Flowering annuals are especially valuable over the cooler months of the year, bringing cheerful colour when there are few other flowers around.
The three ‘P’s – polyanthus, primulas and pansies, offer some of the longest lasting cool season displays of them all and, between them, they cover the colour spectrum. Ideal in pots they will quickly and easily transform an outdoor living area or make a welcoming scene at the front door.
If you have time and patience you may choose to grow your own from seed, which is best sown in trays in autumn. Otherwise you can purchase seedlings in punnets or purchase larger flowering plants, known as ‘potted colour’. The latter may seem the most expensive way to go, but the results are instant; there is little or no loss through transplanting shock as experienced by younger seedlings going into cold soil; and you can hand pick your flowers - a definite bonus when there are so many different colours to choose from.
Polyanthus are colourful and eye catching with flowers facing upwards from sturdy stems. Many stems of flowers are produced in a season. The range of colours includes clear and vivid yellows, red, blues, pinks, and oranges, whites and more.
Most modern Polyanthus are what the nursery trade refer to as ‘self-cleaning’, meaning the plants rarely have ugly spent flowers on them, but as with all flowering annuals, if you pinch out older flowers you will encourage more blooms. Flowering starts from early winter and may continue right though until Christmas.
Polyanthus enjoy a bright sunny position and make a wonderful mass display in the garden. All varieties are ideal for pots.
Pansies and violas are available in just about every colour. They’re great as quick fix colour and they make excellent companions for bulbs such as tulips and daffodils, flowering before the bulb flowers appear and continuing after the bulbs have died down.
Arguably the best way to grow pansies is in pots and hanging baskets in sun or semi-shade. Use a quality potting mix with slow release fertiliser, and a sprinkling of dried blood.
Choose already flowering seedlings to enjoy instant impact on plants that will keep growing and flowering right through the year. As long as they receive plenty of moisture, pansies and violas love the well drained potting mix.
A dash of liquid fertiliser every few weeks and frequent sprinklings of snail bait will keep plants in top-notch condition. If your pansies get tatty over winter, trim them back and feed them with liquid fertiliser. A fresh crop of flowers will soon appear.
Fairy primroses (Primula malacoides) are well known for their mass displays of soft airy flowers, beautiful under deciduous trees and amongst early spring bulbs. Their clusters of dainty flowers come in shades of pink, cerise, purple or white and float above a carpet of soft green leaves. They’re also lovely in pots, but for best effect, plant in volume.