Eight exotic annuals to add colour to your summer garden

Butterfly flower (Schizanthus) brightly coloured flower known as poor man's orchid
Not the usual fare: schizanthus, also known as poor man’s orchid, thrives here  Photo: John Keates / Alamy

Annuals are exciting to grow, simple as that. In fact, growing any plant from seed is a thrill, from the moment the seed leaves first push up through the compost to seeing the first flower open. But annuals are extra thrilling because, for the most part, given the right conditions, they are fast. (A recent sowing of clarkia took three days from sowing to seed leaves – although not

Gardening calendar: sow swiss chard and plant gladioli

colourful stalks of swiss chard
hardy: swiss chard brings zing to a border Photo: Food Centrale Hamburg GmbH / Alamy

  1. Sow hardies: Direct sow hardy annuals – long-producing veg such as Swiss chard, flat-leaved parsley (‘Giant of Naples’), as well as filler flowers (Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ and Nigella hispanica) – for your borders. Rake over the soil to create a fine tilth, and sow in a noughts-and-crosses grid, the lines a foot apart (for most things). Sow one seed every inch or so and then it will be easy to thin seedlings.
  2. Divide and conquer: Tidy up perennial grasses

Gardening calendar: sow swiss chard and plant gladioli

colourful stalks of swiss chard
hardy: swiss chard brings zing to a border Photo: Food Centrale Hamburg GmbH / Alamy

  1. Sow hardies: Direct sow hardy annuals – long-producing veg such as Swiss chard, flat-leaved parsley (‘Giant of Naples’), as well as filler flowers (Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ and Nigella hispanica) – for your borders. Rake over the soil to create a fine tilth, and sow in a noughts-and-crosses grid, the lines a foot apart (for most things). Sow one seed every inch or so and then it will be easy to thin seedlings.
  2. Divide and conquer: Tidy up perennial grasses

Our pick of the best National Gardening Week events

RHS Garden Harlow Carr
RHS Harlow Carr will be hosting activities for National Gardening Week Photo: RHS

For the fourth year running, thousands of people, gardens, charities, culture and heritage organisations will come together to celebrate National Gardening Week. Coordinated by the RHS, the aim of the week is to encourage people to “start something beautiful” by helping to keep their neighbourhoods, environments and shared spaces beautiful through gardening.

New this year is the first ever National Open Gardens Day on April 17. Some of the nation’s most beautiful gardens – that normally charge entry or

The vital importance of woodland gardens

Global interest: Nick Bailey’s plan for the Chelsea Physic Garden includes plants from all over the world, including the Japanese Cercidiphyllum japonicum and the Epimedium sulphureum
Global interest: Nick Bailey’s plan for the Chelsea Physic Garden includes plants from all over the world Photo: Geoff Pugh

Woodland gardens are very much of the moment. But despite our dependence on trees for oxygen, food, clothes, heat and housing, we do very little, beyond tutting into our newspapers, to stem the rate at which forests are being felled. So I welcome the news that the Chelsea Physic Garden opened its new

Gardening calendar: support climbers and sow parsnips

The vegetable garden at Perch Hill in early autumn. Raised beds edged with woven hazel fences. Rustic arches, beans, perilla, salsify.
In the frame: Put supports in place for summer climbers  Photo: GAP Photos/Jonathan Buckley

  1. Wooden frames: Make frames and arches for sweet peas and plant our your seedlings. Use local wood for the frames if you can find it, which looks nicer than stark bamboo canes. Hazel is ideal for the uprights and will last two to three years. Willow or silver birch are best for the arches and, with the sap rising, are pliable at

How to create a show-stopping summer flower container

Thriller, spiller, filler: the recipe for all succesful containers Photo: é Copyright Jonathan Buckley

There’s something calm and stylish about a group of pots that contain just one plant each, such as well-established clumps of agapanthus; pom-pom-headed blue hydrangeas; ever-flowering arctotis; acidanthera; or, for a doorstep or outdoor stairs, domes of silvery echeverias, which are the lowest-maintenance plants you can grow.

This understated good taste is equivalent to the Chanel of the pot world. But, for more razzmatazz, more Galliano or McQueen, it’s good to mix things up a bit, to play with colour, texture and

Gardening calendar: plant kale and alstroemerias

Alstroemeria aurantiaca
A cut above: alstroemerias will give armfuls of cut flowers Photo: Roberto Nistri / Alamy

  1. Plant alstroemerias: I’m a massive alstroemeria fan. These tuberous perennials will give you two or even three crops of cut flowers and put on a good show every year, yet few of us grow them. Why not plant some? They’ll only take a year to establish and you’ll be picking armfuls of flowers as tall as you if you want them. Pull the stems, don’t cut them, when you harvest.
  2. Invest in irrigation: We swore last summer we’d invest

Gardening calendar: pot dahlia tubers and prep your lawn

Pot dahlias now for glorious summer blooms 

Tuber time

1 Start potting up dahlia tubers. If you have any in storage, make sure the tubers are still firm and choose a pot that will accommodate their roots. Pot up using a mix of multipurpose compost with about 25 per cent grit. Keep in a frost-free place and keep the compost damp, but not sodden.

Sarah Raven shows how to pot dahlias in just 90 seconds

Lily saver

2 Planted against a hedge in a west-facing bed, we’ve had a problem

Alan Titchmarsh: why you should get outdoors this Easter

Alan Titchmarsh in garden
Great outdoors: we shouldn’t see gardening as a chore Photo: Richard Saker / Alamy

There is always one day each spring when, for the first time, the sun warms my back, and I feel that a new season is on its way. It happened to Moley in The Wind in the Willows, who flung down his whitewash brush and dashed out into the meadow, and it happens to me, too. Every year. You would think that by now I would be used to it, but the excitement is almost childlike in its intensity. If I