The noun hardy annual denotes a plant that can withstand freezing temperatures and which completes its life cycle within a year.
In British English, this noun is used figuratively of a thing or a person that reappears continually or at regular intervals.
The earliest occurrences that I have found of hardy annual used figuratively are as follows:
1-: From the Court Gazette (London, England) of Saturday 7th November 1840:
THE CHIEF OF GLEN ORCHAY.
Poetry now-a-days is seldom a perennial, or even a hardy annual. “The Chief of Glen-Orchay” is a poetic attempt, by some unknown but bold adventurer, to wake the harp whose strains have been silent since Scott swept its strings with master-hand.
2-: From the account of the annual meeting of the Yeovil Agricultural Society, published in The Western Flying Post, Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury, and General Advertiser for Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall (Sherborne, Dorset, England) of Saturday 2nd December 1848:
The Rev. W. Newbolt, in a speech of great humour, responded to the toast. He had attended every meeting of the Society for fifteen years, past; and he should still continue to hold by the ship as long as it would hold together against the Breakers. He thought they would look upon him as a hardy annual, coming there as he did and making the same speech year after year, in returning thanks for the Bishop and Clergy of the diocese.
The noun hardy annual is used in particular in the sense of a recurring draft law presented to parliament for discussion. The earliest occurrences that I have found of hardy annual used in this sense are as follows:
1-: From Punch, or the London Charivari (London, England) of Saturday 28th March 1857—with a pun on the name of the Conservative politician Gathorne Hardy (1814-1906), M.P. for Leominster, who, in February 1857, introduced into the House of Commons a bill entitled A bill to amend the laws relating to the general sale of beer and cider in England, and to regulate certain places of public resort, refreshment, and entertainment:
The Maynooth Grant is brought forward invariably every twelvemonth. We hope, as we love fair play, that Mr. Hardy will not be re-elected, or else we shall be having the New Beer Bill exhibited also, regularly once a year, as a “Hardy Annual.”
2-: From The Daily Post (Liverpool, Lancashire, England) of Wednesday 6th April 1859—the Conservative politician Richard Spooner (1783-1864), M.P. for North Warwickshire, spent the final years of his life campaigning against the Maynooth College Act 1845, which had increased the state grant to Maynooth College, a seminary for Ireland’s Catholic priests:
In the Commons several measures and motions before the house were withdrawn, with the understanding of their re-production in the new Parliament. These included Mr. Fitzgerald’s Roman Catholic Oaths Bill, Sir J. Trelawny’s Church-rates Bill and Mr. Spooner’s “hardy annual” the Maynooth Grant withdrawal motion.
3-: From The Bristol Times, and Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal (Bristol, England) of Saturday 3rd March 1860:
On Thursday night Lord John Russell brought forward what has become something like a hardy annual—the oft-recurring, but not yet accomplished, new Reform Bill.
4-: From The Evening Citizen (Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland) of Saturday 13th July 1867:
That hardy annual the motion for vote by ballot was brought forward in Parliament last night by its persistent cultivator, Mr. Berkeley, M.P. for Bristol. As a matter of course the motion was lost—161 voting against to 112 for.
5-: From The Sheffield Daily Telegraph (Sheffield, Yorkshire, England) of Saturday 25th April 1868:
Mr. Ward Hunt’s maiden Budget apart, there has been little to signalise the first week’s work done by the House of Commons after refreshing itself by a fortnight’s holiday. […] But for the new Chancellor of the Exchequer’s first essay at high finance, the post-Easter part of the session might as well not have begun till next Monday, and members might perhaps have been quite as usefully employed in the interval in assisting the agitators out of doors to get up steam. Among the chief topics which have claimed, but hardly engaged, their attention are capital punishment and Roman Catholic burials in Ireland—not very lively subjects, it must be confessed, either of them. Even such likely questions as Sunday trading and the Right of Married Women to their separate Property, utterly failed to raise a real discussion; and as for that microscopic Scotch grievance, the Edinburgh Annuity Tax—a wound, however, thought to be so great in the classic regions of the Canongate, probably just because it is so very small—Mr. Duncan M‘Laren’s present attempt to resuscitate it after everybody had supposed it irrevocably consigned to the same limbo as that extinct “hardy annual,” Ministers’ Money, was nearly as vain as the Premier’s flagellation of the dead horse.
The earliest occurrence that I have found of hardy annual used in this sense is from The Evening Standard (London, England) of Monday 24th May 1875:
A strange exception to the other phenomena of the present season, and an additional proof that the natural history of the newspaper is not as that of the rest of the world, is the premature appearance of the hardy annual known as the sermon discussion. It was begun by a letter insinuating that a fair proportion of our clergy buy their sermons ready made—a thing we do not believe, but which is just the sort of assertion to commence a newspaper discussion. At once began a general debate on the merits and demerits of preaching; and today we have the inevitable clergyman calling attention to the inordinate length of most sermons, and telling us of the old divine, of the name of Dr. Downes, who left a sum of money to one of our universities to form a fund for providing two annual prizes of 20l. and 10l. respectively for the two men who should produce the best sermons on a subject to be selected by the Regius Professor of Divinity in the previous term, adding two very suggestive and practical provisions—one, that regard shall be had to the manner as well as to the matter; and the second, that the sermon shall not exceed 15 minutes in the delivery. We believe that length has very little to do with it. It is possible to be tedious in five minutes, and to be interesting for an hour. The fact is on the one hand that preaching has, speaking generally, much improved of late, and is still improving; while, on the other hand, where this is not so, immunity from active criticism, and a respect for conventionalities, are at the bottom of the mischief.