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The best (and worst) new seed-grown annuals


The facts are indisputable: 

  1. I enjoy starting interesting and different flowers from seed.
  2. Doing No. 1 is a great way to create lush borders on a dime.
  3. I grew way too many plants from seed this year. Restraint is called for.

Those facts all call for a brutally honest analysis of the new flowers I grew from seed this year. The bar is going to be high to make the cut for next year.


I noticed Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum) on a trip to Longwood Gardens last year and I had to give it a try. I was drawn to both its chartreuse leaves and its airy pink flowers. I’ve heard it described as pink babies breath but to me the flowers almost look like tiny colored pepper corns on wires. They are fabulous in bouquets.

It is amazing to me how quickly these plants filled in and I quite like them in all the corners I’ve tucked them into.


* I doubt I have much of a choice. Jewels of Opar is known to be a prolific reseeder so I’m sure I’ll have it no matter what. In the interest of saving space, I may just move around the plants that pop up, but I’d dedicate indoor space to it if I had to.



I had to come close to selling my soul to get my hands on seeds for this new delphinium called Cheer Blue. A new All-America Selections winner that is said to be particularly good in northern gardens, this brilliant blue delphinium is more of a short-growing mound form than the typical large flower spike. 

I confess to not seeing anything that resembles a mound, but the flowers that do grow are just outstanding.



Bright pink, small-flowered nastrium with dark green leaves in a good mounding form

I am a sucker for nasturtiums. They are great for so many reasons (many of which I’ve gushed about here in the past), but, to name a few: they are edible, easy to grow from seed, excellent hole fillers in the garden and a great catch crop for ne’re-do-well insects, which you can see have done a bit of damage on the one in the photo.

What I like in particular about this one, which is an All-America Selections winner, is that is that it maintains a nice mounded form and has small leaves that allows the flowers to be the show-offs they want to be. 

Direct sowing works well for nasturtiums so I can start them early inside or direct sow.



Airy plant with pink flowers growing near zinnias

My enthusiastic love for airy plants can’t fully be explained, but I love this Verbena officinalis var. grandiflora ‘Bampton’ for a lot of the reasons I love Jewels of Opar. I will tell you, it doesn’t grow how I expected it to, which is that I thought there would be more flowers, but it’s a nice little mound that adds a certain amount of cottage charm. 

I found it to be easier to start from seed than Verbena bonariensis (which I know sounds nuts since it’s practically invasive in some places), but it’s still a little more needy than I’d like. But I love that it’s different and unusual and makes almost everyone (ok, the like three people who have been in my garden this year), ask about it.



Jade Princess millett, weeping bright green foliage.

In the past, I had poo-poo’d ornamental millets and then last year I toured the Ball Trial Gardens in Illinois and Jade Princess was mass planted and I blew me away. I knew right then and there that I had to grow it in the circle garden. Finding seeds for it was more difficult than I anticipated (I eventually found them from Harris Seeds for a lot of money). 

I planted 18 of them. Half sprouted. A week later only two were left standing. Clearly they are fussy about their growing conditions. I wasn’t expected that out of a millet! I replanted and had the same experience. Too dry or too wet were death knells for the seedlings. In the end I had just two left. This one (with that great weed in the photo) is one of them. The other is in a container at my office where it’s actually quite nice looking. 

I still like this plant and I know it would look great mass planted. But it takes time to get going and space under the grow lights is too precious to waste on something so fussy.



Nicotiana alata x mutabilis 'Bella' pink tobacco plant, dark pink to light pink flowers on a tall plant

My ongoing love affair with Nicotiana continues and this year I tried a few new-to-me varieties including ‘Bella’. I’m growing this mostly in the big container by the front door but also stuck a few leftovers in the new garden and I love it in both places. It is tall and wants to lean, so I have it staked a bit, which is a negative. But the mutabilis part of this cross creates those amazing dark pink to white flowers (they get lighter as they fade) and I can’t get over how good it is. Plus, look at what it looks like with the sun behind it.

pink nicotiana flowers backlit during the golden hour

I do wish it were perhaps a little sturdier and it’s sticky, which is obnoxious, but you know where this is going.



Wild magic purple basil planted with Nicotiana Antique Perfume Lime, with yellow-green flowers with red undersides.

I was attracted to this variety for a couple reasons. First, it grows a little shorter than my beloved Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’, about 18-24 inches. Second, the one drawback of ‘Lime Green’ is that there is no scent, and that is one of the best things about Nicotiana. With a name like “Perfume” I assumed I’d get that. 

Well, this plant has the height right, which I like, but unless my nose is broken, I don’t smell anything, even in the evening when Nicotianas typically share that sweet smell. It is also not nearly as bright as ‘Lime Green’ and I can’t decide if I like that reddish underside or not. (‘Wild Magic’ basil is the purple foliage growing in front of it.)

With all the good Nicotianas out there, I’m just not sure this is worth it.


The list narrows!

What plants are on your must-grow from seed list for next year?

22 Responses

  1. OMG! I know this is an old thread, so not sure anyone will see this. But I just ordered a bunch of seeds based on this discussion! Thanks for the great info all!

  2. Four intoxicatingly fragrant evening plants my garden will never be without:

    Nicotiana alata (the original white jasmine scented type)

    Petunia (old fashioned climbing or balcony from selectseeds)

    Matthiola longipetala (night scented stock)

    Hesperus matronalis (Dame’s rocket)

    I have a small bed of these by my patio, where the evening breeze carries the fragrance. They play well with each other, and the scent changes depending on what’s blooming- and there’s always something blooming.

