Late Annuals

by Matt

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It was around this time last year that I remember feeling a distinct sense of guilt each time I wondered through the picking beds. We had so little sun and so few warm days that almost every gardener I spoke to waved a similar flag of defeat when talking about their cut flower crop. Growing the large, prolific and long-lasting annual bruits we’ve come to rely on each year, both as significant border-fillers and cut supplies for the house, depends upon these two elements at a crucial time during the early to mid summer. Last year we had neither, and those plants sown from seed that year (bar the ever-resilient, ever-praised Euphorbia oblongata, obviously) struggled their way to flower, only to quietly flop and later blacken in the permanently saturated soil.

This year in the South however, we couldn’t really have had any more sun, light and warmth. The conditions for growing annuals in particular, in fact, were so ideal that it was almost as if they were nature’s sole concern this summer. There was heat when needed, rain when needed and so few windy days the dahlias may as well not have been staked. The blooms have kept going since late June, and it’s actually been fun again to work in the picking beds; a prospect that seemed pretty unlikely as the summer drew to a close last year and the leaves began to fall.

I set myself a challenge for the following year around that time, to put all my efforts into making these beds work as they were intended, which thankfully seems to have been the case. But the lesson is simply that no matter what you do, success ultimately lies in the hands of the weather.
There are still a few more weeks of decent flowering to come, but by way of simple analysis, here are a few things I have noted:

1. Careful over-winter storage of dahlia bulbs is key. Dry and cool. Sowing fresh from seed is not to be scoffed at too -in the right conditions they’re very fast growers.

2. No matter how tempting, hold off sowing until the warm has truly arrived.

3. Larkspur and Tithonia are the balls; once going they give relentlessly.

4. If you’re going to do cornflowers, cut back hard at least twice in the season, just before they go to seed.

5. You can never have too much cosmos.

Photos by Roo Lewis: