February is the month when I start to think about sowing seeds for the Cutting Garden. The Cutting Garden flowering year usually begins in April, when I hope to have lots of tulips coming into flower. The late varieties should continue to flower into May and will be supported by the alliums. The sweet peas that I am sowing now will all be planted out in April and should be racing up their supports in May ready to flower in mid June.
Also in June I hope to have the hardy annuals coming into flower. Once these lovelies start to produce there will be buckets of flowers right through until late autumn.
Last week I spent an hour or two sorting through my seeds from last year and making a plan for this years sowing and growing. I placed my seed order and when all the packets had arrived I sorted everything into my Cutting Garden Box into the months in which I need to sow them. Hopefully I now know what I am doing for the next few months! The box you can see is just for my flower seeds. I keep my salad and vegetable seeds separately, otherwise it all becomes overwhelming.
I buy most of my seed from Sarah Raven as her seed catalogue features lots of lovely flowers in individual colours and gives very good advice on when and how to sow the seeds. This year I have also ordered a few additions from Seeds of Distinction. I first used them last year with great results so I ordered some extra asters, snapdragons and zinnias as they have a big range of colours in these seeds..
Most years I sow a selection of my own ‘year on year’ favourites and then add a few new varieties that I have not grown before. This year I am going to try stocks for the first time. I used them in quite a few arrangements last year, having bought them on the market. I also saw stocks filling large pots in a few of the gardens I visited at a village Open Garden Day last June. The colour and fragrance was stunning and I decided that I would try to grow my own this year.
I start all my seeds off in plugs in the greenhouse at this time of year, sowing a few seeds to each plug and then removing any excess after germination so that there is one strong little plant per plug. After sowing the seed I put the trays into the heated propagator until germination. As soon as the first signs of green appear I whip the trays out of the propagator and place them on the staging on the greenhouse for a few weeks. They are then moved into the cold frames until it is suitable conditions to plant them out.
Hardy annuals are, as their name suggests, plants which germinate and flower in the same year and they are able to withstand frost and wintery conditions. Organised gardeners can sow them outside in September for very early flowers the following year. Less organised gardeners will start them off inside in February!
Provided your seedlings have been hardened off thoroughly they can be planted outside in March even if conditions are still cold. I will plant out half my seedlings into their final planting places and pot the others on into larger pots to continue to grow in the cold frame. These plants are my insurance policy in case the others do not make it and, with their larger size, they can be planted out into pots or beds in the main garden later in the spring if I do not need them in the Cutting Garden.
-Calendula Indian Prince
Hardening off is the process of acclimatising your seedlings to the outside world. They have germinated in a warm sheltered environment and would die if they were placed straight out into the garden. I move mine into a closed cold frame for a week, after which I will open the top of the cold frame during the day for another week or two. If the plants are growing well the final stage is to leave the top open overnight for a week. They should then be hardy enough to cope with the conditions in the garden.
-Centaurea cyanus Blue Boy (cornflower)
My list of hardy annuals this year includes:
- Ammi majus – a cultivated form of cow parsley – white, delicate and airy – a favourite filler for bouquets.
- Antirrhinums – commonly known as snapdragons, strictly half hardy but also sown in February. I will be growing pink, white and crimson varieties.
- Briza maxima – the quaking grass. I have just been given a tray by a friend so I won’t be sowing these.
- Calendula – Indian Prince – a stunning orange english marigold.
- Centaurea – cornflower – I love the traditional dark blue ‘Blue Boy’.
- Cerinthe major – honeywort – stunning blue/grey foliage with purple hanging flowers – an annual that seems to look good wherever it self seeds.
- Euphorbia oblonglata – a great acid yellow filler for bouquets.
- Gypsophilia – new for me this year.
- Larkspur – these delphinium like flowers are wonderful for summer arrangements. I grow the blue, mauve and white varieties.
- Lavender Spanish Eyes – new to me this year, but something I have previously bought as plugs from the garden centre and loved in my pots. It looks like lavender but flowers endlessly all summer.
- Salvia Patens – a fantastic true blue.
- Salvia Blue Clary – from one sowing I will have flowers all summer. Last year I cut all my plants right back when I went on holiday in August and by September they were flowering again and kept going until the frosts.
- Ten Week Stocks – new to me this year – I am keeping my fingers crossed these will be a success.
After the calm of December and January the busy period will start again with the arrival of February. I will stagger the sowing across the month – just doing a few trays at a time. Seed sowing is one of my most enjoyable jobs – tucked up in my greenhouse with a flask of tea and the radio I am in my own private world.
In March I will start on the half hardy annuals and hopefully by mid June I will be photographing the results for you, both in the garden and in the vase.
I would be really interested to hear about any hardy annuals you are planning to grow and, as ever, I love to try and answer any questions you have.