Annuals or Perennials? Can’t we have both?

Calendula flowering in July

In researching an article on annuals for a gardening newsletter (while it snows outside), I came across this startling quote:

“An annual is a plant that lives and dies in one growing season. A perennial regrows and reblooms year after year. In our busy world, why plant anything but perennials?

– Jeanette Marantos, The Los Angeles Times, 28 Feb. 2020 – quoted on

Now this is a position I find it hard to get my head around. We could start by throwing back this: in our busy world, why plant anything at all? For me, the whole point about gardening is that it is an escape from ‘our busy world’, not just another task to be fitted into it. Has anyone read one of those self-help books about how to bulldoze your way through your to-do list in half the time and at double the efficiency, while simultaneously getting your hair done and paying your gas bill? If efficiency were the goal of gardening, would we end up with a garden? I think not.

Phacelia growing in a pot

Philosophical quandaries aside, I decided to think up as many reasons as I could to encourage readers to try annuals. Here is my list so far – do let me know if you can think of some more:

  • Annuals grow fast and perform well in the only year they have, whereas perennials can often take two, three or more years to look good.
  • Annuals often flower for many months rather than just a few short weeks, especially if you deadhead them regularly (remove the spent blooms so fresh ones grow in their place).
  • Annuals are often cheap and easy to grow from seed, and many can be sown directly into the ground with minimum fuss.
  • They are great gap-fillers, while you wait for other plants to get established, or perhaps until you decide on how you want to plant up an area more permanently.
  • They can be used to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hover flies to your garden, and are invaluable for growing alongside veg for this reason.
  • They can add quick colour to pots on terraces, balconies, window boxes and hanging baskets.
  • While annuals might only live for one year, their babies might come back the next year if you let them self-seed freely.
Alyssum growing happily in an awkward dry spot, flowering all summer long

So I would be bereft without my annuals. One of my favourite sights in the garden is to see the cheerful jostling of calendulas and nasturtiums in the veg bed, creating a long-lasting riot of colour and bringing in the bees, butterflies and hover flies.

Veg bed summer exuberance

I have featured some photos here of just a few of the annuals I like to grow, and I wouldn’t be without them. Do you have a favourite annual that you always grow?

33 thoughts on “Annuals or Perennials? Can’t we have both?

  1. I would also add that some annuals self seed quite happily, making them a perennial presence if you allow them to be. Presumably, ‘in our busy world’ one wouldn’t have time to weed out annual seedlings anyway!

    Calendulas are a favourite of mine – such cheerful little things!

    1. That was one of my first responses as well. I love self-seeding annuals, calendulas, larkspur, nigella and poppies for a start!

    2. Good point, too busy for weeding! I adore Calendulas too, they brighten up even a grey day (I remember that the photo I took of the Calendula in this post was on a particularly miserable day, but just look at how bright it is!).

    1. They are lovely, aren’t they? I have them all over the place, they come at a useful time of year too when other things haven’t filled out yet. And I never have to re-sow them!

  2. I love sunflowers, cosmos and sweet peas – all planned (and some under way) for this year after the glorious colours they all gave me last year.

      1. My sweet peas are enormous – been pinching out the tips and they’re getting very bushy. Can’t wait to plant them outside (they’re kind of taking over the house right now – didn’t think I’d get 60+ seedlings growing LOL.

  3. My garden would be barren without the myriads of self-sown calendulas, nasturtums, poppies and borage with take-over the orchard during the summer. I just let flourish and only remove the ones which get in the way.

    1. Sounds so lovely. I had to take all the borage out of the veg patch though, it got pretty big! Will pop a few seeds elsewhere in the borders, the flowers are gorgeous.

  4. If one only has perennials, one either has to have loads of variety which looks very spotty, or loads of space (or both) in order to have a succession of flowers. I love my perennials, but couldn’t possibly do without annuals as well. Loved your post!

    1. I think you’re right Carolee – they seem to manage it in those huge borders in grand country houses, but not everyone has a 30 metre long border to play with.

  5. Some perennials don’t actually last for very long anyway, 2-3 seasons maybe. I love annuals for patio pots and filling gaps. It means I can choose different ones each year. My favourites are Cosmos and Ammi majus and poppies. And who can fail to love the cheeky forget-me-nots that self-seed their way all around the garden and photobomb every single spring flower shot!

    1. Photobomb is a good way to describe what the forget-me-nots do, they are everywhere but nobody holds it against them! Ammi majus is one I must try one year, it’s lovely and naturalistic looking.

      1. Ammi majus is lovely and frothy. I only wish the cow parsley would self-seed in my garden from the lanes, but it hasn’t so far!

    1. I know how you feel because for a long time I didn’t really have a garden of my own, as we were renting for ages. I did manage quite a few pots though! Hope you get the opportunity for a bit of gardening one way or another. 🙂

  6. Well said Sel! I would add to your list that it is also such fun growing annuals from seed and waiting for them to poke their little pale green heads out the soil. 😃 I would not want to be without them either. I love Cosmos, Cleome, Sunflowers and especially Tithonias.

    1. That’s an excellent point to add to the list! I also love Sunflowers and Cosmos. I’m trying Cleome and Tithonia for the first time this year: Cleome has germinated (but only 3), but I haven’t even sown Tithonia yet. When do you sow yours?

      1. I sowed it with my cosmos and cleome about a week ago and despite the chilly windowsill the cosmos and tithonia are peeping through already. I like to sow tithonia as early as I can as it takes a while to get settled in my beds and put on growth. Does really well in pots too though. 😃

  7. I completely agree! I like tp]o mix annuals with perennials because annuals can contribute long-lasting color to beds and borders, compared to the shorter blooming periods of perennials. My favorite annuals: Tithonia and Sweet Alyssum.

  8. I love annuals for the changes they ring to the look of an established border. One year I had a brilliant show of billowing rosebud cleome and cosmos … the next we had dazzling orange tithonia and purple amaranthus, meanwhile the asters, grasses and chysanthemum did their usual stuff. Oh yes, Cathy is right about sunflowers. Such fun and great for birds.

    1. What fab combos. I’m trying for an orange/purple mix in my vibrant border but need a late season purple to contrast with the tithonia…amaranthus is a great idea!

  9. I think gardening is an activity with great results fresh air environment bugs fruit and veg fever shoo wildflowers etc anything that has flower is blissful for our souls

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