Hardy annuals, also known as “cool flowers,” are some of the hardest-working, most productive plants in the late spring/early summer cutting garden. Their ability to withstand cold temperatures, thrive with minimal care, and produce abundantly for more than a month from just one sowing makes them an indispensable addition to the cut flower garden.
Familiar flowers such as pansies and snapdragons are part of this group of flowers—but the tall varieties are distinct from those you see at many garden centers. We carry a wide range of hardy annual varieties, and here we highlight some of my very favorites.
Note that in warmer regions where winter weather is mild, sweet peas, honeywort, and calendula can be added to the list of hardy annuals sown and planted in autumn for earliest bloom. My flower journey began with the sweet peas in my Grammy’s garden, and they hold a special place in my heart. We have dozens of long-stemmed sweet pea varieties—including varieties developed by renowned breeder Dr. Keith Hammett of New Zealand and Roger Parsons of England—and we’ve devoted an entire blog post to them.
In colder climates, start seeds of hardy annuals in a greenhouse or indoors under lights in late winter. After seedlings have three sets of true leaves, plant them outdoors while the weather is still cool, usually about a month before the last spring frost. They are quite tough and can handle some chill, so they need no major protection during periods of frost.
In milder climates, plant them in the garden in autumn for an even earlier spring bloom. Virginia flower farmer Lisa Mason Ziegler wrote a wonderful little book all about hardy annuals that does a deep dive into this topic. I would highly recommend getting a copy of Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques if you want to master this topic.
All of these plants are productive, and the more you pick, the more they flower. But to extend the harvest window, I highly recommend planting multiple sowings of your favorites to extend the harvest window.
I generally sow a large batch in the autumn, then another in early spring, followed by two more sowings spaced a few weeks apart after that. This approach gives me an abundance of flowers, foliage, and filler for almost three months.
Every climate is different, so you’ll want to experiment a little to find out which hardy annuals perform best for you, but I can guarantee these plants will become some of your favorites.
Four excellent hardy annuals that should be direct-sown (and couldn’t be easier to grow) are bachelor’s buttons, larkspur, love-in-a-mist, and orlaya.
Bachelor’s buttons are a great choice for beginners. Pollinators love it, and if you harvest regularly, the plants will flower over a long period of time.
We offer three beautiful mixes. ‘Classic Romantic’ is the sweetest mix of blush, pink, white, and bicolors, great for bouquets and wedding work. ‘Classic Magic’ is an eye-catching mix of black, deep plum, and purple-and-white bicolor blooms; it’s on our must-grow list. And ‘Classic Fantastic’ is a mix of ethereal sapphire, pale blue, and cool-hued bicolors, shades that combine to resemble the midnight sky.
Larkspur: Flowers come in a rainbow of colors and can even be dried for later use. Because larkspur is extremely cold-tolerant, it can be planted in autumn in even very cold climates. For a continued harvest, sow seed in autumn and then, in late winter, every three to four weeks starting as early as the soil can be worked, up to the last spring frost date.
Seed can be tricky to germinate, so pop your packets of seeds into the freezer for a week before planting, then they will sprout readily.
One of my absolute favorites is ‘Earl Grey’ (pictured above). This incredible, unique variety has long been a spring cutting garden staple. Its giant flower spikes are smothered in the most exquisite dusty metallic purple-gray petals that are like nothing else on the market. Florists fight over it, gardeners love it, and there never seems to be enough to go around. A must-grow!
The ferny stems of ‘White Cloud’, a gorgeous airy variety, explode into sprays of delicate white, orchid-like blooms. This hardworking filler adds a lovely country charm that’s great for mixed bouquets and arrangements. You’ll want loads of this variety, so be sure to succession plant. We offer a beautiful collection of larkspur over in the Floret Shop.
Love-in-a-mist: While this plant looks quite fragile, it is actually one of the hardiest early bloomers around. In addition to producing unique lacy, star-shaped flowers in a mix of blues, plums, and whites, it also forms football-shaped seedpods in green, chocolate, and even stripes once the flowers have faded. The pods also dry beautifully. This is truly a hardworking garden addition.
One of the most productive varieties is ‘Cramer’s Plum’. Its branching stems are loaded with dozens of fluffy white blooms, and the plum-colored pods are great to use either fresh or dried.
Our Starry Night Mix combines several of my favorites including ‘Delft Blue’, ‘Midnight’, and ‘African Bride’, which produce lavender-dusted, royal blue, and white blooms, all with spidery black centers. When left on the plant, the flowers form dramatic black seedpods that add a unique textural element to any bouquet.
Orlaya: One of the prettiest, most delicate fillers for late spring and early summer bouquets, these dainty bloomers are smothered in a mass of lacy white umbels that mix well with anything. As the flowers fade, they form green seed heads loaded with star-shaped pods. It’s a true garden workhorse; the more you cut it, the more it blooms.
Breadseed poppies: Grown primarily for their decorative seedpods, breadseed poppies are easy to grow and make a wonderful addition to any garden. After flowers fade, they leave behind beautiful seedpods that add textural interest, both fresh and dried.
