When visitors to our nursery admire our exhibition gardens filled with rare and unusual shrubs, trees and perennials, they usually ask questions about the old-fashioned annuals. These annuals are the magical ingredient that turns a plant into something truly enchanting.

The old-fashioned annuals are still there for a reason. While dozens of trendy new hybrids come and go every year, classic favorites such as baby sapphire-eyes, Spanish flag and peck-me-over-the-garden-gate, soldier on in gardens around the world, appreciated for their resilience and cherished for the ethereal charm they bring to the garden. Most of these old-fashioned annuals are larger than the average annuals you find in garden centers today. For me, this only adds to their desirability and charm. What you get when you plant modern, already-blooming dwarf hybrids is a stocky little screen without the visual joy of different heights; blending of leaf textures; and beautiful long thin stems waving in the wind. You only get instant color-and instant color doesn’t make any garden charming.

Many of my favorites are almost impossible to find in most nurseries these days. You will probably have to start them with seeds, unless you can find small plants that are offered at local farmers markets or plant sales. The good story is that these legacies would not have arrived in the modern era if they were not particularly easy to cultivate. And because many of them safely sow themselves, you will have a lot of additional plants to fill your garden in the coming seasons. If too many show up, they are a piece of cake to take. Or better yet, you can join the ancient tradition of sharing passing plants with your friends, especially those who say they kill everything. They’ll love you.

1. Pink pink flowers waving in the wind

Name: Corn husks ‘Milas’ (Agrostemma githago ‘Milas’)
Size: up to 3 feet long and 18 inches wide
Conditions: full sun; rich and well drained soil
Best way to grow: sow seeds outdoors as soon as the weather starts to warm, or buy small plants to go outside after the last frost date. Transplant carefully without disturbing the roots.

The corn husk ‘Milas’ is my favourite cottage garden classic. It is easy to grow and offers the ultimate charm. The slender, straight stems sway gracefully in the slightest wind, crowned with elegant satin and shiny Rose flowers, each with a delicate pattern of radiant black dotted lines. It produces up to 100 flowers at a time, making it a perfect cut flower. He also sows himself-plant one this year and you will get 10 new fresh plants or more next spring. This is a spring flowering that will last about a month and a half, although it continues in the summer and will fall in places with cool summers. Snails and snails are attracted to this plant, so plan accordingly.

2. A color that goes with everything

Name: Flowering tobacco ‘ Lime Green ‘(Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’, long shape)
Size: up to 3 feet long and 1 to 2 feet wide
Conditions: full sun to half shade; rich, moist and well drained soil
Best way to grow: surface-sow seeds indoors in early spring and put the seedlings after the last frost date, or buy small plants. Do not allow the seedlings to dry.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, flowering tobacco was 1 meter high or more. Then the growers decided that the plants should be only 1 meter high, so that the growers could sell them in a pot during flowering. It is amazing how quickly the original and more worthy forms of a garden were forgotten. I often use 3-foot tall “Lime Green” flowering tobacco in my gardens. I can’t help it—it adapts to anything and any color, and it seems to make every plant I combine with pop. Robust and adaptable, it blooms for many months. Here on the coast of California, we can grow it in the sun or in the shade, although it is usually grown elsewhere in the bright shade, where the greenish-green color is most radiant. Once it has finished flowering, all you have to do is cut it to about 5 centimeters long and it will bloom again soon. This plant acts as a long-flowering perennial in temperate climates and it itself reliably sows every season elsewhere.

3. A rainbow of colors from an easy-to-grow vine

Name: Spanish Flag (Mina lobata)
Size: climb up to 10 feet
Conditions: full sun; rich, moist and well drained soil
Best way to grow: sow seeds outdoors in after spring, or buy small plants to go out after the last frost date.

The surprising, triple-toned flower spikelets of this old-fashioned vine, also known as the exotic love vine, never fail to amaze those who see it for the first time. This powerful member of the morning glory family carries attractive, good-sized, lush, lily-shaped leaves thick enough to cover a chain-link fence. It bursts into a mass of flowers for several months, starting from the middle of summer. From the base, the flowers begin to yellow primrose and switch to peach, orange and scarlet, with all colors appearing at the same time. Spanish flag is incredibly easy to grow. It helps to place it where the base of the plant gets shade. This is an excellent choice for a gazebo or trellis. Plant three under a high obelisk in a large container for a beautiful display. He usually sows himself, so you will have it next year.

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