a phone book.

Pansy flower
Violas in a container

With all the new intros of flowers, people forget the old-fashioned flowers that our grandmothers grew and enjoyed. ‘Flowers with a past’, or ‘flowers with history’ intrigue me even in the face of the slant in favor of perennials in recent years. So many people when they hear that a plant is an annual dismiss it as not worth the time and money to plant. But even in a garden of plant snobs, there is room for a diverse choice of antique flowers.

Rarely seen anymore, Balsam flower is extremely easy to grow
Rarely seen anymore, Balsam flower is extremely easy to grow

Never having given up on clarkia, cleome, calendula, cornflower, and cosmos, I have never stopped growing these neglected blooms and invite other flower lovers embrace them as well. Neglected but not forgotten, all these flowers should be planted and enjoyed by another generation.

Edible Nasturtiums are easy to grow
Nasturtiums
Nasturtiums

Heirloom annuals are plants that have been cultivated for at least one hundred years, and some for much longer. Unimproved flowers that hybridizers haven’t got their hands on, antique annuals bloom profusely all season long and set seed so that you can collect them to flower for another year. Even better, many reseed to continue growing for the next season. Many are tall and graceful, not short and stocky hybrids that fit into containers and smaller gardens that are more prevalent today.

Sticky cleome is native to South America and looks spidery, hence its common name, Spider Flower
Sticky Cleome is native to South America and looks spidery, hence its common name, Spider Flower

Difficult to have something in bloom all season long, a perennial border is just shouting out to have annuals inserted in empty spots so you can have a constant parade of blooms.

Cosmos at Falkland Place in Scotland
Beautiful ruffled Cosmos at Falkland Place in Scotland
Sweet Peas at Falkland Palace in Scotland
Sweet Peas at Falkland Palace in Scotland
Closeup of Sweet Pea
Closeup of Sweet Pea

Perennial purists who will not allow an annual to cross through their garden gate are missing out on the dizzying palette of flowers that flower and die in one season. Perennial is a term that can be interpreted several ways. I have some short-lived perennials that only last two or three seasons, like lavender. The drainage issue always does this picky perennial in. So, the term perennial could mean – lasts for many seasons, like a peony… or perennial for a few seasons, like some of the new Echinaceas. Echinaceas don’t seem to last very long at all and yet they are called perennials.

I love all the new Echinaceas, but they seem to last only a couple of seasons
Poppies are one of my favorite annuals
Poppies are one of my favorite old fashioned annuals
Blue poppy
Blue Poppy

When most perennials are on their last gasp in late summer, many annuals are still running strong with little care. A bit of dead heading, sometimes staking, and an infusion of fertilizer is enough to keep them in good form all summer. Some annuals like Poppies, Love in a Mist, Bells of Ireland, Clarkia, and Larkspur are definitely cool weather plants finished by June. See my post on Cool Season Annuals.

Purple Larkspur makes a fine foil for pink Poppies
Cool season Bells of Ireland
Cool season Bells of Ireland
Unusual on the east coast, Clarkia is an annual that does better on the west coast
Love in a Mist is aptly named
Dried seed pods of Nigella or Love in a Mist

Cultivated for thousands of years in the Americas, Zinnias are a true antique classic. According to Burpee’s website, “Zinnias are undemanding annuals that simply need full sun, warmth, and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. If soil is poor, incorporate lots of compost or leaf mold”. Like many old-fashioned annuals, Zinnias do better sown directly into the garden instead of being transplanted.

Zinnias draw butterflies

Plumed Celosias are bursting with new cultivars but I really like to grow the unique Crested Celosia. I love the brain-like texture of the velvety bloom and it dries beautifully.

Good for drying, crested celosia has a fascinating bloom
Good for drying, Crested Celosia has a fascinating bloom

Blue Lace Flower
Blue Lace Flower

Blue Lace Flower, Trachymeme coerulea, resembles a purple Queen Anne’s Lace and would look good in a cottage style garden border. Coming from Australia in 1828, you can find this plant reseeding year after year into beds without any special care. Great for cutting and bringing into the house like many heirlooms, arranging with any of these long-stemmed flowers is a delight.

