Introduction This book is divided into three main sections using the flowering times of plants as a guide. The earliest begins to flower in spring and continues into early summer. The second group also germinates in cool weather and flowers through the summer. The third group, of subtropical annuals, mostly from Mexico and South America, needs summer heat to germinate, and flowers mainly in late summer and autumn. Spring annuals include plants like pansies that are planted in autumn and flower from late winter through to early summer. These plants are especially useful for raised beds and pots, excellent grown near paths and near the house where they can be seen from the windows. The summer group is an important section for any garden. Annuals really come into their own when most shrubs and trees have finished their spring flowering. If well watered, they will give joy and excitement all through the summer months, months that are too hot for other groups of plants to be at their best. The autumn section contains the plants that flower from late summer through to the first frosts. These are the plants that will bring your garden alive when you return from your summer holidays. Obviously, these are not hard and fast divisions. Some 'summer' plants can be persuaded to flower earlier if they are grown in pots in a conservatory or cool greenhouse. Others may have their flowering period extended into autumn if they are planted late or taken inside when the winter frosts begin. However, the sections will give some indication of what is at its best in each season, and with careful planning you should be able to have colour in your garden from late winter to the first hard winter frosts. Getting started The normal, and of course cheapest, way of making sure you have a good show of annuals in the garden is to grow them from seed. There are two principal ways of doing this: the first is to scatter the seed on the flowerbed and lightly rake it in. Some annuals, such as poppies, grow very well from seed when just scattered like this. This method has the great advantage of allowing the plants to grow as they want - thus giving a natural or wild feeling to the garden. The second method is to grow the seed in a seed tray, and plant out the seedlings when they reach sufficient maturity to be handled. This is a more reliable way of achieving good germination, and has the added advantage of giving you control over how you position the young plants to achieve the effect you want. There is a third way, which is to spend a little more money and buy young plants at your local nursery or plant centre. To some extent the method you choose will be dictated by the nature of the plants, and we have tried to give some indication of this in the Planting Help section that accompanies each entry. Colour Choosing your colour scheme is most important with annuals, as many of them have strong colours that, although bright and striking in a garden as individuals, may look very odd together. The only rule is to think about what you want to achieve. If you want a cool and subtle effect, think first of the whites and blues. However, if you feel that you have had enough of all this tasteful gardening, go for bold yellows and reds. You can also vary your garden scheme from year to year: be loud one year and subtle the next. Which ever way you do it, it will always be more effective if you overdo it! Buying seed There are two ways of buying seeds: either visit your local nursery or plant centre and browse through the seed packets that will be on display, or write away for a catalogue from one of the principal seed merchants. In many ways this second alternative is the more satisfactory as you can sit at home and have fun devising new ideas and colour combinations on cold wet days in winter. You will also be able to keep up with the everchanging rangePhillips, Roger is the author of 'Random House Book of Summer Annuals - Roger Phillips' with ISBN 9780375754425 and ISBN 0375754423.