Colour in our gardens in these horrid times!

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Milton Ernest Garden Centre is devastated that we are not able to provide our loyal customers with the plants and goods you want for your garden this spring.

It is a time when we all need to brighten our homes as we follow the stay at home advice. We can still make our gardens and tubs colourful by growing hardy summer flowering annuals directly from seed. We can send you packets of seed by post.

The thrill of sowing seeds and watching them grow is very satisfying.     

An annual is a plant that germinates easily and produces lots of colourful often perfumed flowers full of nectar and pollen because they need to be pollinated and produce their seed within one year.

This need for perpetuation attracts lots of Bees, Butterflies, Hoverflies and other pollinating insects. Bees are particularly attracted to blue flowers, butterflies pastel shades and hoverflies to orange.

These plants are very useful space fillers for areas of naturalising because they set and spread their seed very readily. When the plants are left undisturbed they grow, produce seed and spread in a couple of seasons.

Choose the varieties depending on the place you want colour be it a sunny border, dry bank, hedgerow, shade or woodland. Many cottage garden plants, herbs and wild flower seeds are annuals.

Hardy annuals can be sown directly into weed free finely raked soil or tubs at the beginning of May when the soil is warm.

If the surface is too rough cover it with good planting compost like John Innes which will give a fine tilth into which fine seedlings will easily germinate.

Now water to moisten the soil, scatter the seeds thinly and just cover with fine compost. Continue to water every couple of days during the germination period which is usually 10 to 14 days.

Another way is to plant a pinch of seed into a 5 cm planting cell tray using seed compost. When the seedlings have two true leaves thin to three seedlings per cell and grow on until the plants are easy to handle, about 5cms tall then plant directly into the border or container.

The same technique can be used for any tender annuals which can be started on a sunny windowsill and planted outside after the last frost in April or May.

Bumplebee on Larkspur.

Here are some suggestions of hardy annuals to grow.

Calendula or Pot Marigolds and Nasturtiums are bright cheerful plants with lemon, yellow, orange and red flowers ideal to grow in the fruit garden to aid pollination. They are also good to eat.

Ipomea or Morning Glory, Sweet Peas and Convolvulus are all climbing annuals. Grow at the back of the border or in a patio pot over an obelisk or a tripod of bamboo canes. Pick the sweet peas every couple of days to promote more flowers.

Mignonette, Night Scented and Virginia Stock are very highly perfumed and fill the evening with their wonderful scent. Plant these in tubs on the patio to enjoy with your G & T.

Nigella, Poppies, Larkspur, Linaria, Canterbury Bells, Candytuft, Cornflower, Godetia, Scabious and Clarkia are all traditional cottage garden plants to sow in patches in mixed sunny borders to keep the interest here all through the summer months.

Insects are particularly attracted to Agremone with huge saucer shaped flowers and Clary with upright Oxford blue spikey blooms.

Nemophila with powder blue Forget me Knot, only larger, flowers and Limonanthus the Poached Egg plant has white flowers with yellow centre. Both low growing front of the border plants.

For shady areas Foxgloves and Honesty thrive. Although strictly biennial they are treated as annuals.

For a bit of exotica Cleome has interesting pink or white spikey fluorescence and Amaranthus aptly named Ribbons and Beads has dramatic long tassel flowers in lime green and crimson.

Coreopsis Roulette with striking red and yellow flowers, Chrysanthemum Rainbow is what it says, Sunflowers, Lavatera and Cosmos with large stunning pink and white saucer flowers are absolute musts.

If you have a garden large enough for a wild area scatter wild flower seed mixes. You will love the result.

Sow, Grow and Enjoy while we all reassess the way we live our lives.