Growing plants from seed is a great way of filling your borders, allowing you to grow loads of your favourite flowers for peanuts. Sow sparingly though; sprinkle a whole packet of 500 Antirrhinum seeds in a tray of compost and you’ll come to regret it come pricking out and potting on time.
Mind you, not all of the seeds you sow will make it to flowerhood. There are always the odd no-shows as well as casualties along the way. You’ll probably find yourself offering words of encouragement to ailing seedlings or uttering dark mutterings as you wander around the garden or greenhouse at night, seeking out slugs and snails that have taken a fancy to this and that. But come the summer you’ll experience an immense feeling of satisfaction when carefully nurtured tiny shoots of green have grown into fully fledged flowering plants.
The sight of newly emerging seedlings never gets old. It’s both wondrous and exciting and each spring I’ll try growing something I’ve not tried before. Yet there are several plants I sow from seed every year, the ‘old reliables’ that are long flowering, insect friendly and easy to grow. What was that? “What are these long flowering, insect friendly and easy to grow ‘old reliables’ of which you speak?” I’m glad you asked.
One such old reliable is the hardy annual Scabious. They come in a variety of colours (including lilac, red, white and pink) and will flower throughout the summer and autumn with regular dead-heading. The slugs and snails tend to leave them alone (always a bonus) and some will often survive a winter or two, forming bigger plants the following year if chopped back in the spring.
Now I must admit it took me a while to discover the joys of Cosmos. They’re speedy germinators, have fine, feathery foliage that is generally ignored by gourmet gastropods, and go full-on-floriferous from around July all the way through to late autumn with regular dead-heading.
These annuals come in a variety of colours, flower shapes and sizes and do well in borders or in pots on a sunny patio. Just remember to pinch out the tops of leggy seedlings to create bushier plants.
Up next, Calendula, an easy and quick to grow hardy annual that does best in a sunny position, flowering throughout the summer and autumn.
And they don’t just come in orange these days, oh no. Another favourite with pollinators, start them off in pots or sow straight into the ground in the spring and if you’re lucky you may find they self-seed the following year. Talking of self-seeders…
There are some flowers that you will only ever need to sow once, prolific self-seeders that will do the work for you in subsequent years. I sowed a packet of Forget-me-nots straight into the borders way back in 2012 and they’ve spread themselves here, there and everywhere ever since. A biennial, sow them outdoors in early summer and you’ll have flowering plants come spring.
They’re easy enough to pull up to keep them under control, but their small blue flowers mingle rather nicely with most plants and they’re a big favourite of the bee flies.
Another self-seeder that just gets on with it is Honesty (Lunaria). Sow this shade tolerant biennial in early summer and you’ll have white or purple flowering plants in the spring and pretty silvery paper disk-like seed heads by winter. It’s another good mingler, though like the Forget-me-nots, you may wish to pull out the odd plant to curb any attempts at world domination, perhaps potting some up for family and friends.
And finally… Sometimes you don’t want your flowers subtle. Sometimes you want bright and bold. Summer flowering California Poppies are another of those sow-them-once-and-they’ll-probably-be-in-your-garden-for years-to-come plants. Chop them back when they start to get a little leggy and they’ll flower again later in the year. I often plonk a few of their cheerful blooms in a bud vase to provide some indoor floral sunshine and never grow bored of watching their petals close up in the evenings and unfurl in the mornings, even indoors. These cheerful plants will usually last a few years but more often than not you’ll find their distinctive grey-green feathery leaved offspring growing close by.
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