GARDENING / Fast Plants: A guide for impatient gardeners: 2: Large Annuals

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The Independent Culture
SOWING seeds is rarely the first resort of the fair-gardener who wants fast results. But some seeds sown now can grow flowers on 5ft stems by late summer. They are none of them difficult to raise. The old-fashioned Van Gogh sunflower with its giant yellow face is difficult to integrate in sophisticated colour schemes, but it is child's play to grow. New forms of this are not such a socking size and colour as the painter's favourite, but they blend better with pale effects. Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' (shown above) has nodding pale yellow daisies and the white version, 'Italian White', is less tall at 4ft but even more elegant. Sunflowers can be sown in the ground but will do better from a pot start on a warm windowsill.

The mallow family is another good bet for the Jack-and-the-Beanstalk stakes. Malva sylvestris is like a hollyhock but less dusty-looking. Its large flowers are almost black, and if you have it in the garden one year, it will seed itself everywhere. In warm counties the plant is perennial. There is a new, pricey strain of seed called 'Bibor Felho' but I have found the old form quite exciting enough.

Real hollyhocks can flower the summer they are sown: the best seed for this is the one called 'Summer Carnival', which produces double flowers. These are a bit boudoir-ish - like ruffled blinds - so some might prefer the 'Single Mixed', which are not so dependable for flowers in one season.

The giant tobacco plant Nicotiana sylvestris is an enormous plant that thrives in impossible, dry places and does not seem to mind shade, but it is a half- hardy annual which means it is not safe to put it out in the garden until after the frosts are over. Man-high, with juicy leaves as big as paddles and scented white flowers, this is an exotic-looking thing. Each plant will occupy a yard of ground and the leaves are good for blotting out weeds.

For the jungle effect, the castor-oil plant (Ricinus communis), with red leaves a little like those of a horse chestnut, is another one to try. It flowers imperceptibly but has prickly seed heads late in summer. The seeds are poisonous so this is an adults-only plant. A leaf border of annuals might consist of the Nicotiana with the castor-oil plant and some red- ribbed spinach beet (ruby chard), with perhaps green angelica here and there. The angelica is a biennial, so it would have to be bought as a plant, but if you stop its flowers setting seed it should last for several seasons. Add some Alchemilla mollis, green lady's mantle, and you would have something very different.

Fast-track gardeners with more conventional tastes might think of growing climbers from seed. The canary creeper, Tropaeolum peregrinum, is a restrained affair with small, pale yellow, nasturtium-shaped flowers, but it is very pretty. Grown up a column of netting supported by sticks it would make an airy pillar in the flower bed. Real nasturtiums, the climbing ones, perform best on very poor soil. I'd like to try them as a bush about 5ft high and the same across. To do this, make a huge mound of chicken wire (it might have to have a few props underneath to stop it caving in) and plant the nasturtiums in the earth all around the edge, then let them scramble for the top. If you do this in mid-May they should have arrived about six weeks later.

(Photograph omitted)

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