Brian Kidd explains how to use annuals to hide drab foliage

Salpiglossis ' a glorious annual  which grows to 18in.
Salpiglossis ' a glorious annual which grows to 18in.
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I had a letter from Tony at Rowlands Castle who loves his flower borders but, like most of us, realises nearly all herbaceous plants flower for only three weeks before leaving just the foliage.

He has overcome this problem by choosing plants such as hostas, ladies’ mantle and rodgersia because the foliage looks wonderful on all of them. He uses irises alongside each for contrasting foliage.

What he would like, however, is a border which flowers all summer and wonders what I would suggest?

Firstly, I do admire the ideas we see in the show gardens at the Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows which influence many gardeners.

It is possible to add plants to a border of perennials by adding annuals. These are sown from seeds in February in the greenhouse and planted out at this time of year.

One of the finest is salpiglossis, a glorious annual, about 18in tall with flowers similar to petunias that come with rich blue, mauve and yellow stripes and patches. It is rarely seen these days yet it is more glamorous than an orchid. Seeds can be sown now straight into the soil. Keep them well-watered.

My favourite is cosmos, also known as Cosmea. Ensure you understand how high these plants will grow because they range from about a foot to three feet.

In our border at home we have a scattering all through the border so there are blooms every day from now until the frosts arrive.

They are available in pots at garden centres. They are in bloom now so the right colours can be chosen. They will be tall and are simply knocked out of the pots and planted between the herbaceous perennials.

I didn’t see a Cosmea in any of the show gardens at Chelsea, which must be because none of the garden designers read my articles – or perhaps it’s because Cosmea are so cheap!

My final suggestion is dahlias. The single blooms grown from seed are the cheapest, costing between 25p and 75p a pot. Heights vary and the plants flower well all summer if deadheaded regularly.

They are very good for arranging indoors too, but if you can get hold of a dahlia catalogue there are literally hundreds of varieties ranging from the tiny pom-pom blooms up to those as large as dinner plates.

I love the water lily-type blooms best. Then the cactus-type flowers, but as I often say, choose the ones you like the look of. Plant them out now as the flower buds form and they will bloom all summer as long as they are deadheaded regularly.

Were there any dahlias at Chelsea? Yes, hundreds in one huge display and it got a silver gilt medal. It should have been a gold.

I think it very strange when we see show gardens at Chelsea which have been planted with the ‘May weed’, also known as cow parsley. This weed grows on a pathway next to my allotment and I hate it!


Are you saving water? Gardeners can set a good example. Everyone lets the tap run for a few moments until it is cold. Cold water is far more pleasing to the palette.

Don’t let that water run down the plug. Catch it in a bottle and put it in the fridge. The water will be cold in an hour. Don’t waste your money on bottled water.