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 merriam-webster.com

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?