Old-fashioned annuals are awesome



Sometimes my experience with these falls under the “interesting” category rather than “delightful,” but this year I am very pleased with the results from two starts I got from Select Seeds in the spring.

This Martha Washington geranium (developed c. 1870s) is better than anything I can get in local nurseries. SS calls it “Gardener’s Joy.”


And you probably recall my ravings about the sacrifices made to get over-blooming, voluptuous masses of petunias. I love the various Waves for public plantings, but for my own yard, I like older varieties that don’t bloom nearly as much but have a scent, like the deep violet ones you can still get at many nurseries, or the “Rainmaster” whites, which have a light, sweet fragrance, especially at night. Their upright growth is perfect for me since I’ve got them in a container on the pavement.


Other old timey annuals I’d find it hard to get along without include my tall, branching heliotrope and my “outhouse flower”—rudbeckia laciniata “Golden Glow.” The image above is from last year; they are much taller this year. Nine feet easy, I’d say.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I love Select Seeds. Some of my can’t-do-withouts: nicotiana, evening scented stock, Lauren’s Grape poppy, and love-in-a-mist. Those petunias are great too.

  2. I need to tell you about my Martha Washington geranium that I found. It smells divine. Its like smelling lemon zest and the best part is that it keeps the mosquitoes away.

  3. I am a huge fan of growing from seed. Economical, too! I’ll have to look into the varieties you have shown here.

    Nigella, California poppies, larkspur, rose campion (returns for me and I collect the seeds to give away) and perennial flax are my “go to” seeds for spring blooms. In summer, Benary’s Giant zinnias, cleome, alyssum (favorite), annual BES.

  4. I’m growing petunias from seeds that I gathered last year in South Carolina. I used to see them at old home sites in SC and GA. They aren’t as compact as the newer cultivars, but they are pretty and smell heavenly.

  5. What a delicious first photo! I envy your 9′ rudbeckia (almost an impossibility here in Colorado). Yes–poppies (Lauren’s Grape is my favorite too), nigella, zinnias sweet peas, sunflowers. I grew mignonette a couple of times and loved the raspberry scent; insignificant flowers but magical.

  6. the rudbeckia you mention is a perennial z2-9, just in case you have been ripping it out and re-seeding every year, I am a huge devotee of old fahioned plants (annual and perennial) and an admirer of the petunias, but do the older varieities have to be dead headed?

  7. *Shhh*…don’t tell my Martha Washington pelargonium/geranium she’s an annual. Mine has been around for 7 or 8 years. Don’t want her to get any ideas about exit strategies.

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