Hardy annuals are the secret weapon to crushing spring flowers with abundance! Sown in autumn with just enough time to be planted and settled in before they slow right down over winter, they burst into life in early spring blooming bigger and earlier than spring sown annuals!
I don't know about you in your climate but here in Taranaki (especially in Tikorangi vs my old farm in Stratford) we get pretty mild winters with only a handful of frosts, so I've found that I like to break up my hardy annuals into two groups Autumn Sown + Winter Sown to make the most of different plants characteristics.
Note: I've included my true favourites in these lists, some I will have seeds available at some point this year, others due to supply issues (covid/shortages/shipping etc) I may not have available till next year or even later - some I'm even going to have to figure out how to grow my own seeds of in order to be able to supply, which is a whole other learning curve!
Top 5 Autumn Sown Hardy Annuals
These productive early blooming flowers are packed full of soo much joy, what's not to love! They're an absolute favourite of the bees too, so if harvesting for cut-flowers, you'll have to be up early to beat them opening in the morning sun and the bees rushing to pollinate them (once pollinated they don't last half as long in the vase). My favourite varieties are the giant Italian Colibri's & the regular-sized Springsong (I trialed a few series years ago and Springsong hands down won my favourite regular poppy mix, I've just since then failed at timing my planting early enough to master them again - but this spring is going to be my year of Springsong once more!
*Colibri plants available in May/June, Springsong seeds next year once I've had a chance to photograph them properly
Not quite as hardy as a true hardy annual (if you get hard frosts might pay to just spring sow - they handled all my regular frosts in Stratford, but one late harder than normal frost pinched them all out for me and killed a handful). But anyways strawflowers are about as good as it gets for productive versatile flowers! Their flowering usually comes on in November right when I'm getting desperate for flowers in that awkward late spring lull. And anything not used fresh can be dried for later use.
*Some colours available this year, full range not available to next year
Like sprays of mini strawflowers with statice-esque stems, the first few flushes of autumn sown ammobium are significantly larger flowered than any winter/spring sown ammobium have ever been for me.
*Available this year, very limited this February release as I'm waiting for a top up order to arrive soon-ish.
The Dalmation series of foxgloves are gloriously first year flowering (vs their usual slightly slower more awkward timed biennial-ness). I pretty much just grow the peach, which is about as beautiful of a foxglove as humanly possible. Autumn sown plants flower in early spring helping bridge the gap the spring bulbs leave in their wake.
*plants possibly available later in Autumn
My ultimate obsession! After my mini trial last season I discovered my two clear favourite varieties for growing for cuts: Nature Mulberry Shades + Nature Antique Shades (sadly the Antique Shades isn't available until much later this year - but next year we'll be all go!). Pansies need a long time to settle in and get their stretch on, so autumn sowing is perfect. Just plant them in a shelters spot super close together, in partial shade or even between some other plants and they'll soon be reaching up to flower on long very useable albeit fragile stems!
*Just the Mulberry Shades available this year, but I've got the Antique Shades on order for when they're next available late this year for next season's sale.
Winter Sown Hardy Annuals
While Chocolate Lace can definitely be sown in autumn I find if they're sown too early they just end up sooo unnecessarily toweringly big, it's impossible to keep them upright in our crazy spring rains & winds. And no-one really ever needs plants taller than themselves! So I try hold off planting till winter to try reign in their size a tad, they still end up massive compared to spring or later plantings but a little less insane than autumn sown.
*Possibly have seeds, but I need to double check with my supplier where my order is at for these!
I prefer winter sowing Scabiosa for the exact same reasons as Chocolate Lace, but even more so as once they inevitably flop together despite all my netting and corralling and bracing efforts they become too much of a tangle to bother harvesting.
*Black and Salmon/Pink available this release, Merlot is enroute so maybe months away yet, and Fata Morgana is hard to source this year. I've also got a limited number of a fantastic Dynamic Mix in-transit. I've stopped growing the White/Snowmaiden as it's too much of an under performer compared to other colours
I think Sweet Sultan can probably handle the cold of winter, but the winter rains and wet feet, not so much. So a later planting helps save them being stuck in the cold wet ground any longer than necessary.
*Seeds are hard to source, so I'm working on learning to grow my own
Technically reasonably frost hardy (or at least light frost hardy as that's all I get), I find they just sit around doing nothing and look sadder and sadder as the winter goes on, however timing it for a July sowing, August planting works out perfectly just as the days start getting longer and warmer so avoids that awkward lull autumn sown plants get.
*Seeds are hard to source, so I'm working on learning to grow my own - Cherry Caramel will be available in limited supply this year.
For similar reasons as the Phlox, Orach just seems to perform much better with a July sowing onwards vs earlier to avoid their awkward winter stalling.
*Limited supply this release as my main order is still in transit (no more Golden available though)
If you'd like to dive deeper into Hardy Annuals I'd highly recommend you check out Lisa Mason Ziegler's Cool Flowers book.