Now that summer is upon us, we don't have to worry about starting seeds inside. Many colorful and beautiful seeds can be planted directly outdoors.

Parsley crispum var. neapolitanum

This beautiful and edible plant can be direct seeded outdoors. It has a substantial tap-root, making transplantation possible but tricky. If you simply prepare some earth, press the seed into the ground and come back to check the moisture level every few days, you will find that parsley germinates easily. And there is another plus. If it blooms, the seeds fall to the ground and germinate for the following year. If it doesn't bloom, it comes back from the plants themselves.

This particular parsley is very hardy and I find that it lasts through successive frosts. Besides its beauty, I use it for culinary purposes, sometimes all the way to December in zone 5a. As a bonus, the leaves are an excellent source of iron, Vitamin A and Vitamin C.

There are many types of parsley. You can choose whichever ones suits you. I happen to like the look of crispum, which is why I chose it, but please do go with your personal preference.

It also attracts the parsley caterpillar if it blooms. This curious creature becomes the black swallowtail butterfly.

Parsley crispum

parsley caterpillars

Morning glories (Ipomoea)

These don't require much explanation, except to say that they do better when soaked overnight before planting outdoors. This is 'Grandpa Otts' an heirloom variety.

Grandpa Ott morning glory

For a more diminutive morning glory, try Scarlet Starglory.

Scarlet Starglory

Sweet peas (Lathyrus)

There are over 100 species of sweet peas. Depending upon the type, they are native to Cyprus, Italy and Sicily. They were introduced to England after a Sicilian monk (named Cupani) sent sweet peas to England in the 17th century. This sweep pea was quite heat tolerant, but once they were sent to cooler climates they were extensively hybridized. They were extremely popular in Victorian England, but these hybridized cultivars, while bearing large flowers (much larger than their ancestors) lost some of the powerful scent and most of the heat tolerance.

Sweet peas are a distinctly cool weather crop. The germinating seeds can actually stand temperatures down to 28 degrees, and the ideal temperature for growing them on is under 70 degrees. Therefore, if you are in a warm climate, you should use heirloom sweet peas such as cupani (named after the Sicilian monk referenced above) or the older, smaller Painted Lady, Old Spice, or mammoth type sweet peas. Cuthbertsons are good in warm climates, as well. All of these all do well in warm climates,

If your climate is cooler, then the Spencer mixes, which are the traditional large sweet peas, will work for you. They are very popular and most commonly found, because they have larger petals than the heirloom types, and come in many pastel shades. All sweet peas, of any variety, are wonderful in window boxes. Climbing up a trellis alone, or climbing with roses and other plants, they are stellar. With low to average watering needs and a low-maintenance aspect, the Spencer Mix variety can reach up to six feet high and is very attractive to butterflies and bees.

It is a good idea to soak these seeds before planting them out. Just overnight soaking will help them to germinate more quickly. Most companies nick them for you, which is helpful. Have a look on the site to make sure that they do, because nicking them yourself is tricky.

Since peas are a cool weather crop, they can withstand some cold temperatures. The ideal temperature for growing peas is between 55 to 70 degrees F. However, the germinating seeds can withstand temperatures down to 28 degrees F, but seedlings and plants cannot tolerate cold temperatures of 19 degrees F. and below.

cupani sweet pea

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum)

There are two types of nasturtiums. Both can be directly seeded (again, soaking assists germination).

One is tropaeolum majus, or climbing/trailing nasturtium, which will extend itself to several feet. The other is tropaeolum minus, which forms mounds. Both produce flowers all summer until frost and have attractive foliage.

The leaves are a deep green that is very pleasing alongside the flowers. Veins extend from the centers. Better yet, they are edible. The flowers and leaves can both be consumed.

A sharp frost will demolish them.

Tropaeolum majus

Climbing nasturtiums

Tropaeolum minus

Nasturtium minus 'Princess of India'

Nicotiana alata (Jasmine tobacco)

The first year I grew nicotiana alata (also known as jasmine tobacco) I did so by walking out the door and throwing the seed around - literally. It blew to one side of the yard and that year I had a gorgeous display of this flower, which mildly seeds and comes back every year.

