One of the tasks I look forward to every year is sitting down in late August/early September with a large pad, pencils, a ruler and a pot of fresh mint tea for sustenance. So equipped I can start to plan my Cutting Garden for the next year.
I keep a blank drawing of the cutting beds on file, so that every year I can copy it and start planning for next year. I always have a rough idea of what I am going to grow and the colour schemes that I like, but I enjoy making a few changes every year to reflect my current favourite shades and the experiences I have learnt in the last 12 months of growing.
Above is a jugful of hardy annuals sown late last September and picked in mid June. This was the earliest I have ever had hardy annuals in flower! In previous years I have sown all my hardy annuals in the greenhouse in February and started cutting in July. Last year I decided to try autumn sowing. I experimented with a combination of sowing in trays in the greenhouse and sowing rows direct in a Cutting Garden bed, which I then protected with a fleece tunnel.
I have to say that the tunnel was not very successful – only the ammi majus made it through the winter. Also this bed has been very weedy all summer as I could not risk weeding and mulching during the winter when the seedlings were tiny.
It may be that I sowed the seeds too late – perhaps a mid September sowing would have worked better. As I have said before though, my ground is very waterlogged through the winter and perhaps that just did not suit the seedlings.
The lesson I have taken from this is that for me it is best to sow in the greenhouse in September, prick the seedlings out into small pots and overwinter these plants in the cold frames for planting out next March. Seeds sown this way last September were in flower in early June – which is much earlier than my February sown seeds. If your winters are very severe I would suggest sticking to a spring sowing plan. Likewise, if you live in a climate with a short mild winter it is probably best to sow direct in early spring. Trying to grow seedlings in either climate to overwinter in the greenhouse would probably result in floppy drawn plants.
So, having chosen to sow my seeds in the greenhouse in September (probably in the next week or two), I then need to choose my flowers. For 2016 I will be growing:
Ammi majus and Ammi visnaga ‘White’ for their airy umbels.
Briza maxima (the quaking grass) for its lovely rustle and impact in a vase.
Centaurea cyanas ‘Blue Boy’ (cornflowers) for their lovely blue pincushion flower heads.
Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ for its beautiful hooded deep purple bells and silver foliage.
Consolida ‘Dark Blue’ (Larkspur) for its delphinium like blooms.
Euphorbia oblongata – a brilliant acid green and yellow filler plant.
Nigella damascena ‘Deep Blue’ – the prettiest blue flower with lovely seed heads.
Orlaya grandiflora – a more delicate white umbel that I struggle to germinate but try every year with varying success. Unbeatable in the years that it flowers.
Salvia viridis ‘Blue’ (Blue Clary) which is an invaluable lavender blue edging plant, flowering all summer long and great for adding a few uprights to a vase.
I will also be sowing Antirrhinum ‘White Giant’ (snapdragon). Although this is a half hardy annual, so strictly should be sown in March, I have had great success germinating this in September and overwintering the plants in the greenhouse – I keep it inside as I think the cold frames would be too cold if the temperatures were below freezing.
I have also read that Bells of Ireland (another half hardy annual) can be grown in this way, so that will be my experiment this winter – I will let you know in the spring how successful this was.
This summer I was delighted to have a range of beautiful hardy annuals in flower in June to pair with my peonies, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for the same success in 2016. Of course, if anything fails to grow over the winter, I will still have the option of sowing a few more trays in February. On the other hand, if everything is growing well, sowing hardy annuals is one less job I will have to do in February.
So – what are you waiting for? Gardeners it is time to get sowing!!