Spring flowers

Our favorite cool-season annuals to plant this fall

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Dynamite Blotch pansy

  • Pansy


Nemesia: This low, mounding annual blooms so profusely, you barely notice its narrow leaves. The flowers look like small snapdragons and are sometimes lightly scented. In areas with mild winters and summers, nemesia blooms nearly year-round; elsewhere it puts on a strong show until temperatures soar. Blooms come in many colors; pastels predominate, but shades of plum, red, and bright yellow are becoming more common. Plants range from 6 to 16 in. tall; forms vary from compact and upright to loose and cascading.

LANDSCAPE USES: Its masses of chalice-shaped flowers are produced for months at a time and come in an ever-widening choice of colors, making nemesia a top-selling spring annual.

  • Use it to edge mixed borders.
  • Plant it among spring-blooming bulbs.
  • Grow it around mixed plantings in large containers to soften the pots' edges. Or plant one of the cascading forms, like Sunsatia Lemon, by itself in a stately urn.

OUR FAVORITES: The Sunsatia and Sundrop strains ― the former pictured in yellow ― are good performers, as are two older varieties, 'Blue Bird' and 'Compact Innocence'.

Pansies and violas: These low-growing plants (6 to 10 in. tall) with five-petaled flowers are top sellers year after year for good reason. They deliver lots of blooms over a long period, come in a huge range of colors ― both solids and bicolors ― and bloom through winter in much of the West. The large-flowered, faced varieties may catch your eye first in nurseries. But when planted en masse, nonfaced, single-colored varieties are often more striking. The original wild pansy ― Johnny-Jump-Up ― still charms us too.

LANDSCAPE USES: Their low, mounding habit makes pansies and violas extremely versatile. Use them in mass plantings, along the edges of mixed borders, in rock gardens, along paths, and alone or in combination with other plants in containers.

  • Combine blue pansies with orange and yellow Iceland poppies in beds.
  •  Use yellow and orange violas to edge a bed of leaf lettuce.
  •  Plant violas as covers for freesias, hyacinths, or sparaxis.

The red Dynamite Blotch, shown, is new. We also like the Crystal Bowl, Majestic Giant, and Ultima strains; in violas, try the Babyface or Sorbet strains.


Poppies: With their silky blossoms, poppies are the ultimate show-offs. While some kinds have big, rowdy leaves, making them difficult to use well in small gardens, our favorites ― alpine, Iceland, and Shirley poppies ― are more delicate. Shirley poppies grow 3 ft. tall and produce 2-in.-wide flowers in bright solid colors, bicolors, and pastels. Iceland poppies are shorter (1 to 2 ft. tall); flowers are cream, orange, pink, rose, salmon, yellow, or white. Alpine poppies, which do best in cold climates, are only 5 to 8 in. tall.

LANDSCAPE USES: With their tall, leafless stems that dance with every breeze, poppies are graceful companions to many plants.

  • Grow orange Iceland poppies with blue pansies, or pastel Shirley poppies with Antique Shades Sorbet violas.
  • Pair salmon Shirley poppies with Apricot Beauty tulips, or rose Iceland poppies with Pink Impression tulips; underplant either combination with forget-me-nots.
  • Use red poppies like 'American Legion' to add sparkle to silvery dusty miller.

Angels' Choir Shirley poppies are notable for their wide range of colors. We also like Champagne Bubbles Iceland poppies and, for windier areas, the shorter, sturdier Wonderland strain.



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