Larkspur and snapdragons from the garden make a fine arrangement
Larkspur and snapdragons from the garden make a fine arrangement
Annie's Annuals is a nursery that specializes in Heirloom annuals; this is one of their demo gardens
Annie’s Annuals in San Francisco is a nursery that specializes in Heirloom annuals; this is one of their demo gardens

All of these heirlooms draw pollinators in droves to their open faced flowers, with easily available pollen and nectar. To see more plants and flowers that attract pollinators, go to Plant These For Bees.

Plant These For The Bees poster available on Etsy
Mexican Sunflower is a butterfly magnet and easy for butterflies to nectar from
False Queen Anne’s Lace or Ammi majus is a great filler flower for arrangements
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A great cottage border of heirlooms Zinnias and Verbena
Love Lies Bleeding or Amaranthus
An arrangement with Bells of Ireland and Love Lies Bleeding

Heirloom Annuals

False Queen Anne’s Lace, Ammi majus

Hollyhock, Alcea rosea

Clarkia

Love Lies Bleeding, Amaranthus

Spider Flower,  Cleome

Snapdragon, Antirrhinum

Larkspur, Consolida

Cosmos

Sunflower, Helianthus

Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena

Heliotrope

Balsam, Impatiens balsamina

Sweet Pea, Lathyrus

Four O’Clock, Mirabilis

Pansy and Viola

Lobelia

Flowering Tobacco, Nictotiana

Love in a Mist, Nigella

Poppy, Papaver

Dusty Miller, Senecio

Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia

Blue Lace Flower, Trachymene coerulea

Zinnia

Verbena, Verbena bonariensis

Calendula, Pot Marigold

Petunias

 

Cool Flowers-Early Spring Bloomers

Nigella damascena or "Love-in-the-Mist"
Nigella or “Love in the Mist”
Beautiful poppy, photographed by Pam Corckran
Beautiful poppy, photographed by Pam Corckran

Early March is the time to sow your Cool Season Annuals as soon as the soil can be “worked”. This term is gardening slang for soil with a texture that is neither mud nor frozen! After determining that my soil was ready by drawing a rake through it, I gathered my cool season annual seeds together with plant stakes, sharpie for marking, and my favorite multi-bladed sowing rake. On the menu for sowing was Poppies, Bells of Ireland, Love-in-the-Mist, Calendula, Clarkia, and Larkspur.

Bells of Ireland are the green spikes in this floral arrangement
Bells of Ireland are the green spikes in this floral arrangement
Calendula seed packet on wooden stake
Calendula seed packet on wooden stake

Cool Season Annuals differ from annuals that you sow after the danger of frost is past because the seeds need cold temperatures to germinate and cool temps to grow well in the garden. When hot weather hits, they are history and I pull them out to make way for annuals that relish the hot weather.

Poppy
Poppy
An annual poppy blooming in June
An annual poppy blooming in June

Growing quickly in the cool temperatures of late winter and early spring, the cool season annuals are old-fashioned flowers that you would find scattered in an English cottage garden. Best sown outdoors, these flowers are frost tolerant and grow quickly to give you a much-needed dose of color after the long winter.

Clarkia, seen at Annie's Annuals in San Francisco
Clarkia, seen at Annie’s Annuals in San Francisco

Raking the soil with my sowing rake is the only preparation needed. I broadcast sprinkle the seeds as evenly as possible, using dry hands, then tamp down the soil firmly with the rake. Sprinkling the surface with bits of straw or leaves helps keep the soil moist and hopefully hides the seed from wandering birds. I spray a light mist of water on top to moisten the surface and wait with anticipation.

Sowing seeds with my favorite rake
Sowing seeds with my favorite rake

Popping up quickly through the leaf litter, weeding and sprinkling with water is necessary if we hit a dry spell. Then it is time for the color show! Cutting flowers from these early blooms make great arrangements in the house.

Calendula Simplicity Mix, from National Garden Bureau
Calendula Simplicity Mix, from National Garden Bureau
Poppy seed heads are great dried and used in arrangements
Poppy seed heads are great dried and used in arrangements
Nigella or Love-in-the-Mist seed pods are beautiful
Nigella or Love-in-the-Mist seed pods are beautiful
Double fringed peony
Double fringed poppy
I love the fringed poppies
I love the fringed poppies