Whether you want to add colourful drama, fill a bare patch, spruce up the garden for a special occasion, create fabulous pot, container and basket displays – or all of these – then you can’t really go wrong with the huge variety offered by beautiful bedding plants. Traditionally associated with formal beds of brightly coloured flowers, these plants actually have much more to give to our gardens, including height, scent and texture, and are rightly enjoying a resurgence in popularity – and if you plan your planting combinations carefully, it’s possible to have bedding plants in flower throughout the whole year.
You’d think that this is more than enough for them them to earn their place in the the garden, but actually their good points don’t stop there! Their annual nature makes them extremely flexible, which means that it’s possible to regularly refresh your garden look, there are bedding plants suitable for every situation, and they’re easy to grow too – case closed and won we think!
There are lots of varieties to choose from, so we’ve put together our guide to beautiful bedding for Summer, Spring, Autumn and Winter, together with our tips on design, growing, planting and caring for your plants so that, whichever you choose, you can be sure to enjoy the most dazzling display.
Myosotis (Forget-Me-Nots) – offer a froth of clusters of yellow-eyed, sky-blue flowers which sit above the grey-green foliage which can be weaved through borders, is excellent for edging pathways, and equally at home at the front of a mixed, herbaceous or wildflower border. Plant them with Spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils and euphorbias for an eye-catching combination or, for a more informal look, with cow parsley, honesty and ferns.
They self-seed vigorously so you can almost guarantee a continual supply of plants, which is great news for bees because they love them!
Erysimum (Wallflowers) – bring a simply dazzling array of shades to the garden in Spring. Available in a rainbow of colours from red, orange, russet, pink, apricot and both subtle and strong purples, there is certainly a lot to choose from – and they have the added bonus of fabulous scent too!
One of the most reliable bedding plants, they’re happy wherever they’re planted and will continue flowering for three months if you dead-head regularly.
Polyanthus – are a large and varied group of Primula, characterised by a kaleidoscope of bright, blazing colours which sit above their distinctively textured foliage.
A cottage garden classic, these gorgeously reliable plants can survive the harshest Winter weather.
Matthiola (Stocks)– are super-hardy, sturdy plants offering a profusion of flowers in red, white, purple, lavender and pink during April and May, regardless of what the weather throws at them!
Be sure to plant them in full sun (but not high temperatures, they’re a ‘cool season’ plant) and in a location where you can also enjoy their deliciously sweet scent – and if you simply can’t get enough of them ,their densely packed blooms make for wonderful indoor arrangements too.
Marigold – easy to grow and capable of enduring all weathers, these garden stalwarts will be smothered in beautiful flowers – and you can choose from a range of colours from dark orange through to yellows and the very newest cream varieties!
As well as enjoying the beautiful flowers, these make excellent companion plants as they’ll keep aphids away from your tomatoes.
Lobelia – available as both trailing and bush varieties, this enthusiastic flowering gem works in hanging baskets and containers, and also makes excellent border and path edging.
They’re easy to propagate from seed too, so you can collect seeds annually for an ongoing supply!
Arabis – there are few carpeting plants able to provide such a splash of colour as the hugely versatile Arabis, commonly called Rock Cress.
Available in pinks, white and purples, these make a great choice if you’re looking for something evergreen in your baskets or in your borders.
Cosmos – with large saucer-shaped blooms which sit on slender, wiry stems a-top wispy, fern-like foliage, Cosmos is great for introducing texture and informality – and it’s loved by bess too!
Traditionally available in red, pink and white, the newer Cosomos sulphureus adds fiery yellows and oranges to the mix – and whichever you choose you can be sure it will flower prolifically from mid-Summer until mid-Autumn.
Geranium – with varieties suitable for just about any position in the garden, from dark, dry shade to hot, dry sun, there can be little doubt over the value of these wonderfully reliable plants.
Use Summer-flowering bedding geraniums to add a touch of the Mediterranean to your garden, making sure you choose both trailing and upright varieties to make the best displays in your hanging baskets, pots and containers, or in beds and borders.
The Spring-flowering varieties are mostly shade lovers and are available in shades of pink, purple, blue and white – perfect for adding interest and lighting up areas under deciduous trees and shrubs.
Diascia – these plants have a mound-forming habit which makes them perfect for baskets and containers, and with a good long flowering period they’ll continue well into the Summer.
Petunia – whether it’s shining among ground cover plants in beds and borders or the star of the show in hanging baskets, pots and containers, the large trumpet flowers of Petunia are a dramatic announcement of the arrival of Spring.
Available in plain, spotter, striped, single or double flowers, and in a rainbow of colours (including one which is almost black!), there is an almost over-whelming choice, but rest assured that whichever you choose will be popular, as they are loved by bees too!
