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Anne Marie Van Nest

Professional Gardening Expert

How to Plant Flowers: Best Books on Annuals

A good book on annual plants (those that sprout, grow, flower and seed all in one growing season) and others that act the same is one that has information on a broad selection of plants. Expectations are high for a Best of the Best book. It has to include many more plants than could possibly be used in a residential garden and have all the required basic growing information (plant description, soil preferences, culture and sunlight rating) in addition to handy tips from the author. These extra tips can be valuable information and a good reference book is the culmination of many years of growing, research or observational experience possessed by the writer.

Good reference books are not totally about “glowing praise.” A valuable reference book will mention the downfall of some plants, too. Good authors will include justified candid comments about the good or bad of annuals, biennials, or half-hardy perennials that will be important information for gardeners.

Many good reference books have equally good images to accompany the quality text alongside. For books on annuals this is vitally important. A good visual picture of a plant through the seasons in leaf, flower, and seed (if appropriate) and a landscape picture to show the scale is essential for readers to judge whether that plant is a worthy consideration for their garden.

Learn how to plant flowers with the right reference books. Choose the best annual flowers books with soil preferences, plant descriptions, sunlight ratings and other basic info for the perfect gardening how to books.

Best Books on Annuals by Anne Marie Van Nest

The Best You Can Get

  • Armitage’s Manual of Annuals, Biennials and Half-Hardy Perennials

    Anne says: Armitage’s hefty manual is a valuable reference full of a huge array of tried and true plants such as the everyday geranium or begonia and introduces the reader to the more uncommon annual, biennial and half-hardy perennial such as one of the quirky new Australian introductions like Nullarbor buttons (Chrysocephalum sp.). This book contains detailed information on over 254 types of annuals and plants that behave like annuals (biennials or half-hardy perennials). No longer do gardeners have to recreate ho-hum displays with plants that could have been in their mother’s garden, Armitage introduces us to many newcomers to the garden center that deserve to be in the forefront of our garden beds and containers. Very easy to read, Armitage has included identification characteristics, lists of cultivars to consider, and additional reading for each entry. Some entries have a simple line drawing and a quick key to see plant differences at a glance. A book that is more valuable for the written word than its photographs, Armitage’s great depth and often witty remarks about the plants makes for interesting pleasure reading. For example his mailbox comment about Mandevilla, “Despite the abundance of choice tropicals, more people seeking a tropical look for their temperate gardens are choosing Mandeville to decorate their mailbox or outdoor light fixtures. That mailbox mentality also plagues clematis, the postal carrier’s nightmare.”




    • By Allan M. Armitage
    • 604 pages
    • 105 color photos
    • 107 line drawings
  • Armitage's Garden Annuals: A Color Encyclopedia

    Anne says: This is a stand-alone book full of Armitage’s invaluable insight into the wealth of annual plants that can transform any garden into a vision of paradise. This book draws on Armitage’s vast experience with this group of plants and is an evaluation of the garden worthiness and sheer beauty of nearly 200 different plants that are “interesting, important or overlooked.” The abundance of color photos makes this book even more important as a visual reference encyclopedia in addition to the informative (and often humorous) text. Armitage is generous with his praise of the plants that really earn their place in the garden, but he also doesn’t omit writing about a few to avoid too and explains why they are not suitable. The book has more than two dozen lists, handy to easily select the perfect plant for cool summer areas, dry sites, shade, vines, flowers for cutting, and more.




    • By Allan M. Armitage
    • 368 pages
    • 24 lists
    • 1,341 color photos
  • Taylor’s Guide to Annuals: How to Select and Grow More Than 400 Annuals, Biennials, and Tender Perennials

    Anne says: A very handy part of the Taylor’s Garden Guides series of specific plant topics. The series is based on the Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening published more than 45 years ago. Proving that quality plant information never goes out of date, the Taylor’s Garden Guides (now a pocket-size tote) continue the tradition of clear, informative horticultural information. Taylor’s Guide to Annuals has an introduction to the general topics that all annuals share (including scheduling and frost dates, pests, planting and growing techniques, etc.) and then moves on to 170 pages of color photos in the Gallery of Plants (complete with a handy, concise summary of key details). The remaining 200 pages are dedicated to the Encyclopedia of Plants featuring plant descriptions, line drawings, and a “how to grow” section for more than 500 plants. Most of the entries in this section have been selected to maximize the number of plants represented and space has not necessarily been dedicated to the newest annuals. The gardening for butterflies chapter in the introduction offers an interesting approach to the subject by grouping plants according to family relationships.