Nicotiana alata

Mirabilis jalapa (Four o'Clocks)

Also known as 'Marvel of Peru' and Four o'Clocks, this is a marvelous plant that can grow between two and four feet in a single season. The seeds grow into tubers - in fact, they are often expensively sold that way. A caution: Mirabilis jalapa can form quite large tubers in warmer climates, and they can be difficult to get out of the ground. In colder climates like mine (zone 5b-6a) mirabilis tubers rarely survive the winter. They do sometimes come back from seed. They grow and mature so quickly that some use them as hedges.

Mirabilis plants form seeds as the flowers finish blooming. Once done, the seeds stay on the plant for while, usually while they are green, and then turn hard and black and then some drop to the ground. This is great, because you can collect the seeds and dry them. This is also great because sometimes it is available only in mixes, and you can then separate the colors and grow like colors together. I find that in cold zones, they rarely come back from dropped seed. Dried mirabilis seeds last for many years. And the season is ended only by "blooming out", which I define by all the buds on a plant blooming, or a sharp frost.

Mirabilis in Latin means wonderful and Jalapa (or Xalapa) is the state capital of Veracruz in México.

Mirabilis jalapa in pink

Scarlet runner beans

With a scientific name of Phaseolus coccineus, the scarlet runner bean is a tender herbaceous plant that originated in Central America and Mexico. It grows in the mountains in those areas, which is higher than most beans grow. They appeared in English and American gardens as early as the 1600's and were originally grown for consumption. Traditionally grown in English gardens as a consumable, however now tends to be grown as a pretty ornamental. Scarlet runner beans are hardy in only zones 7 through 11. It should be noted that in those zones they are actually a perennial that forms tuberous roots. Regular green beans are annuals. I grow them easily in zones 5a though 6b, where they does not appear to form roots.

They look a lot like pole beans, but they are much prettier and of course, they are also edible. They can reach 15 feet in warm climates but grow closer to 6 to 8 feet in most midwestern gardens like mine. They bloom fairly quickly - about two months from sowing, and again, I recommend soaking them overnight before planting.

Scarlet runner beans

Verbena bonariensis

This is one of my favorite plants. It starts as a beautiful flower that requires no support, even though it can be quite tall, has see-through stems so that you can put it in the front, middle or back of the bed, draws in hummingbirds and butterflies, not to mention my neighbors, who stop to ask the name of the beautiful flower.

This is decidedly different from the shorter verbenas that often adorn pots. This verbena is 4 to 5 feet high, with dark purple flower clusters that wave at the end of stems. The individual flowers are two to three inches wide. Native to Argentina and Brazil, it is in fact named for Buenos Aires. It can be traced back as far as 1726, when it was being grown in England. While not hardy in our area (zones 7 to 10), in my experience once you have a handful of these plants you will have them forever, because they seed. Heavy seeding is usually a negative thing, but these plants have tiny root balls that take up little space and do not dislodge other plants. And if you want fewer of them it is easy to just pull them out of the ground. But I have never wanted less.

One of the magical things about this plant is that the stems are strong and wiry and the plant is therefore self-supporting. It never tips over. The leaves are very slight so the plants are very airy. You can put these plants at the front of a bed and see right through them to the plants behind. Or, because of their height, you can place them at the rear of a bed. The lovely purple shade goes with any cool color. I grow them with roses, grasses, peonies, shrubs, or in clusters by themselves. They mingle well with perennials and annuals. In fact it, like many other plants we call annuals, such as petunias they are actually a tender perennial.

Verbena bonariensis has an extended season of bloom, from June through September. It provides a cool and airy color when the rest of the garden in becoming a little tired.

You can purchase this plant, but the easiest thing to do is to obtain the seed and just throw it into your garden, with excellent results.

Verbena bonariensis

These seeds are all easy, beautiful and readily available. For color that lasts, in some cases well into December in my zone of 6a, please try some of these wonderful plants.