About this time of year I get swathes of folk asking me if it’s OK to sow their seeds…often a sunny weekend in late February or early March gives everyone a dose of ‘sowing lust’. Resist temptation my cherubs!
It’s a great time to be sowing up your Sweet Peas but for the huge majority of annuals and indeed perennials you are far better off waiting until April. I start to sow Half Hardy annuals (annuals that can’t take a frost) undercover from early April and Hardy annuals I start to sow outside in mid April. …well….here in sunny Cornwall I may start a little earlier but only a week or so.
If your soil isn’t at least 7 degrees…which it is VERY unlikely to be in March…your seeds will sit dormant…pesky mices and birds will feast away….cold and wet will rot them…….so why bother? Just hold off for a few weeks. Even the few that do germinate will struggle as the daylight hours and the average air temperatures are low. Later sown flowers will be stronger and therefore will catch up and flower at the same time.
If you sow your half hardy annuals at the beginning of March in a propagator you may well have germination success BUT you can’t plant the critters outside until after the frosts…and that’s mid May for most of us in the UK….a ten week old annual flower will only have a couple of weeks before it flowers…it’s pretty much full grown……..oh the horror of it all.
If you can’t see the native weeds emerging from the soil then you can’t expect your own seedlings to get involved. On this note…the other great advantage of sowing later is that you can let the first flush of weeds to germinate on your patch….then gently and shallowly hoe them off…this will be much easier than weeding them around your tiny seedlings. Why not have your beds ready by the beginning of April…hoe off the first flush after a couple of weeks….and then get sowing….trust me, you will have much greater success this way and your experience will be all the more pleasing for it.
Many experienced growers sow up beds in May…this will give them flowers much later into the season of course.
Without a doubt the two biggest reasons for lack of germination in your seeds will be sowing to early into cold wet soil……and/or sowing too deeply. Seeds on the whole are fine with just a light covering of soil…three times the depth of the seed is a good guideline.
Click ‘Seeds To Sow In Early Spring’ for a collection that you can sow directly into the soil in mid April.
…and for more tips for sowing up a patch ‘How, what and when to sow up a cutting patch in Spring’.
Have fun y’all!
It was Great Uncle Reggie Higgledy who as you may know was the inventor of both table tennis and of comfortable gentleman’s slacks, that first suggested the cut flower gardens of the Higgledy clan should include Scabiosa stellata ‘Ping Pong’. Reggie could often be seen snipping away in his cut flower patch supporting a dashing pair of teal trousers with elasticated waste and integrated cushioned seat. He cut quite a rug in home town of Hastings.
In my own cut flower garden I am rather fond of Scabiosa…I have limited space and so I limit myself to three varieties. I have ‘Back In Black’ for it’s deep and sumptuous purple…it is royalty on a stem…‘Crown’ is a more relaxed vibe with shades from white through pink and a smattering of darker blooms….this variety is the most ‘Country Style’ and I wouldn’t be without it. Lastly I have ‘Ping Pong’…not only because Uncle Reg loved it so much but because the florists who buy flowers off me for weddings go quite delirious about having it….and it’s not hard to see why.
The flowers of ‘Ping Pong’ start off their life as a light blue…fairly unassuming to be honest….but then develop into the most incredible seed heads…these seed heads are made of maroon and green bracts…run of the mill they ain’t.
Tips For Growing Scabiosa ‘Ping Pong’
*For my own purposes I have found it best to start scabiosa seeds off inside. Though it is perfectly acceptable to sow them straight into the ground…if doing this leave it until mid April when the soil has warmed up a little….sowing outside before this may reduce the germination rate.
You can also sow them in Autumn for earlier flowering plants. See ‘What flowers to sow in Autumn’
*I sow in small pots, usually three inch square pots….which gives you 15 pots per seed tray.
*Gently cover the seeds by their own depth with good quality seed compost (I use sieved homemade compost where possible) and keep the compost damp but not saturated.
