My Plant Containers

Annuals Are A Beginner’s Joy

For bloom all summer

When I first began gardening, all my flower growing efforts centered around annuals. My enthusiasm soon knew no bounds, and every year I experimented with new, and unusual to me, flower seeds that were readily available in garden centers at the time. Their huge selections were unmatched by any that can now be found. It was the heyday of homesteading, plant lovers, and gardeners.

I loved the more diminutive and finely textured examples, especially.

At first, I planted only from seed, either planted directly or started indoors on my windowsills. Later, I became somewhat addicted to buying flats of annuals, and broadened my experience in many of the more common annuals that are a little hard to start from seed, like petunias.

So in this, one of the first pages I ever wrote for gardeners, I listed all the annuals I thought were the most interesting and garden worthy. Peruse the descriptions and choose a few to try in your own plantings this year.

Small To Medium Height Summer Annuals:
Favorites I’ve Grown

also called toadflax. These small spikes of flowers, in beautiful bright colors, are like fairy snapdragons.They combine beautifully with Leptosiphon.


these little known flowers like brightly colored tiny stars look delicate, but manage quite well in most ordinary conditions; they even reappeared once during the following year. If you try these, you won’t be sorry.


Dahlberg daisy
once called Dyssodia, Now listed as Thymophylla tenuiloba. These minute yellow daisies bloom their hearts out and occasionally reseed. I put them in many situations: beside a walk, in front of the border, in a flower box, peeking from a planter, mixed with other small lovelies.


Convolvulous Ensign
Blue Ensign is always cheerful and welcome. Mixes well with dahlberg daisies this petite morning glory flower is easy from seed. Plant early enough to fully enjoy lots of flowers.


Baby Blue Eyes, clearest sky blue with white centers and fine foliage.


Viola Tricolor
Johnny-Jump-Ups, the little pansies that have as many uses as Dahlberg daisies. Lovely in both the yellow/purple and deep purple, ‘Bowles Black’, forms. You can spread the seed yourself, which is easy and not the least troublesome.


These are usually listed as cool climate annuals, but I’ve grown the mixed colors with no disappointments Some very pretty selections are available through catalogs.


This is for the seed starter, or purchase through the nursery. A bowl shaped plant covered in flowers-it loved growing in between the stepping stones, and was perfectly at home in the flower box.


Schizanthus pinnatus
A native to SA with interesting and attractive small flowers. Their blooms are produced abundantly but plants fade out in hot weather. Try it in a partly shady spot.


Signet Marigolds
Tagetes tenufolia is somewhat sizable as a plant, but the flower and foliage are miniature and fine. Grown easily from seed.


Zinnia angustifolia
I get these in the cream color; when they like their situation: sunny and not too dry, they are exceptionally pleasing.


or Swan River Daisy with blue, purple, and white colors are the cheeriest blooming mounds; and they can grow from direct sown seed. These are a favorite.



