EVEN though winter is associated with a splash of colour in our gardens, there is a vast number of summer and monsoon flowering annuals, too, which will add freshness and colour to the environment. Only one has to keep in mind the scale of hard work and water requirements in mind and if there is no dearth of the two – the results will be rewarding enough. A few popular annuals that need to be sown from March onwards in North India are:
Balsam or impatiens balasamina: Attractive annuals coming in forms such as rose flowered and "camellia flowered" and dwarf varieties in white pink, purple, coral and crimson red are easy to grow in beds and pots. Growing up to a height of 2 feet, the seeds may be sown in situ and thinned out or transplanted.
Cacalia or tassel flower: A native of tropical America, it grows up to 1-2 ft as a half-hardy annual. It has clusters of small scarlet flowers though the variety lutea has golden yellow flowers. Sow March to September.
Cleome: A beautiful flower for the border, it gets its common name "spider flower" from the unusual cluster of pink or white spider-like flowers with long stamens. It grows up to 3 ft tall. The seedlings should be transplanted 2 ft apart each way. In early days, watering should be carefully monitored.
Gaillardia: Also known as blanket flower, these make fine border plants and are excellent cut flowers. Available both in single and double form, these have daisy-like flowers in yellow, copper and orange with bands of red or bronze. Though division can propagate it, it is generally treated as an annual and grown afresh from seeds in North Indian plains.
Nicotiana: The night-flowering tobacco offers profuse flowering and is highly fragrant. However, the modern hybrids remain open during the day at the cost of scent. Available in lime green, white flesh pink rose, lilac and deeper reds. They grow up to 1 to 2 ft and above. These make good plants for mixed borders. Seeds are sown in March to June and again in August to September.
Petunias: The petunias, with their broad and open funnel-shaped flowers in white, mauve, purple, pink and crimson are among the finest of the half-hardy annuals. Long flowering, these are excellent for bedding, pots and hanging baskets. The F-1 hybrids are the favourites these days due to their beauty, vigour and uniformity of colour. The plants should not be grown in very rich soil. The seed should be sown in boxes of light compost covered with very thin layer of soil from March to June.
Portulaca: This low-growing, spreading plant forms a lovely floral carpet in the open garden and looks lovely in shallow pans. With a profusion of orange scarlet, rose, yellow, white and mauve single or double flowers, portulaca can be grown from seed sown in March to June or propagated by cuttings.
Salvia: A good bedding and pot plant, it is grown both as a winter and summer annual. For summers it is sown in February to March. The exciting scarlet flowers of s. scandens are very popular for their colour and easy cultivation.
Sunflower (helianthus): Useful tall garden plant (up to 6-7 ft) for screening or planting at the back of mixed borders, the golden flowers love sun and are best sown in situ thinned 1 foot apart. The dwarf varieties are used for bedding. If disbudded, the sunflower can produce immense flowers of about 8-10 inches diameter.
Zinnia: The many types available are giant dahlia flowered, chrysanthemum flowered, cactus (2 to 3 ft) and gaillardia flowered (1 to 2 ft) to lilliputs (15 inches) to thumbelina-mixed strains which grow only on six inches stems, zinnias come in mixed colours or in white, pink, yellow, orange, crimson and mauve colours. In the northern plains, they are sown in March to June and again in August to September. When transplanting, the seedlings should be spaced apart at a distance equal to three quarters of their eventual height.
Verbena erinoides: Sown March to June, makes a very good ground cover which flourishes with minimum care bearing lavender or blue flowers through summer and monsoon.