I’ve been saving the seed for ‘Pink Peony’ (pictured above) for over 10 years, gifted to me by my neighbor, Louise. Ultra-feminine, massive flower heads look like upturned petticoats. Though flowers are packed full with petals, their stems are strong enough to support the weight.
‘White Frills’ glows in the evening garden, with petals that have the dainty texture of shredded coconut atop a cupcake. At the opposite end of the color range, the plum and red petals of ‘Black Beauty’ look as if they belong to an exotic winged bird; they bloom on towering plants.
‘Rattle Poppy’ is a long-flowering, drought-tolerant poppy produces huge decorative seed pods that are as large as limes. The giant pale lavender petals of this beauty have dark grape-purple centers.
Iceland poppies: One of the most treasured spring flowers we grow, Iceland poppies have a citrusy scent. Their abundant flowering habit, stretching from early spring through mid-summer, makes them a highly prized cutting garden addition.
Technically considered a hardy perennial, poppies can survive even the coldest winters, but because they don’t do well in high heat, they are often grown as a hardy annual or biennial. Here in Washington we sow them in the fall and overwinter them in an unheated hoophouse for late winter and early spring blooms. ‘Pastel Meadows’ (pictured above), is a magical blend of gold, peach, watermelon, blush, and white that is absolutely breathtaking. Compare it to Sherbet Mix, another favorite (top photo, bouquet on left).
Shirley poppies: One of the most ephemeral and delicate flowers that we grow, Shirley poppies steal the heart of everyone who visits our garden. Pollinators love them too.
The petite flowers on ‘Amazing Grey’ are the most haunting purple-grey hue, similar in color to ‘Nimbus’ sweet peas. We’ve never seen anything like it. Plants are vigorous and free-flowering. Perfect for personal use and event work. After blooms drop, they leave behind adorable, chocolate-capped seedpods.
We consider ‘Pandora’ (pictured above) the sultry sister to ‘Amazing Grey’. Both varieties have a stunning purple-grey hue, but ‘Pandora’ is a metallic merlot. This vigorous and free-flowering mix features lots of double and ruffled blooms that flutter in the breeze. Like ‘Amazing Grey’, it produces chocolate-capped seedpods.
‘Supreme’ Flowering all summer, this mesmerizing mix of white, scarlet, soft pink, and watermelon-orange looks like an old-fashioned silk kimono. Single and double flowers sway above clean, mint-green serrated foliage. Each fuzzy stem shoots up at least a half dozen buds, and as soon as one flower fades, another comes up.
‘Mother of Pearl’ is a long-flowering, easy-to-grow mix in hues spanning dusty plum, cocoa-dusted white, cream with raspberry veining, and some muddy eggplant. Long stems, refined flowers, and adorable seedpods make this a perfect flower for wedding and wire work.
Snapdragons: These have always been one of the most productive early summer bloomers in my cutting garden. To get ultra-productive, long-stemmed cutting types, it’s essential that you select the proper ones and grow your own from seed.
Most of the bedding types you see at many garden centers are selected for their compact size and often treated with growth regulators to keep them compact—but they couldn’t be more different from the cut flower wonders that can be cultivated from seed.
‘Chantilly Light Salmon’ (pictured above, left) takes my breath away. No other snapdragon possesses so many desirable traits in one plant: beautiful warm colors, tall strong stems, delicate ruffled blooms, and the loveliest citrus scent. These beautiful butterfly-like blooms resemble upturned petticoats on dancing ladies. Flowers at the base of the stem are a soft glowing tangerine that transitions to apricot and melon pink, giving this variety a beautiful ombre effect.
‘Chantilly Light Pink’ (above, right) is the first to bloom and consistently our most-requested crop of early summer. Flowers are bubblegum pink with a darker watermelon throat that is creamy white on the reverse. The two-toned effect reminds us of cherry blossoms.
The variety ‘Madame Butterfly’, often referred to as azalea snapdragon, is a double-petaled beauty adored for its pleasant perfume and long-lasting blooms. Because the tight shape is difficult for insects to pollinate, blooms last longer in the vase than single-flowered snapdragons. ‘Madame Butterfly Pink ’ is a delightful warm bubblegum-pink variety with a lemony center.
Pansies: We sell more than a dozen pansy varieties, but here I want to mention two special beauties.
The ruffled blooms of the lovely, feminine Chianti Mix (pictured above, left) have a beautiful antique appearance. Colors range across varying shades of raspberry, peach, rose-blush, and pale lemon-yellow. The flowers have contrasting dark faces, and some petals are even striped. This versatile mix is perfect for flower arranging because the muted earthy tones mix well with so many colors.
‘Brush Strokes’ (above, right) is a fitting name for another new striking mix of striped and multicolored flowers in shades of eggplant, wine, apricot, and sunny golden-yellow. As flowers age they take on a blue cast, giving them an old fashioned sepia-toned quality. One of our favorites to date.