Medium-sized Choices


nasturtiums are easy
The Cherry Rose and Alaska varieties are especially fine. The plants themselves, may take a large space, but it depends on the variety and growing conditions. ” Alaska’s ” splotched leaves are showy and make an attractive addition to an herb garden. Some varieties have a lovely fragrance ,too. Yes, they are also aphid magnets, but without real harm to their appearance.
Iberis Umbellata. Here is quick color in pastel violets, white, and pink. They are easy and showy, but, alas, short-term in lifespan. Resowing can produce more.
Satinflower, their common description, gives you an idea of the garden effect. I’ve only tried these in a border situation and haven’t grown them in a long time, but it’s time to include them in the dooryard garden this year. Easy to grow.
of course! There are so many varieties, the Antique strain and types with “faces” are my favorites. Pansies will reseed themselves, unless (like I did) you mulch around them. The mulch discourages them to extinction~ and I thought I was doing them a favor at the time.
These always had the reputation for being hard to grow, so I put off trying them. What a mistake, since these are not only fairly easy to grow, they are simply gorgeous. Like a petunia in form, they are of the most jewel-like colors and veined in harmoniously contrasting color. One of my favorites, presently.
I love these, but except for the Peaches and Cream variety, I find them difficult to integrate into a garden. They are most compatible with petunias, annual Dianthus, or on their own in mixed colors. If you let them dry out, they recover, but look spotty and they need dead heading through the season.
Arctotis and Osteospermum
I put these together because when I grew these daisies they looked very similar and not as good as I hoped. I sowed both in the garden, and, to be fair, a friend who grew Osteospermum from nursery plants had a wonderful result. That’s why they are listed- the combo of the daisy flower, interesting foliage and carpet growth looked good all summer in her garden. Worth trying, but start the plants early or buy them from a nursery. Update on this: I am using osteospermum ‘Lemon’ in a container for this season. It has a beautiful lavender eye that is matched with a veined plummy petunia (looks like ‘Sugar Daddy’).
splendens in vivid red for where you want unmistakable color; like tulips, these are best in groups. Last year I tried the burgundy wine color and it was excellent.
S. farinacea -why anyone bothers with the whites is beyond me, but the blue ‘Victoria’ is a staple (and it has sometimes wintered over, and sometimes reseeded, although you can’t count on it). Blooms dependably and has healthy blue spikes in a small bushy plant.Dries very nicely if you pick it soon enough.
these are what the English refer to when citing the name “marigold”. They have some excellent qualities (the English do, too, but I’m referring to the Calendulas), one of which is a bloomtime long into late fall. I recommend buying the hybridized seeds for truly beautiful flowers in some marvelous colors. Once they reseed, the flowers are smaller, not as double, and revert to bright orange and yellow, only. The sublime apricots and creams are lost.
Baby’s Breath
Gypsophilia elegans ‘Covent Garden’ is easy to sow and grow. It makes a nice companion to most any flower- with petunias it’s a country bouquet.
or Lisianthus, was a new one for me last year. The flowers are gorgeous. ‘Heidi Rose Pink’ was lovely. I didn’t grow it to perfection, but it still gave me pleasure. They seem to need consistent moisture, even though the catalogs say otherwise. I bought a few expensive nursery plants, and believe this is one plant worthwhile starting yourself.
Marigold are super easy

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Helpful lists:

It helps to have lists of plants for certain conditions.

  • Centaurea cyanus, Bachelor Button
  • Cosmos bipinnatis,Cosmos
  • Gomphrena globosa,Globe Amaranth
  • Petunia x hybrida,Petunia
  • Portulaca grandifloria, Moss Rose
  • Sanvitalia procumbens,Creeping Zinnia
  • Tithonia rotundifolia,Mexican Sunflower
  • Scaevola aemula, Fan Flower
  • Alyssum
  • Baby Blue Eyes
  • Begonia
  • Calendula
  • Cleome
  • Fuchsia
  • Impatiens
  • Larkspur
  • Lobelia
  • Monkey-flower
  • Nicotiana
  • Snapdragon
  • Torenia, Wishbone Flower
  • Baby Blue Eyes, (Nemophilia)
  • Bachelor’s Buttons, (Centaurea cyanus)
  • California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
  • Calendula
  • Larkspur (Consolida ajacis)
  • Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus)
  • Shirley poppy (Papaver rhoeas)
  • Painted Tongue (Salpiglossis sinuata)
(In my experience)

  • Alyssum,Lobularia maritima
  • Bachelor’s Buttons, Centaurea cyanus
  • Calendula
  • California Poppy Eschscholzia
  • Coreopsis (Annual), Coreopsis tinctoria
  • Cosmos spp.
  • Dahlberg Daisies
  • Forget-Me-Nots, Cynoglossum
  • Gloriosa Daisy, Rudbeckia hirta
  • Larkspur, Consolida
  • Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena
  • Moss Rose,Portulaca spp.
  • Thimble Flower Gilia
  • Tobacco Plant Nicotiana

Journal Notes:

Thaxter cottage garden flowers Lobelias, Portulacas, and many others are in the small size group. Lobelias take a surprising amount of sun, as long as moisture is present. Portulacas are brightly colorful and look best in a large multi-colored group. Good looking both at close range and afar. Alyssum’s fine lace trim is well known, and grows easily from seed. Next, still small, but with more presence, are the Dwarf Snapdragons, Vinca, Impatiens, annual Dianthus, and Verbenas. The ‘Peaches and Cream’ verbena is softly colored, mixing better than many of the other hues. I am dependent on the snapdragon for color that takes the Midwest summers without flinching. I always plant petunias, too. -Except for whites which were ruined for me when someone remarked that they look like so many wet Kleenexes. They do.