*Leave your pots on a windowsill or in a greenhouse…or in the back of the car as I did last year.
*Six weeks later it will be mid May and this is the last frost date for most of England…Scotland is later…the west of England may be a little earlier. Your scabiosa plants should be big enough to go out into the real world…get them used to the change of temperature though…pop them outside during the day for about a week and if a particularly cold couple of days is forecast, just hold off and leave them inside a little longer.
*For a cutting garden, I leave about a foot between plants and plant them in straight rows…this makes hoeing around them a WHOLE lot easier.
*Once established my old chum Walter Winkleforth said to let them dry out between waterings…which I do…and they seem to love it. (Bless their cottons.)
Down here in Cornwall my plants seem to make it through the winter….though I always sow more…as I’m a seed fiend.
Growing your own flowers for cutting has a wonderful way of making you feel clever and smug….maybe sometimes even dipping into self importance…it’s brilliant…I can’t recommend it enough. When your neighbours have bought tired and gaudy supermarket flowers flown in by jetliner from Kenya, you can touch them on the shoulder…tip your head to one side and softly say, “Awwww I used to have to put up with rubbish like those before that handsome, eligible bachelor Benjamin Higgledy showed me how to grow my own beautiful flowers in the garden.”
*Annual flowers are the best place to start this spring. There is a huge variety which you use for cutting. Spring sown flowers will take about twelve weeks to flower and they will keep producing flowers for you until the first sharp frosts of Autumn. With the range of annual flowers available you can have a totally different cutting patch year after year.
*Don’t think you can create a cutting garden by skipping around the garden dressed as nun, broadcasting seeds and singing songs about kittens and brown paper parcels. It’s easy…but not THAT easy.
*Prepare your ground. Keep things simple. The method I use is digging a bed that is three foot wide and as long as your space allows….make sure this ground is completely weed free and that the soil is broken down to a fine tilth.
*Within this bed you can sow three straight lines (or drills as they are know in horti world) of your seeds. Don’t bury your seeds too deeply…a light covering is all they need. Rather than water the bed after you have sown it is preferable to water it before…this stops your seeds from getting washed away.
*You can also sow seeds in pots and start them on a windowsill or in a greenhouse. These can be sown at the beginning of April. Then the young plants can be planted out six weeks later after the frosts have wobbled off up north…but you must ensure you have acclimatised your plants to the outside world first. To do this you can leave them outside during the day and bring them in at night…do this for at least a week.
*In broad terms annual flowers are divided into two camps…Hardy and Half Hardy. Hardy annuals can take a light frost and can be sown outside when the soil has warmed up a little…mid April is usually good for most of the UK. Half Hardy annuals will throw a hissy fit if they meet with a frost…so either start them indoors or wait until May to sow them direct into the soil.
*Most annual flower seeds will start to show themselves two or three weeks after sowing. When they are about an inch or two big you want to thin them out to a spacing of a foot or a little less. If they are too crowded they will not perform so well.
*Hardy annuals in particular are flower making monsters…the more you harvest them the more flowers they will produce. If you only have a small space to grow in then I would recommend hardy annuals. (In my seed shop it clearly highlights which flowers are Hardy or Half hardy)
*Ten easy to grow annual flowers: Calendula, Nigella, Cornflowers, Godetia, Rudbeckia, Cosmos, Sweet Pea, Zinnia, California Poppy and Nicotiana.
*If you stay on top of any weeds that come through your cut flower growing adventure will be a happy one…I hope you give it a go. I can be found on Twitter @higgledygarden or on FB Higgledy Garden…and you can ask me anything you like…I’m a very open minded chap.
Doug and I nipped up to the lotty plot just for an hour and half…stopping en route for a quick power breakfast. The plan was just to clear a few square metres of ground…some of the plot had been covered over in weed fabric by the last alotmentee…but all in all the whole patch is in a right state.
