COOL FLOWERS : Kick off the season with hardy annuals

Posted by Sarah Kistner on

Cool Flowers Part I
Are you itching to get growing? Here are 5 of my favorite flowers to direct seed in spring!

If you're like me, you're starting to dream about days filled with sunshine and flowers! By this time of the year, I'm over the whole cozy winter thing. Don't get me wrong; I love comfy sweaters and snuggling up by the fire! But, by February, I'm feeling rested, and those couple extra minutes of daylight are starting to add up, and I can feel that spring is on its way.

So today, I want to share one of my favorite ways to kick start our garden in the spring- "Cool Flowers". I intended to pick five favorites, but that felt impossible, so I chose a top 5 and then added a bunch more to my list!

What are "cool" flowers?

“Cool Flowers” are hardy annuals. Annuals are plants that flower, go to seed, and die within one season. But the beauty of hardy annuals is that they not only like the cool weather but also thrive in it and tolerate frost. So, when you’re getting that itch to start planting- cool flowers are the way to go!

Here's some inspiration for cool flowers! In the foreground is one of my favorite Calendula varieties, Indian Prince.

There are a couple of basic approaches to planting cool flowers."

  • Direct seed or transplant seedlings in the fall
  • Direct seed or transplant seedlings in the spring

All methods work, and each has pros and cons. For this article, I'll start with direct seeding in the spring (we can't go back in time!) since it's straightforward and the easiest method to get started.

In a prepared area of your garden, sow seeds as soon as the ground can be worked or around 6-8 weeks before your last typical frost date

You can loosen your soil if you need it with a rake or garden fork. If you're planting in rows, you can use the corner of the hoe for scratching a shallow trench and then scattering your seeds and lightly covering them. I like to firm the soil and gently press them into the ground by patting the dirt with my palm or the flat back of a hard rake. Be sure to read the packet directions as some seeds like to be planted a little deeper (such as honeywort or calendula), and some barely need a light covering. 

You'll need to water your seeds if you don't expect any moisture in the near future. Use a wand with a gentle rain setting so you don't blast away your seeds!


Tips for successful direct seeding of hardy annuals:


  • Use fresh seed from a trusted source.
  • Sow generously. You can always thin plants later if you need or want, but I hate wasting precious space in the garden (plus, you’ll have to weed it later!)
  • Make sure to use a marker or stake to denote your planting area since, depending on the weather, these babies may take a while to start popping up.
  • Make sure to water your seeds if you’re not getting regular rain. These seeds form a root underground, and it takes a while for the first leaves to emerge above ground, and you don’t want that tiny root to dry out.
  • Have faith! Some seeds, such as larkspur, can take weeks to germinate.


For me, nothing compares to the blue of this Nigella! This variety is called "Moody Blues." I almost get as excited by the gorgeous, purple-striped, balloon-like pods formed after the flowers fade.

Rest assured that these flowers like a cool period to set roots and get established. Once the spring starts to warm up and the days lengthen, your plants will too! They can take frosty nights without skipping a beat.

If you’re starting as early as possible, remember that some of these seeds, such as Calendula, will wait to germinate until the warmer temps of spring start to set in, and that’s ok! Be patient and have faith. They are fine quietly waiting in the soil- they know when to start growing 😊


Five Favorites for direct seeding:


  • Larkspur (Misty Lavender and all colors of the QIS series)
  • Nigella (Moody Blues, Albion Green Marbles, and Albion Black Marbles are favorites, as well as African Bride (N. papillosa) )
  • Bachelor Button (love the black!)
  • Poppy: Bread-seed (Papaver Somniferum, favorites are 'The Giant,' 'Purple Peony' and 'Florist Pepperbox') and Shirley types (IP. Rhoeas, favorites include 'Amazing Grey') 
  • Agrostemma (corn cockle)

Bucket of purple Agrostemma, or Corn Cockle     

Agrostemma, or Corn Cockle, on the left and Bachelor Buttons on the right.

Larkspur is stunning in the garden and the vase. It's also one of the best flowers for dried arrangements and wreaths since it holds its color well.