    • By Barbara Ellis
    • 448 pages
  • Annuals with Style: Design Ideas from Classic to Cutting Edge

    Anne says: Ruggiero and Christopher team up and begin by telling gardeners about the basics of “what is an annual?” from both a botanist and gardeners’ viewpoints. The authors have created a very complete reference book, that quickly covers the basics and then moves on to the how’s of annual design with lots of inspiring photos to show the full scope of how annuals can enhance a garden. The “Into the Garden” chapter shows annuals used in containers, window boxes, ornate carpet bedding, garden borders, and as a living flowering mulch. Handy lists share which trees are better to underplant with annuals and which ones to avoid. Vertical planting with annuals is encouraged using vines. An inspiring chapter on style in the annual garden offers great advice on designing with color, “Bright, hot colors hold up well in the blazing midday sun, when softer, pastels look washed out,” they say. They also include the importance of scale and foliage - even how to break the rules of garden design.

    Many practical growing tips are included to help gardeners grow annuals from seed or cuttings, planting procedures, fertilizing, laying out the garden, and a four-step formula to estimate how many plants are needed for any garden space.

    Specifics about “The Essential Annuals” fill the last 70 pages of the book. Here Ruggiero and Christopher really show their experience. Each plant has an extensive write-up with an overview that often includes interesting information about the plant from other parts of the world or candid comments – “This plant is a real workhorse…” for wax begonia. Or “If garden zinnias were only harder to grow, they would be much more fashionable.”




    • By Michael Ruggiero and Tom Christopher
    • 240 pages
    • 7 pages of lists
  • Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens

    Anne says: Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens is a heavy weight tome that is a definitive encyclopedic reference for serious gardeners who really want the full details on annual plants. Winterrowd has a handy chart at the beginning of each plant (identified by botanical name) with the critical points for fast skimming, but for those situations where more depth is needed, Winterrowd is right there with the answers. For example, he writes that Heliotrope cultivars with the riches colors and finest scents are generally propagated from cuttings and the plant may turn sulky during cool, moist nights – a valuable insight for anyone growing heliotrope.

    Although the book is organized by botanical name for the 250 genera and 600 species - to avoid identity confusion, those that rely on common names will find a handy index of common names at the back of the book. Also in the back is a straightforward section on the techniques of growing annuals from an overview prospective.




    • By Wayne Winterrowd
    • 576 pages
    • Over 200 color photos

You will be happy with any of these

  • Annuals for Every Purpose: Choose the Right Plants for Your Conditions, Your Garden, and Your Taste

    Anne says: Hodgson’s refreshingly openly-shared opinions of annuals (good or bad) is a real boon for gardeners (especially new ones). He shares the true nature of a plant, “warts and all” so that readers can make their own informed decision about the plant. This, plus his decades of gardening experience (since he was still in diapers, he jokes) really makes this book a valuable reference for anyone growing annuals. His first chapter is Annual Gardening Made Easy, and his first line is “Why make gardening complicated?” Larry is the ultimate gardening coach who doesn’t include the unnecessary little steps that really don’t give results - just make the task more complex. He says that following the information in the first chapter will have readers sipping lemonade on the porch while watching your plants do all the work.

    Annuals for Every Purpose includes a great list of ten things to look for in an annual and the ten commandments of annual design as well as four garden plans designed by professionals for home gardeners to adapt (no matter what size garden).

