Sure, they're called annuals, but buy their seeds once, and you'll have blooms year after year.
Flowers That Plant Themselves
Credit: Jean Allsopp, Van Chaplin, Allen Rokach

For continuous color, you can't beat annuals. But some people can't bear to spend money on plants that die with the first autumn freeze. "People tend to downplay annuals because they think they have to replant them every year," says Linda Hostetler of The Plains, Virginia. "That's not necessarily true. If you choose reseeding annuals, they'll come back everywhere."

You need only look at the gardens presented in this special section to understand just how right Linda is. Each one derives much of its seasonal color from flower seeds you buy and sow only once--plants such as poppies, larkspurs, coreopsis, and cosmos. After they finish flowering, their seeds drop to the ground, and then new plants magically appear the following year.

Self-sown seedlings, often called "volunteers," sometimes show up in unexpected places--gravel paths, cracks between rocks, or right in the middle of a clump of something else. This randomness gives a cottage garden its charm and surprise. And if you don't like where something sprouts, it's okay to yank it up.

Tricks for Planting
Seeding flowers in the garden does require a little bit of know-how. For example, if you want the seeds to sprout, you had better not mulch or apply a pre-emergence herbicide.

The procedure for seeding by hand goes like this.

  • Select an empty spot.
  • Prepare the soil by adding any necessary amendments, such as compost, peat, or ground bark.
  • Rake the soil surface smooth, removing rocks and sticks.
  • Sow seeds evenly over the soil, using a rake to barely cover them; then water gently.

When should you sow them? Spring or fall is fine for most flowers. However, for those that bloom during the cool weather of spring, such as poppies, larkspurs, sweet Williams, and love-in-a-mists, fall is the only option. Most of the flowers listed in the box prefer full sun; the ones that do well in shade are noted by asterisks.

Blooms That Come Back

* Will grow in shade

After the Blooming
Once flowers set seed, you can let the plants drop them on the soil and wait to see what comes up where. Or you can collect the seeds and sow them at the proper time according to the above procedure. Either way, a small investment of money and time will bring you many happy returns.