The Runners up!

There are so many other beautiful flowers that will thrive in the cool weather of spring! There are some that we prefer to start as transplants before popping into the garden, and our next post will cover those. But here are more options for direct sowing in the spring:

  • Calendula ( I love Indian Prince and Ivory Princess)
  • Ammi, or False Queen Anne's Lace (Ammi Majus)
  • Chinese Forget-me-not (Cynoglossum)
  • Bells of Ireland
  • Bupleurum
  • Orlaya
  • Honeywort (Cerinthe)

Bread seed Poppies are prolific bloomers that bees adore! After flowering, they produce large (some varieties make extra large) pods that are perfect for dried flower arrangements.

I hope this helps you get inspired and ready to get planting! If you want to dive deeper into hardy annuals, I highly recommend reading Cool Flowers by Lisa Mason Ziegler!

Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or suggestions :)

Happy growing, 


More Cool Flowers eye candy for inspiration!

Bachelor Buttons Classic Magic Mix 

Bachelor Buttons 'Classic Magic Mix' on the left and Cerinthe 'Honeywort' on the right.

 Monarda Lambada flowers with a buzzing bumble bee   Bucket of Nigella

Monarda Lambada on the left and a bucket of "African Bride' Nigella papillosa on the right.

 Purple Peony Poppy   The Giant Poppy pod

'Purple Peony' Poppy on the left and 'The Giant' on the right.

Lacy Orlaya 


Cool Flowers Growing Hardy Annuals


  • Hi Jane!

    Yes, these flowers are tough and can handle an early start. Orlaya is one that I sometimes seed in the late fall as well, and it’s one of the earlier flowers to start growing in the spring as soon as the ground warms up a bit. The same is true for bupleurum. We also grow these from transplants and set them out about 4 weeks before our last spring frost. But of course, we’re careful to harden them off well before introducing them to the outside cooler temperatures.

    And thanks! We’re really happy to call Nova Scotia home now :)

    Sarah at Stone Meadow on
  • Hi Susie,

    Same here! It rained and then snowed last night again- ugh. I’m glad you found some inspiration. It helps me to look back at photos to see that things can change fast this time of year! It won’t be long until we’re popping seeds in the ground!

    Sarah at Stone Meadow on
  • Hope the storm didn’t hit you too hard Marla!!

    Sarah at Stone Meadow on
  • Hi Katie,

    I totally get it! But one good thing about direct seeding is that Mother Nature takes charge and helps to regulate. The seeds won’t sprout until the weather is ready for them. Things like larkspur are incredibly hardy and will only germinate if the ground is cool. Good luck – let me know how it goes!

    Sarah at Stone Meadow on
  • Oh, that’s so great Frieda! Thanks for sharing our post :)

    Sarah at Stone Meadow on
  • Hi Heidi,

    Yes! After leaving some to go to seed one year, we found them popping up early the following spring! I was surprised at how hardy they are. Thanks for reading :)

    Sarah at Stone Meadow on
  • Hi Donna,

    Yes, great suggestions! I love the airy pink flowers of Saponaria- perfect for spring bouquets :)

    Sarah at Stone Meadow on
  • Phlox and Saponaria are another two flowers that can be planted in early spring. I am like you in that I can’t wait to get out in the garden again. In the meantime, I have to be content starting seeds inside which is a pleasure. The foxgloves I planted are starting to appear and waiting for the delphiniums to appear. Will start eucalyptus and dusty Miller next. Happy Planting!

    Donna on
  • Hi Sarah, here in Kitchener, we are also waiting to get those first CF seedlings in the ground (still buried under a foot of snow). I did not know cerinthe was also a cool flower. I’ve got some saved seed. I think I’ll pop some in when I finally get to transplant. Hopefully by Easter wkend. Your pics are beautiful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing them with us.

    Hedi Lee on
  • So nice to read information that directly applies to our region! Now you have me pumped up to get into the garden spirit. I have shared your email with my Facebook friends. I live in the Annapolis Valley near Wolfville.

    Frieda Burger on

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