    More than 400 plants are listed by their special features rather than by alphabetical order in the bulk of the book. Fourteen categories of plants such as climbing, shade bloomers, low growing, drought resistant, sowing outdoors, and multipurpose annuals are presented. Each plant is given a generous two page allotment and contains information on the plant profile, growing tips, good neighbors (companion plant notes), problems and solutions as well as the top performer is highlighted. Also included are sidebars sharing Larry’s garden notes, up and coming plants, smart substitutes, fun facts, kissing cousins (notable relatives), and looking back (historical prospective). All important information that should not be missed. For example, Larry’s Garden Notes offers valuable tips from Hodgson’s wealth of knowledge and personal experiences - as shared in the Eustoma section. “True confessions time: This is one “annual” I simply cannot grow from seed.”

    • By Larry Hodgson
    • 406 pages
  • Annuals and Biennials: The Definitive Reference with Over 1, 000 Photographs

    Anne says: After more than ten years in the making, Phillip and Rix have put their photographing and plant exploring experiences together to create a unique reference book filled with favorite and soon-to-be favorite annuals and biennials for the garden. Particularly useful are the composite photo pages where several cultivars can be viewed side-by-side to observe the differences in flower or leaf color or shape. A valuable reference for the visual nature of gardening and useful for anyone who is choosing annuals for a garden design.

    To avoid the confusion of common names, plants are organized by botanical name. Each entry has a brief description of the country of origin, natural habitat, and physical characteristics.





    • By Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix
    • 288 pages
    • Over 1,000 color photographs
  • Annuals For Every Garden

    Anne says: Although small is stature, this handy paperback from the respected Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) All-Region Guides Series is full of great inspiration from the everyday to the unknown. An encyclopedic-type directory fills the bulk of the book with plants grouped into use categories such as long-lasting flowers, edible annuals, fabulous foliage, evening bloomers, tender tropicals, drought-tolerant bloomers, and sensational salvias. Large photos offer visual temptations throughout this section.

    A growing basics chapter offers practical advice on propagation, transplanting, and maintenance after they have been planted.




    • Scott Appell, editor
    • 112 pages
    • 80 color photographs
  • Annuals for Connoisseurs: Classics and Novelties from Abelmoschus to Zinnia

    Anne says: Winterrowd offers a fine introduction to the world of annuals from the classics (as seen in a new light) to many new gems. Creative ideas are shared to grow annuals in borders, containers, or used as cut flowers for an indoor arrangement. In a chapter dedicated to gardening techniques, Winterrowd shares a lifetime of gardening experience and discusses everything from starting seeds, staking, to saving seeds.

    Winterrowd’s candid comments are generously given and very informative - even comical at times. He describes the large and striking Scotch thistle as “If there were gardens on the moon, the ghostly Onopordum acanthium would surely grow there. And the moon, or any other place far away, is where some people might wish this plant, for it is frankly and fiercely a thistle, clad up and down, leaf tips, stems, and flower bud, with painfully sharp prickles.”




    • By Wayne Winterrowd
    • 210 pages
  • Lois Hole’s Bedding Plant Favorites: The Splendor of Proven Performers

    Anne says: Focussing on using beautiful color pictures to make selecting annuals simple, Hole offers easy ideas to make the most of annuals at their best. She includes failsafe advice and good practical wisdom that will help gardeners navigate the annual plant choices available and shares unique plant characteristics to help with seeding and growing tips.

    The book is organized as straight-forward as the author, with chapters on Where, How, and When to plant as well as how to care for annuals with a minimum of effort.

    Hole has dedicated more than 200 pages of the book to 92 flowers themselves, showing available colors, planting directions, growing needs and tips for growing and using the flowers.




    • By Lois Hole, Jill Fallis, and Akem Matsubuchi
    • 272 pages
    • 350 color photographs

Related Articles

Stop searching for how to plant flowers. Choose one of our best annual flowers books that offer a quick reference for just about any annual you'll want to know how to plant. These invaluable annual plant books not only tell you the glowing praise about these flowers but also the pitfalls so you learn how to avoid them and begin to understand how to plant flowers in your climate and soil.