Beautiful and Bountiful Biennials.

One of the best little wins in gardening is free plants, so it is lovely when on a weeding mission, to come across some new seedlings that have self-seeded and made news homes in the borders.

One group of plants that happily do this are biennials, these are plants that grow on a two-year cycle. They produce leaves in the first year and then flower the following year before they set seed and die back. So, if you are planning to sow some biennials, July is the ideal month; it allows them plenty of time to germinate and establish over the summer before they can be planted in position in the Autumn, ready to flower next year. Seeds can be sown directly where you want them to flower, but if you are like me and all the flower beds are full this year, sow seeds into modular trays and plant them out in September. They won’t need much attention, just make sure you keep them watered.

There are lots of biennial varieties to choose from, whether you are wanting them for sun or shade, cutting or naturalising. But the trick to achieve a constant supply of flowers every year is to deliberately sow seeds for two years on the trot, so they are then flowering on alternate seasons. And because they have already done a lot of growing the previous year, many biennials are some of the first to bloom the following spring, adding a shot of colour before many perennials have got going.

Here are some reliable favorites:

With Bulbs:

Classic combinations such as Forget-me-knots (Myosotis sylvatica) or the deep vibrant shades of Wallflowers (Erysium cheri) provide great ground cover around tulips and late flowering narcissus. Wallflowers smell delicious too, so plant them by a door in a sheltered spot. Remember they are part of the brassica family, so protect young plants from cabbage loving caterpillars!

For Shade:

Honesty (Lunaria annua) : pretty, white, or purple flowers in dappled shade that bloom in late April /early May. They are known for their silvery, moon-like seed pods that can be used for decoration – cut the stems at the base in late summer and hang up to dry.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) : these add plenty of drama to a shady corner with their tall spires and bee friendly bells. The naturalised flowers are a soft purple but try varieties such as ‘Alba’, Sutton’s Apricot’ or ‘Excelsior’.

Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) : these clusters of white or purple flowers smell heavenly and brighten up a shady area. They can be classed as short-lived perennials but are best treated as a biennial and sown every year.

For Cutting:

Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) : the ultimate romantic cottage garden flower, gently scented and perfect for popping into a vase. Try the pure Alba or striking ‘Nigricans’, or ‘Auricula Eyed’ varieties.

Iceland Poppies (Papaver nudicaule) : beautiful cut flowers that last really well. They thrive in well-drained soil and are best sown into pots and overwintered in an unheated greenhouse, as they don’t like standing in wet soil. Try ‘Wind Song’ or ‘Champagne Bubbles’.

So, a bit of forward planning now, and then sit back and look forward lots of beautiful flowers next spring and summer- it will be worth the wait and at a fraction of the cost.

Originally published in Focus magazine

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