Garden beds in a park with colourful flowers and trees in the background. River flowing on the right side.

Eleanor Clarke


Bedding Plants: What Exactly Are They?

It’s one of those gardening terms that’s a bit fuzzy round the edges, hard to get a grasp of. And which sounds like something our grandmas were into. The truth is ‘bedding plants’ are a group of plants that tend to be used for quick but temporary colour in the garden. They’re most often sold as small plug plants, or multipacks (mostly at the beginning of spring), to be planted into borders, hanging baskets and containers.

Why only temporary?

It’s important to remember that most plants sold as ‘bedding’ won’t last longer than a season or two. This is because they generally fall into one of three categories:

Candytufts: White flowers with small yellow accents in the middle

Candytufts (Photo: Valentine Bonafonte)

Hardy annuals

Annuals (whether hardy or half hardy – see below) are plants that grow, flower, set seed and die all within one year. This is true wherever you grow them – from the north of Scotland to the south of France. Examples include love-in-a-mist (Nigella), sunflowers, nasturtiums and candytuft. They’re not bothered by frost, and their seed will often lie dormant in the soil, then germinate the following year.

Colourful Petunia blooms

Petunias (Photo: Emma Gossett)

Half-hardy annuals

As above, but they won’t tolerate even the mildest of frosts. So be careful if you’re buying these: wait until late April or May before you plant them out, and ideally accustom them gradually to the outdoors. Examples of half-hardy annuals include petunias, busy lizzies, tobacco plants, cosmos, lobelia and African marigolds.

Red Fuchsia blooms on branches

Fuchsias (Photo: Louise Smith)

Tender perennials

These plants will go on and on, year after year, on condition they’re not frosted. Whether it’s worth mollycoddling them through winter is up to you. You can bring them indoors or into a greenhouse, in pots, or wrap them up in situ using bubble wrap or horticultural fleece. We’re talking plants like pelargoniums (aka geraniums, the window box kind), cannas, fuchsias, Salvia Amistad, dahlias and African daisies (Osteospermum).

Flower field with colourful flower booms

Flower field (Photo: Avery Thomas)

You might wonder whether there’s much point to annuals if they only last one year. And it’s a good question. But the brilliant thing about annuals is they are hard-wired to do so much in just one year – it’s their only chance! A tray of half a dozen cosmos, for example, is relatively inexpensive in spring; plant them out into window boxes and pots and each one will at least quadruple in size by mid summer; feed every other week and you’ll have an absolute mass of flower colour from June to the end of October. Keep deadheading and you’ll get even more colour. And all for 20 minute’s ‘work’ in spring. Annuals also make great gap fillers in patches of bare earth between shrubs and other plants in your flower borders.

Our favourite bedding plants to buy in spring

Colourful Petunia blooms

Colourful Petunias (Photo: Rebecca Niver)


Perhaps the quintessential pub hanging basket flower: trumpets of pink, purple, white or red, sometimes with stripes, they tumble down in great cascades of colour.

Purple Lobelia blooms in front of a green background

Lobelias (Photo: Nikki Son)


Low-growing mounds of near-total flower cover, in white, pink, purple and royal blue. A gloriously colourful mingler for pots and hanging baskets.

Red Pelargoniums in a kettle form pot on a dark bench in a garden

Red Pelargoniums (Photo: Annie Spratt)


Often called geraniums, which can be confusing, these are the classic window box plants (in red, white and shades of pink) that will flower for months on end in a sunny or part shaded spot.

Cosmos flower pink blooms

Cosmos (Photo: Agnishwar Mukherjee)


Bees go crazy for their large, open flowers – mainly in shades of wine and pink, or pure white, with yellow centres. Some grow as tall as 2m, all in one season.

White dropping blooms of Tobacco (Nicotiana) plant.

Tobacco Plant (Photo: Anya Chernik)

Tobacco plants (Nicotiana)

Elegant and fragrant, with little trumpets of flowers in subtle colours including pale green, apricot and dusky pink. Some up to 1m tall and they’ll tolerate of a bit of shade.

Busy Lizzies flower pink flowers blooms in leaves

Busy Lizzies (Photo: Scott Hew)

Busy Lizzies

Most summer bedding plants do best with a good amount of sun, but busy Lizzies are the ones to go for in a shady side return or front garden. They come in either tropical mixed pinks, oranges and red; or white.

Snapdragons (Antirrhinum) blooms with green grass in the background

Snapdragons (Photo: Gaia)

Snapdragons (Antirrhinum)

Brilliant flower packed spires of colour, in a huge range of shades, from white to peach, pink, orange and claret. Great in pots or as fillers in borders, and popular with bees.


If you’re unsure about what you’re buying, and whether or not to plant them out in your garden straight away, just ask one of the team

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