    I also have containers of fragrant dianthus and sweet alyssum, plus oriental lilies and fragrant shrubs (lilacs, philadelphus, viburnum carlesii, and abelia) vines (honeysuckle and climbing roses). Oh, and a frost hardy gardenia plus a pot with sambac jasmine and another gardenia. My yard smells pretty good!

    The only real disappointment was Evening Scentsation petunia, it’s beautiful but not one out of 2 dozen has ANY fragrance at all.

    Thanks for letting me ramble on an old post. =}

  3. I’ve put in seed orders from Johnny’s, swallowtail seeds, and a few things from floret.
    I am going to try nicotiana & Joe-Pye Weed this year which I’ve never grown before but thought I’d try after your videos.
    I’m trying to do more filler flowers for bouquets so I’m growing Cinnamon Basil, & lemon basil. Green Mist Ammi, Bupleurum,
    I’m also going to try Purple Prince Alternanthera,
    For flowers I’m going to do Benary’s Giant Carmine Rose & Giant Lime, Potomack Pink & Potomac Cherry Rose Snapdragons. ProCut White Lite Sunflower, Green Pod Nigella, Starlight Dancer Nicotiana, Verbena Bonariensis, Lemon Mint Monarda. ALso QIS Larkspur White & Carmine

  4. Third on the request for best annuals to direct sow! You have inspired me to try to grow from seed this year–I live in San Antonio (zone 8b) and have the sun on my side. Love your blog and videos! I ordered nicotiana because of you too!

  5. I second the request for a posting on the best annuals for direct sowing. Some I already know from past experience but I now live in an apartment and no longer have a good place for indoor seed starting. This post was very informative as are the comments. Thanks to everyone I have added some things to my list for 2021.

  6. Would you consider doing a post on the best flowers for direct sowing? I live in tiny house under 1,000 sq and there are six of us in the family; so starting seeds indoors isn’t an option for me. I would find that most helpful if you fit that in some time.

  7. Erin,
    I have been watching your YouTube videos for a while, but had not thought to see if you had a blog/website (DUH!). I am also an inveterate seedaholic. Nicotiana alata grandis is always a favorite. Zinnia Aztec Jewel also a no-grow for me next year. Started a random Wizard mix of coleus, and while the germination was good, the colors were “euh.” I’ll hang on to cuttings from my purchases for the future. There was a deep red Double-Click Cosmos that was good. An annual single mixed colors rudbeckia was good. I had a Giant Pink Benary Zinnia that was incredible, along with the Canary Yellow version. Mixed cleomes did well. Double Gaillardia Lorenziana was incredible!

  8. Check out Geoseeds. Their selection is insane since they supply professional greenhouses and cut flower farmers their seeds. But they also sell to the public.
    I saw delphinium cheer blue sold there and 99% of all AAS flower winners and Fleuro select winners. They have 11 types of Nicotiana alone.

  9. Short of soul selling or some sort of felony breaking and entering, do you have any idea how to get the delphinium seed? Is it just best to wait a couple years?

  10. My absolute favorite annual from seed this year is Salvia farinacea “Evolution”. Great germination, nice foliage and the flowers are amazing. True purple with a rich, velvety texture. It’s been blooming constantly since June, and all the plants still look fresh and healthy At it’s best in full sun, but even those I planted in partial shade look good. Great plant.

  11. Grow again
    Crego mix China Aster
    Absolutely beautiful cut flowers

    Nasturtium mix
    My daughter loves these.
    Grow again

    Zinnias lilliput
    Ummm no way too small flowers

    Nicotiana perfume mix short
    Sorry but no. I’m not a fan.

    Alyssum purple and white
    Nope the bugs loved it too much
    Ate to pieces.

    Zinnia purple prince
    Omg these are so gorgeous. I’m saving seed from them and buying it again in case it cross pollinated with some other zinnias.

  12. I, too, grow nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ most every year. And I grow nicotiana ‘Baby Bella’. Baby Bella is shorter than Lime Green so they work well in my Red section of the Rose Garden borders. I like the shorter height so that I can move them closer and let the lime shine further back. The back of the trumpet is lime green. I hoped to grow the Perfume Antique Lime this year because of the same mix of red and green, but in your photos it looks more yellow than yellow green to me, and I also am not sure about the reddish tones working well after all– they look a little orange against the very yellow- yellow green.. (Orange is a color that I do not enjoy around me. Maybe because I look awful in orange clothing.) To find out no perfume to your nose— Ah, what a disappointment! Thank you for sharing your experiences this year with us. I am just one state west of you but grew up in northeastern IL. Oh do I miss that lake effect!

  13. This was so interesting to read. Really helps to hear your feedback, because you know I’m listening. haha. How are you feeling about the hyacinth bean? I strongly underestimated it’s tenacity and strength. It seriously looks like it wants to snap my arbor it’s so robust.

  14. I grew Nicotiana Jasmine alata last year and this year and will continue to start it from seed. The fragrance is incredible! I finally got Nicotiana Lime Green to germinate; now I am waiting for blooms and crossing my fingers for a late frost so I can enjoy the flowers. : )
    Cenrinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ (Honeywort) is a new one for me this year and while the flowers are smaller than expected, it is lovely and I will grow it again next year.

  15. I actually started the Lime Green this year inside because of your enthusiasm. However, from the same seed packet I got three different types, one white, one multi-stemmed and one single stemmed. Interesting. I would like to try again and wonder how you keep the plants looking lush with blooms? Pruning?

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