Stock: These prized plants thrive in cooler weather. Highly fragrant with a distinctive spicy scent and full, fluffy blooms, a few stems of these beauties make a big impact in both gardens and bouquets, and fill the air with fragrance. Half of the plants will be single-flowered (typical of stock varieties), the other half double, so plant twice as many as you need.
Three varieties I love are ‘Avalanche Supreme’ (pictured above, left), with dense, snow-white blossoms that resemble lilacs and are well-suited for wedding arrangements; ‘Pacific Crimson’ (above, center), which has striking deep magenta blossoms; and ‘Katz Bright Rose’ (above, right), whose towering stems are smothered in rose-pink blooms that have slightly lighter edges, giving them a lovely antique appearance.
Strawflowers: A versatile and textural addition to the cutting garden, strawflower can be used fresh or can be dried for fall bouquets and wreaths. The color and shape of these papery blooms will last indefinitely when dried. Pollinators love them.
Two gorgeous reds include ‘Copper Red’ (pictured above, left), whose rusty red-orange flowers have a luminous quality with an eye-catching yellow center that glows in the garden, and ‘Scarlet’ (above, center), with rich ruby-red flowers that have glowing gold centers.
Calendulas: These versatile flowers are extremely easy to grow and require very little care. They are fast to flower, blooming just two months from planting. Calendulas make great bouquet additions and are also edible—fresh petals can be used for salads or frozen in ice cubes for summer drinks. Dried petals are a popular addition to salves and lotions. One of my very favorites is ‘Zeolights’ (pictured above) because its warm peachy flowers look as if they are glowing in the vase. I consider it a must-grow!
One of the biggest mistakes I see new gardeners make is growing only flowers, and then when it comes time to make an arrangement, they have nothing to mix them with. My general rule is to split the garden in half and plant 50 percent foliage and filler plants, and 50 percent flowers. This approach will give you an abundance of bouquet ingredients to work with.
Two beautiful spring/summer fillers that carry flowerlike bracts but are treated as foliage are bells of Ireland and bee balm.
Bells of Ireland (pictured above) is a cutting garden staple and one of the finest annual foliage plants you can grow for mixed bouquets. Plants are heavily branched, producing a bumper crop of tall, lime green spires adorned with bell-shaped flowerlike bracts. You can remove the leaves and dry the bract-covered stems for use in fall arrangements.
Plants are slow to emerge from seed; it helps to freeze the seeds for 7 to 10 days before sowing.
Bee balm: The easy-to-grow variety ‘Lambada’ (pictured above) churns out waist-high stems that smell just like oregano and make a wonderful bouquet addition. Whorl-shaped pale purple blooms fade to greenish-silver at the tips. This pollinator-friendly plant has become a staple summer filler plant, used much like bells of Ireland.
Cress: This fast-flowering filler is a must-have for mixed bouquets and intricate handiwork such as boutonnieres and flower crowns. The tall, sturdy stems are smothered in beautiful silvery seedpods—like tiny textural beads—that aren’t prone to wilting or shattering.
Producing a bumper crop just 2 months from sowing, this garden workhorse is a winner. Cress is extremely quick to germinate, so I direct seed it in the garden every 2 to 3 weeks from my last spring frost through early summer for a steady supply.
In addition to using cress in fresh bouquets, you can easily dry stems to use as a fantastic addition to autumn bouquets and wreaths. To dry, hang bunches upside down in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight.
A friend gifted me seeds from her ‘Pennycress’. Legend has it that Pennycress has been growing in the Skagit Valley since the year I was born. The bright, clean, apple-green stems are well-branched and loaded with round, textural seedpods. As seed heads mature, they turn the color of wheat.
This is a staple crop for me, and I sow it multiple times over the season for a steady supply. Pods come on all at once, so it’s perfect for succession planting. Pennycress dries very well, changing from green to glowing yellow and eventually to tan. It’s very easy to save seed, too.
‘Emerald Beads’ is an extremely heavy producer with more delicate and more numerous pods than other varieties. The branched stems are upright with a graceful wave, making them useful and versatile in bouquets and arrangements.
Euphorbia: Hands down, this is one of the most versatile and productive early season foliage plants you can grow. Its bright chartreuse green umbels combine with nearly every color palette and are perfect for mixed bouquets. Easily mistaken for bupleurum (another great hardy annual), it has a much longer flowering window and lasts forever in the vase. A must-grow!
Queen Anne’s lace: Hands down, this is one of the most useful and productive filler flowers you can grow from seed. The more you pick, the more they flower. I plant hundreds of them every year and use every single stem. The lacy flower heads and crisp green-white color provide an invaluable backbone for late spring and early summer bouquets. We sell two varieties in the Floret Shop. ‘Queen of Africa’ has a delicate lacy quality, and ‘Green Mist’ produces wide umbel-shaped blooms over a long period of time.
Be sure to visit the Floret Shop to see our full line of hardy annual seeds; there are so many beautiful varieties to choose from.
I would love to hear your experience with this wonderful group of plants. Do you grow hardy annuals or plan to add them to your garden this coming season? If so, what are your favorite varieties, or what new treasures are you adding to your wish-list?
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