Add To Your Containers

Ideal for containers

Small and fine textured plants are ideal for adding to containers, They give that extra added contrast to some of the more expected choices such as petunias and geraniums. Of course, they can fill a container all on their own, but I like the exciting way that new combinations produce a different picture each year, sometimes a successful pairing in a container can give a picture of how it may look in a larger flower bed plan.

How To Grow Annuals Successfully

For a garden calendar of seasonal tasks see Month by Month Garden Calendar

A few tips and techniques:

watering can

Remember to water

When planting containers, it is most important to keep the plants watered. Using fertilizer as recommended gives results all out of proportion to the effort involved. If you start with good potting soil… you may have a veritable Eden on your porch.

Don’t Forget

I have more pages on annuals: annual flowers, planting information, and this list of my favorites with descriptions.

Annuals Index PageAnnuals Primer
Plants wilted after planting? Getting leggy and spindly? How to plant your flats of annuals, and more tips and hints for a great garden.

Garden notes

One term you sometimes hear in garden design is the word, “texture”. Like fabric texture, plant texture creates a visual feeling of something which is either coarse or fine. Small leaved plants, or a large array of small blossoms may create a fine textured accompaniment to medium or larger textured plants with larger smooth surfaces. Coarse texture is the effect of large leaves or large flowers such as hibiscus. Medium texture is between the extremes. This combining and mixing of textures creates interest visually. It is one way that plants contrast and compliment one another.

Tender Perennials List

A Handy List: These plants are perennials, grown as annuals in northern climates.

  • Geraniums
  • Heliotrope
  • Arctotis
  • Marguerite daisy, (Argyranthemum)
  • Everblooming hibiscus, (H. rosa-sinensis)
  • Blue salvia or mealycup sage, (S. farinacea)
  • Yellow & red milkweed ,(Asclepias curassavica)
  • Lantana, (Lantana camara hybrids)
  • Nierembergia

Quicklist: hints and tips

Ideas for Annual Color


  • In the garden be sure the soil is raked to a fine tilth, removing clods of hard dirt, when planting seeds.
  • Starting seeds indoors? Use sterile soil medium.
  • Keep seeds moist, but not waterlogged.
  • Save your seed packets to remind yourself of germination times, special requirements, and the way the new seedlings look. Consider having a journal and keeping the information in that.
  • make circles of powdered lime to visualize where the seeds were planted if you are making a design of annuals.

It is important to remember that many plants listed as annuals are actually tender perennials. If grown in their proper zone, they will be perennial according to their nature.


Vining Annuals

lantana is a great container additionPlants that vine or drape gracefully will flow over the rim of containers and are good in conjunction with mounded and spiky plants. ( Lantana is one of those plants that is actually perennial, but grown as an annual here in the North.

Originally, I did not include information on the ubiquitous petunia, although I have certainly grown them from the beginning. I suppose that was snobbery on my part.

Now, however, the plant breeders have made whole new types of petunias that are unmatched in bloom power, in spectacular flower colors, and all around good garden plants that are economical to get in large numbers.

IMG_1106I can’t imagine a summer yard without them. Alone in baskets hung on the porch, they are easy to maintain and provide bright, all summer color. With other flowers, they often provide a very pleasing contrast in form and texture in their bright funnel shaped trumpets.

One caveat, in my own experience, is that these newer breeds can melt out about midseason. Maybe they bloom their hearts out or perhaps they are not as tolerant of the heat, humidity, and wind that Ohio midsummers can deliver. Not true of all the newer hybrids, but I have had it happen regularly enough to note.


More of the Season:

a selection of pages on the web

Four O’ Clocks


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