Annuals have gotten a bad rep lately with people who think "real" gardeners only plant perennials. It's true many annuals have become overused but that doesn't mean they don't deserve a place in the garden. Annuals are easy to grow from seeds, don't require much maintenance and bloom their hearts out all season long.
Nothing says spring like daffodils, tulips and crocus. Complement these bulbs with annuals that start blooming before the bulbs and continue long afterwards. By the time the bulbs have faded and their foliage looks unsightly the annuals will take over. Good combinations to try are purple lobelia, pansies and yellow daffodils. Or put together light pink tulips, bright pink snapdragons and white alyssum.
Lobelia grows to six inches high but spreads to 12 inches and is covered with small bright blue flowers.
Alyssum is sometimes thought to be a perennial because it seeds itself so prolifically. It's not unusual for alyssum to return year after year. Its growth pattern is similar to lobelia but the flowers are tiny. Colors include white, pale lavender and light purple.
Pansies can handle a light frost and keep on looking perky and bright. Violas, which are pansies without the "cat face", do the same. The plants are about 10 inches high and wide. Blossoms range from the tiny size of a dime to giant pansy varieties the size of a child's fist.
Snapdragons come in several heights: the carpet variety is about 6-8 inches high, the standard is 12-18 inches high and the skyrocket variety grows to 24 inches high. Colors come in yellow, reds, burgundy, pink, white and multi-colors. Most nurseries have six packs of mixed colors of the same variety. If one color is desired, it's best to grow them from seed.
Summer is when annuals really hit their stride. It's hard to go wrong either with the variety of flower or colors. When planting a border plant very tall varieties such as sunflowers and annual hollyhocks in the back followed by flowers that grow from three to five feet tall like cosmos and larkspur. In front plant zinnias which reach 2-3 feet and finally edge the border with short flowers such as alyssum.
Plant a bed of annual flowers for their scent. Nicotiana has tube shaped flowers in pastel shades. Sweet peas grow as a vine from 18 inches to six feet high with masses of flowers in white, pink, dark pink and purple. Heliotrope grows to 15 inches high with lots of purple flowers. P. integrifolia--old-fashioned magenta-colored petunias--are highly scented.