In the past five years, my wife Nancy and I have been planting more annuals than we used to, mostly to use as cut flowers to bring inside. The increase preceded, but is probably connected with, my goal to bring more beauty into our lives.

The switch reflects how our lives have changed. Our house was built on former farmland, and when we moved in 47 years ago, except for pasture grass, a couple of apple trees and some full-grown oaks, maples and pines on the edges, nothing grew here.

With two young children and a mortgage, money was tight. If we were going to spend money on plants, they either had to provide food for our table or make a permanent improvement to our landscape. Putting time, effort and money into plants that are killed by the first frost seemed frivolous.

We’ve now reached the point in our lives that frivolous is not only OK, it’s to be encouraged, and it’s nearing the time to plant annuals outdoors; in Maine, Memorial Day weekend is traditional.

I will remind readers that shrubs and perennials can also work well as cut flowers, as I wrote about earlier this spring. But having annuals adds to the fun. So which will we grow?

When Matthew Hall-Webb and Jaci Neilsen of Pintetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester spoke to the Cape Elizabeth Garden Club in April, they handed out packets of Cut and Come Again zinnia seeds that they said would produce flowers in mid-July if planted on Memorial Day. For me, it’s always been mid-August for zinnias, but I hope they are right. This mix produces pink, scarlet, yellow, salmon, white, magenta, cream, rose and orange blossoms on 30-inch stems. When you cut the flowers, you encourage the growth of new stems, which will produce more flowers.

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But wonderful as they are, you want more than zinnias.

Granted, you won’t grow as many as these – an entire field of sunflowers near a barn in Benton – but do grow some. Bees love sunflowers, and the plants are dramatic. Also, they are the national flower of Ukraine. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

This year, you have to grow sunflowers. First, bees love them. Second, they are big, colorful and dramatic, and the seeds are edible. Also, they are the national flower of Ukraine; I think most people are supporting Ukraine this year. Nancy, the more practical and less frivolous of the two people living in our house, warned that if you bring sunflowers inside, they’ll drop pollen, which can stain tablecloths and other fabrics. So, spread the Sunday Telegram (after reading it, of course) under the vase and let it catch the pollen. The display is worth the extra effort.

Poppies are among our favorite annuals. We will sometimes plant an unusual poppy seed, but the ones that pop up every year seed themselves, as they have since Nancy ordered seeds decades ago from the American Horticultural Society. They are beautiful in the vegetable garden, but don’t do well in arrangements because the blooms last only a day before the petals fall.

Another annual that grows well in our “vegetable garden” is feverfew, which is native to the Balkan Peninsula. We bought a plant at a garden club plant sale a long time ago, and it has self-seeded ever since. Some people consider it a weed, but we like its small, daisy-like flowers, and appreciate that it transfers well to vases and requires no maintenance. If it gets too close to vegetables I want to protect, I pull it out.

Snapdragons are another favorite for cut flowers, but if you plan to put them in vases, check the label and get the varieties that grow at least 2 feet tall. The shorter varieties don’t show up well when cut.

Bachelor button, or cornflower, is another attractive plant that can spread like a weed. The flower gets its name because it often showed up in commercial corn fields. The blue flowers are the most popular, and the ones we grow, but cornflowers can also be white, pink or burgundy.

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Larkspur, another blue flower, is traditional in English cottage gardens. It looks like a short delphinium but is a lot easier to grow, and it takes less maintenance. I have been growing tithonia in our garden for the past two years, and may plant more. Dill and Queen Ann’s Lace also self seed in the vegetable garden, and Nancy cuts them as needed.

You need to dig up dahlia tubers each fall and store them in the shed or basement, then return them to your garden each spring. But with flowers this dazzling, many gardeners find it worth the trouble. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Two other plants we love for cut flowers are dahlias and gladiolus, which produce gorgeous flowers. These are not technically annuals – they would be perennial in warmer climates. In Maine, most people dig the tubers, for dahlias, and bulbs, for gladiolus, and save them over the winter in a cool area, such as a cellar. You replant them in the garden in the spring.

These are just a few of the possibilities. Wander the local nurseries this summer and buy a few annuals. Next spring, buy seeds for the ones you liked and let your garden go wild with color.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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