Thought you’d left it too late to grow spring annuals from seed? If you act quickly and plant these last-minute, cool-season beauties now, you’ll be able to enjoy their pretty blooms when the weather warms up
CALENDULAS (CALENDULA OFFICINALIS)
The bold, multi-layered petals of these cheerful daisy-like flowers, also known as pot marigolds, not only bring a ray of sunshine to the garden in winter but are edible and make good cut flowers.
GROWING TIPS: Calendulas thrive in ordinary soil; cover their large, crescent-shaped seeds with 5–6cm of soil. Thin out seedlings to 20cm apart; a little less for the Bon Bon series. Pick flowers or deadhead regularly for a constant show.
GOOD TO KNOW: Height: 20–40cm. Flowering time: 11–13 weeks.
VIRGINIAN STOCKS (CHEIRANTHUS MARITIMUSS)
Formerly known as Malcomia maritima, these low-growing plants are covered in a mass of small flowers in pink, white, mauve and lavender. They’re perfect for filling in gaps in the border, as a neat edging at the front of flower beds or between paving stones.
GROWING TIPS: Lightly cover the seeds with about 4–5mm soil. Thin out if overcrowded so they’re about 15–20cm apart; use the seedlings you’ve thinned out to fill gaps elsewhere in the garden or pop a few into pots.
GOOD TO KNOW: Height: 20–25cm. Flowering time: 6–8 weeks
CALIFORNIA POPPIES (ESCHSCHOLZIA CALIFORNICA)
These bright and cheerful annuals come in orange, the most common colour and yellow. They’re best planted with ornamental grasses and prairie-like plants like cornflowers and nemesias, but also look good massed in borders and in gravel gardens. They’re ideal for planting under bare roses during winter.
GROWING TIPS: These hardy, easy-going cool season annuals are at their best in spring. They need full sun, grow well in winter-rainfall areas and thrive in poor, even sandy, soils. Don’t over fertilise them if you have rich soil. Although drought tolerant, they need periodic watering in summer-rainfall areas. Allow some poppies to set seed so they’ll reappear the following year.
GOOD TO KNOW: Height: 20–40cm. Flowering time: 10–11 weeks.
LINARIA (LINARIA MAROCCANA)
These cottage garden annuals have fine ferny foliage and come in a charming melange of bright and pastel colours including crimson, yellow, orange, lavender, white and pink. Also known as mini snapdragons or toadflax, the ‘Fairy Bouquet Mix’ produces a profusion of miniature spikes of little snapdragon-like flowers, hence their common name.
GROWING TIPS: As linaria seeds are exceptionally fine, mix them with some fine, sifted sand or maize meal for even distribution; some gardeners find shaking the seeds out of an old spice bottle gives a more even spread. Press the seeds into the soil and barely cover with 3mm of soil; thin out if necessary.
GOOD TO KNOW: Height: 25–35cm. Flowering time: 8–10 weeks.
AFRICAN OR NAMAQUALAND DAISIES (DIMORPHOTHECA SINUATE)
Also known as Namakwalandse Madeliefies, these sun-loving, indigenous daisies come in orange, yellow, pastel apricot and cream as well as in packs of white. Eye-catching when planted en masse, they’re undemanding but need full sun to open fully and they always turn their faces towards the sun; they’re at their best in a north-facing bed viewed from the south.
GROWING TIPS: They produce two types of seed, some are like little sticks, and others are disc-like and papery. As they tend to be blown or washed away sow them on a still, sunny day; they grow well in sandy, well-drained soil. Be quite generous with your seeds and either sprinkle or rake some soil over them, watering immediately with a fine spray. Keep them moist and later thin them out to 20cm apart. By sowing batches at 2–3 week intervals you’ll extend the display through to September. If protection is needed from seed-eating birds, use fine netting.
GOOD TO KNOW: Height: 30cm. Flowering time: 12 weeks.