For the best blooms come summer, you can't beat sowing from seed this spring. You can find varieties that the garden centres and florists don't stock, such as Centaurea Black Ball, a luscious, deep claret cornflower that's dynamite with the lime-green spurge Euphorbia oblongata, another easy annual. Arm yourself with a trug full of seed packets and you can sow yourself a flower patch that will keep blooming for months, bring the bees and butterflies into your garden, and provide masses of stems to brighten the house as well.
If you are short on time and patience, hardy annuals are the seeds to grow. For the most part, they can be sown direct into the ground. Then just water and wait for flowers within 10-12 weeks. Sweet peas don't last long once cut, but they bloom so profusely, and for so long — three months, if you keep cutting them — they should be at the top of your what-to-sow list. You can pop the seeds straight into the ground in April, but for a safer bet, sow them now in deep, biodegradable pots and settle in the young plants, still in their paper cocoons, at the base of a wigwam or arch.
Going for gold
Marigolds — the calendula varieties — look great among veg plants, make wonderful cut flowers and their petals look pretty scattered in salads. Once you have sown them, you will always have them, and be glad to see their cheery golden heads.
The deepest orange, backed with crimson, is Indian Prince. For a great contrast, grow it among Cerinthe major purpurascens, the Med annual with ravishing navy-blue hooded flowers, or with the tall, flower-packed spires of royal blue larkspur. This is the easygrowing, daintier relative of the trickier perennial delphinium, and also needs protection from slugs and snails.
Sunflowers are a cottage garden favourite, but you don't have to grow the huge, heavy varieties that are impossible to mix with other flowers. In her comprehensive book, The Cut Flower Patch, Louise Curley recommends smaller, multi-headed varieties such as Helianthus debilis Vanilla Ice, with palest lemon petals and chocolate-coloured centres.
Some flowers offer seed pods as beautiful as their blooms, notably love-ina-mist. For the deepest blue — practically purple — flowers, grow Nigella hispanica, which has dramatic crimson stamens and seedpods. Sow a patch of opium poppies and watch them pop up year after year, all through the garden, creating a magical picture each summer. Sarah Raven (sarahraven.com) sells several beauties, including single-flowered Dark Plum, magentapink Cherry Glow, with pepperpot seedheads, and sumptuous Black Beauty, which offers full, petal-packed peony flowers, silvery leaves and architectural seedpods. Raven recommends searing the stem ends of opium poppies for 20 seconds to help them thrive when cut.
Include foliage fillers to beef up the border and provide foil for flowers.Ammi majus is the florist's first choice. The ferny foliage and frothy white flowerheads make it indispensable for tucking in here and there to create full, country-style displays.
Louise Curley recommends striking filler Daucus carota, the wild carrot with stems and umbel flowers a dynamic shade of plum. Briza maxima, the greater quaking grass, is delicate and beautiful. Its pale green, silken flowers hang from thin stems and can make the simplest flower bouquet spectacular.
The Cut Flower Patch (Frances Lincoln) costs £20, but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £16 including p&p by calling 01903 828503 and quoting code APG108.