The plot is ten metres by fifteen metres…I have another plot the same size (the other half of this plot) but I have already started work on that and planted biennials and some autumn sown annuals. I am keen to document bringing this very rough ground into being a fantastic cutting patch…count how many hours it takes and how much it may cost…and then tally up how many buckets of flowers we get out of it per week in the height of the season. Everything in this patch will be spring sown annuals.
I treated myself to an Azada which is the best tool for clearing the rough ground…we will avoid using a rotavator as I know most of my customers don’t own one and I’m keen to demonstrate that it’s not all that much trouble to bring a fallow piece of land around quite quickly using hand tools. I’m also trying to bring my physique around from ‘pale pterodactyl’ to ‘bronzed surf dude’….a combination of digging and lots of time leaning on my spade in the Cornish sunshine will take me at least part of the way to this goal.
It should be pointed out that down here in Cornwall the ground isn’t frozen…it was a little on the damp side so we haven’t started to dig it over but instead we are clearing the weeds (mainly tussocky grass) from the surface…I do appreciate that most folk won’t be able to start working the soil for a few weeks.
I shall keep you up to date on developments…posts will come under the ‘Patch From Scratch’ category…but please don’t expect any pretty flower photos until late June.
It was great to get back to playing in the soil albeit just for a short visit…soon enough spring will be waving her frilly knickers in the air….
I looking for some pictures of the flower beds I made for the Port Eliot Festival last year…mine came out a bit blurry…possibly gin on the lens. I remembered Alice‘s post and went to revisit it….I have tried contacting her to ask if I can use them but she seems hard to get hold of….so I’m lifting them anyway and will of course link back to her lovely blog post.
Alice’s camera clearly didn’t have any gin on the lens…here are her pics and I will add a little info about the flowers.
The flower garden at the Port Eliot estate is about 2 metres wide and 40 long…yes…it’s a good sized cut flower patch. Lady St Germans and myself decided that we wanted the patch to have a relaxed vibe and not be a regimented bed…so we opted for a mixed planting.
However it had a regimented beginning…all the seeds were sown in rows a foot apart, long ways down the entire bed……I run a tight ship you know…
Seeds were sown in the first week of April….earlier than I would normally recommend but we are in the South West, this is a very sheltered walled garden AND we were under pressure to have the garden firing off all cylinders by the end of July….which it was.
In the above photo you can see some tall Sunflower ‘Vanilla Ice’…the magenta flowers are Malope ‘Vulcan’…lots of cornflowers and some Cosmos ‘Purity’…all of these plants were thinned out to about a foot apart.
Cornflower ‘Blue Boy’…beautiful…classic and super easy to grow. Seedlings are happy to be transplanted as long as they are no bigger than your thumb….it’s a rule of thumb…a good one.
These are the oft underrated Calendula ‘Art Shades’…these plants are flower making monsters….the more you pick the more flowers keep coming….they look stunning in the vase with our friend Cornflower ‘Blue Ball’. Calendula will also reseed year in year out.
Here we have a Larkspur ‘Giant Imperial’…the ones I stock in the Higgledy Garden Seed Shop are in a mixed colour….this one is pink….but you probably knew that…I’m a fan of the whites and the pale blues myself. Larks always add height interest to both the flower patch and to the vase.
Cornflower ‘Classic Romantic’…(lovely pic Alice)…this pale and pink Cornflower is not as widely grown as it should be….it’s a charming little number…gently understated…tres chic and edible to boot. Right behind the bloom we can see the wonderful Malope trifida ‘Vulcan’….this flower is one of those flowers that if you grow it in your flower garden just once, you will never wish to be without it.
If you are looking to sow up a patch this April, you could do worse than have a peek at the recent post ‘Seeds To Sow In Early Spring‘…I have a little deal on them this weekend as it goes…you lucky lucky people.
Hope all is going well and that the sun is shining upon you. Thanks again to Alice and her blog!