Impatiens – or Busy Lizzie as they’re commonly known, offers a profusion of vibrant flowers which start in late Spring and continue through the Summer.
Available in shades of pink, purple, orange, red and white, the blooms are offset beautifully against the simple green foliage – and as a bonus they bloom entirely of their own accord, so won’t need deadheading.
For Autumn and Winter…
Pansies and Violas – Winter-flowering pansies and violas are simply the best bedding plants to give colour in your garden right through Autumn, Winter and into Spring.
They’re both ideal for tubs, baskets or borders, and just need regular dead-heading (and watering if it’s dry) to keep them at their flowering best. Since plants grow very little in Winter, it’s best to start with good-sized plants, plant them closely together and use enough plants to make sure you get a colourful display.
Dianthus – ‘Festival’ is the best choice, offering flowers in the white-pink-red-violet range with wonderful scent, throughout October and November. Simply pinch off the old flower heads in November and the plants will sleep through the Winter before flowering again in March, April and May.
They’re perennials too, so they’ll be back again the following year – bigger and better!
Cyclamen – cyclamen come in all shapes and sizes but by far the best for a great outdoor display at this time of year is the miniature cyclamen.
Available in colours ranging from dark maroon to soft pink and pure whites, they do best with a bit of shelter from the worst of the weather, where they’ll flower strongly into the New Year and they’re scented too!
Chrysanthemum – hardy chrysanthemums flower from September through to November and later, and so make an excellent addition to the border for late colour – and they are great for cutting too!
These beautiful plants are easy to grow and fairly resilient, all they ask for in exchange is a sunny position where they won’t get swamped by other plants. Available in colours including purple, pink, yellow and orange, they’re guaranteed to make an impression.
Whether you use them in beds, borders, hanging baskets, patio pots and containers, or to add quick and easy colour to gaps in perennial and shrub borders – or in all of these ways – the short-term nature of bedding allows you to be really creative with your garden each year. Using a strong colour theme, such as using oranges, reds and yellows together, or cool blues, purples and whites, together with a simple design will provide the most effective display – or alternatively you could choose to mix things up to a mixed meadow style.
A range of plants which achieve different heights will create a more informal arrangement, and the addition of climbing bedding plants such as Sweet Peas, Morning Glory and Ipomoea Iobata, which only need trellis, an obelisk or bamboo canes to support them,
And finally, don’t forget to consider foliage. Add feathery foliage by using plants such as Nigella (which also has the bonus of delicate flowers), or pure foliage bedding plants, such as Senecio, Ricinus and Coleus, which are invaluable for punctuating floral displays.
There’s no doubt that buying plug plants offer quick and easy access to bedding, especially if you need a colour fix in a hurry, but these plants are also really easy to grow from seed, which obviously makes them more cost effective, and is also extremely satisfying!
Summer bedding plants are sown from February-April, Winter and Spring bedding plants are sown from May-July for planting out in Autumn. If you’re sowing seeds then be sure to read the instructions on the packet as a few plants, such as Nigella and Poppies, need to be sown directly where you’d like them to flower, although the majority are happy to be started in seed trays, then pricked out and grown on.
Summer bedding plug plants, such as fuchsias and begonias, will need to be grown on in a frost-free environment before they can be planted out in late May or early June after all risk of frost has passed. Autumn and Winter bedding plug plants such as Pansies, Polyanthus and Wallflowers should be grown on and planted out once they’ve established a good root system – and the secret to success is not to wait! Plant your Autumn and Winter bedding in September while the soil is still warm and the weather is better as this gives them a better chance to establish properly and develop into strong plants – which means your display will last longer.
Planting & Care Tips
Most bedding plants prefer full sun and will appreciate the addition of a granular balanced fertiliser to the soil before planting.
Plant your plants so that the top of the root ball is just below the soil surface and firm in well, then water well to settle the soil around the roots.
Newly planted bedding will need to be watered regularly until it’s established, after which time they only need attention in spells of prolonged dry weather.
Plants grown in the ground and Winter bedding won’t require extra feeding, but Summer bedding in containers will have enough nutrients in the compost to last around six weeks, after which time they’ll definitely benefit from a weekly feed of balanced liquid fertiliser.
And, as we mentioned earlier, there are bedding plants which thrive in shade such as busy lizzie, begonia, lysimachia and fuschia – click here to see our dedicated shade-loving bedding article.
Right, that’s everything you need to know about choosing, growing and caring for beautiful bedding plants – and our suggestions to get you started – but be warned, this is just the tip of the bedding plant iceberg, and we guarantee you’ll become addicted! So it’s good to know that, throughout the year, we have everything you need in-store to feed your bedding ‘habit’, plus of course our friendly, expert advice if you need it!