Choose the best bedding plants for your garden with our top ten guide. Some, such as petunias and geraniums (Pelargoniums) are frost-tender perennials which are treated as annuals; others are hardy annuals which can be sown directly outside.
Nearly all summer bedding plants can be raised from seed although there’s often a lot of work involved. If you don't have the time or space to raise seedlings, why not try our bedding plug plants to get your garden off to a flying start? Here are 10 of our favourite summer bedding plants for inspiration.
One of the most versatile summer bedding plants, begonias are well loved for their large flamboyant blooms, and their ability to thrive in both sun and shade. Flowering continuously all summer until the first frosts, begonias can be upright or trailing and are suitable for beds, borders, hanging baskets and window boxes. Some varieties, such as Begonia 'Non-stop Mocca', have striking dark foliage for added interest. Tuberous begonias can be lifted and stored over winter and get bigger and better each year, whereas begonia semperflorens cultivars such as Begonia 'Lotto Mixed' are treated as annual bedding plants.
Sweet peas make fantastic cottage garden bedding plants. Let them scramble up obelisks, wigwams or netting where they can reach heights of 1.8m (6'). Alternatively, try dwarf sweet peas for ground cover at the front of beds and borders. With their delightful fragrance and wide range of colours, sweet peas are excellent summer bedding plants and also provide bunches of gorgeously scented cut flowers throughout summer!
Incredibly valuable for shadier beds and borders, Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) summer bedding plants produce large flowers in a range of fruity colours, from pinks and reds through to purples and whites. New Guinea Impatiens have replaced the previously popular Impatiens ‘walleriana’ due to Busy Lizzie downy mildew, but share the same desirable characteristics - a long flowering period, bushy mounding habit, and a preference for partial shade. Forming big spreading plants, Busy Lizzies are superb for ground cover in beds and borders or will quickly fill patio containers with colour until the first frosts.
A popular bedding plant and for good reason! These sturdy, sun-loving plants are well-suited to hot, dry conditions and flower right through to August. Pelargoniums, commonly known as Geraniums, are versatile bedding plants for summer and include trailing, climbing and upright varieties which are perfect for beds, borders, patio containers, hanging baskets and obelisks. Primarily available in vibrant shades of pink, white and red, geranium bedding plants are also available in subtle shades of lilac, apricot and rich burgundy.
Much loved for their architectural flower spikes and incredibly long flowering period, Antirrhinums are also known as snapdragons and have fascinating mouth-like flowers which open when squeezed, making them a particular favourite with children. Available in a wide range of strong and vibrant colours, they vary in height from dwarf plants no taller than 25cm (10") to large plants such as Antirrhinum 'Royal Bride' which reaches 90cm (35"). Tall snapdragons make superb cut flowers and add height to beds and borders; dwarf snapdragons can be used in beds, borders and patio containers. If you're looking for bedding plants that attract pollinators, Antirrhinums are a good nectar source that are particularly popular with bumble bees.
The dainty flowers of lobelia create wonderful dense waterfalls of colour in hanging baskets and containers, while the upright varieties are perfect for edging beds and borders. Easy to grow and long-flowering, they complement any summer bedding scheme and look particularly pretty mingling with bedding plants in hanging baskets. Lobelia generally come in shades of cool blue, purple and white and are great for cool-coloured planting schemes.
This summer bedding plant has some of the most exciting blooms! Petunias are popular for their large trumpet flowers in a fantastic array of bright colours and patterns, including stripes and picotees. These vigorous half-hardy annuals can be trailing or upright, and look spectacular spilling from hanging baskets, window boxes and containers, or massed in beds and borders. Some such as Petunia 'Purple Tower' can even be trained to climb a frame! Petunias are particularly useful if you're looking for purple bedding plants, offering shades of mauve, lilac-blue or rich deep purple.
Annual rudbeckias, also known as coneflowers, make robust and cheerful garden bedding plants. Particularly useful for late summer colour, rudbeckias flower from July through to October and add a fiery element to annual displays with their red, orange and yellow colour palette. Compact varieties such as Rudbeckia 'Toto' are excellent in beds and patio containers; while tall varieties such as Rudbeckia 'Cherry Brandy' work well planted in sweeping drifts in beds and borders or dotted between perennials and shrubs. Not only do they look fabulous in the garden, rudbeckias also make excellent, long-lasting cut flowers for indoor vases.
For vibrant colour you can't beat a Californian Poppy! This hardy annual is sown directly into the soil of beds and borders and will happily self-seed, creating effortless drifts of colour year after year. Traditionally orange, recent breeding has brought us a plethora of new colours including yellows, pinks, reds and apricot. The intensely coloured silky blooms are borne above neat clumps of feathery blue-green foliage and are attractive to bees and hoverflies. Thriving in poor, dry soils in full sun, simply scatter the seeds of these lively summer bedding plants where you want them to flower and let them take care of themselves.
If you want bedding plants that attract bees, look no further than cosmos! The large saucer-shaped flowers bob prettily on slender stems and provide a great source of late nectar for pollinating insects. The wispy fern-like foliage adds texture to bedding schemes and works well in an informal cottage-style bed or border. These fabulous summer bedding plants are mainly available in shades of pink, red and white, although Cosmos sulphureus provides fiery yellows, oranges and reds. Cosmos bedding plants begin blooming in mid-summer and flower prolifically until mid-autumn. They also make fantastic cut flowers.
We hope this has given you plenty of inspiration for your summer bedding schemes. And there’s no need to sacrifice colour when summer comes to an end. Take a look at our Top 10 winter bedding plants to see you through the coldest months of the year in style. Still have questions? Head over to our bedding plant hub page for further advice.