It’s a beautiful day here in Cornwall so I skipped off work when the boss wasn’t looking and Furface and me went to kick about at the allotments.
We have sunshine and showers forecast for next week so it seems prudent to get my Autumn beds sown up this week. I usually leave it until the equinox of the 22nd September…(or ‘Mabon’ if you are a pagan type…)…there is no reason for me leaving it until this date other than I like my flower growing year divided by the equinox…I make my first sowing on the Vernal equinox of March 22nd…and my last (very late) sowing of annuals (for flowering the same year) on June 22nd (Summer solstice).
I use exactly the same simple approach for Autumn sowing as I do for Spring sowing. Straight beds of three foot wide and as long or short as space allows. I dived that bed into three rows each a foot apart.
The best way to get straight lines is a taught piece of string…then run a stick along it to make a shallow drill…it’s best to water this drill BEFORE sowing your seed…especially if it’s windy as it helps prevent the seed from blowing away to Mrs Finchingfield’s cabbage patch next door.
I usually mix my seeds up in the rows…in this bed which is about four or five metres long I have sown six types of hardy annuals.
Remember to only cover the seeds lightly…don’t bury the critters too deep.
Uncle Archie’s Seven Point Plan to sowing autumn annuals.
The time is now to be sowing up your hardy annuals in the cutting patch. Down here in Cornwall we can can sow up and into October as the soil temperatures stay a little higher for longer than most of the UK. The further north you go…the earlier you should sow.
There is a great deal to be said for having your cutting patch very regimented…it makes life easier. I make my beds three foot wide with space in between for paths big enough to be able to potter around with a wheel barrow.
Some growers I meet insist that beds need to be double dug…I have never found this….most of the flowers in a cutting patch are annuals and their roots are rarely deeper than eight inches. I simply fork over the ground to the full depth of the fork. It is important to bring the soil down to a fine tilth. Bash clumps with the back of a heavy fork….and rake over like your life depended on it. Soil usually breaks down more easily if it has had a little rain on it…but not too much. If soil is sticking to your tools…then it is too wet to work and you should leave it…you will make a mess and could damage your soil structure.
If you have heavy clay soil then you should put your house up for sale….or at least add plenty of sand/grit and organic material to help drainage.
Avoid adding too much rich material like manure…and the high nitrogen content will produce lots of foliage but few flowers….generally flowers like a poor soil. I use home made compost with plenty of straw and newspaper added….and it works for me.
I have just taken on a new patch of fifteen metres by ten…it’s a lotty plot near to my home. The present field is on the south Cornwall coast but I have moved to the north coast…there are more opportunities to fall off a surfboard up here. (I shall be keeping a bed or two in the old patch as it’s an amazing place and I need an excuse to get down there once in a while)
I am clearing half of my plot this year…the other half I shall be covering in a few layers of cardboard and then a thick layer of compost and manure….I know….I have just contradicted myself…but I am hoping this combo will kill the weeds….as the plot has been fallow for years.
Annuals to be sowing now are…Cornflowers, Calendula, Ammi, Nigella, Larkspur, Corncockle, Phacelia, Bupleurum, Godetia, Scabiosa, Gypsophila, Eschscholzia….amongst others.
My ‘Seeds to sow in Autumn’ is a good start….keep some seed back for a spring sowing…you will probably have more seeds than you need.
Uncle Archie Higgledy the famous 1920′s disco champion used to keep a flower patch behind his Soho studio. He was a huge fan of autumn sown annuals and drew up a eight point plan to help the future Higgledy clan in their flowery adventures.
Autumn sown flowers will produce bigger and earlier plants the following year…earlier than spring sown ones that is.
1: “September September September”. Archie sowed in mid September but advised Higgledys further north to try sowing earlier…the soil needs to still be warm from the summer…like the sea, the soil takes a will to cool unlike air temperatures.
2: “Don’t bury your seeds too deep…a light covering is fine.” I couldn’t agree more with the disco King on this….many folk bury their seeds FAR too deep…the poor beggars use up all their limited energy trying to get to the surface. A rule of thumb is three times the seeds width…of course this is just a guide…it is all too easy to bury them a couple of centimetres in what looks like a shallow drill.
3: “Weed weed weed”…I don’t think my Uncle was into smoking ganja…it would have made his moon walk sludgy and the flappers would have picked up on it. He would have be referring to the importance of weeding the bed prior to sowing. It’s not a bad idea to weed the bed…then leave it for 10 days for any other weed seeds to germinate…then hoe the second flush off…this will save time later on.
4: “Leave thinning until the spring”…Archie would thin most of his seedlings to a hand span apart…leaving this until the spring makes sense as a cold and wet winter will kill off some seedlings…so the more there are to start with…the more will survive.
5: “Keep your rows a foot apart”. Well…us Higgledys have been doing that since the dawn of time…it is very rare we broadcast sow…broadcast sowing saves time ONLY at the time of sowing….later weeding around seedlings can be tricky….and if you don’t know your weeds from your cornflowers you will be in a whole world of trouble.
6: “Mulch mulch mulch”. It seems Archie liked a bit of repetition…probably all those funky disco beats had got to his head. When your seedlings are big enough in the spring…weed around them and get them mulched…then you can pretty much leave them to get on with the business of making flowers for you.
7: “Use good quality seed stock”….these days of course this is easy…the Higgledys have opened their own seed shop.
8: “Remember you can only sow HARDY annuals in the Autumn.” Sorry Archie but that doesn’t read very well…you can sow hardy annuals in both Autumn and Spring. But when Autumn sowing you can only sow hardy annuals as half hardy annuals will die in the first frosts.
Many thanks to Uncle Archie for his words of wisdom…I hope he is still doing his moves at the Pearly Gates.
I harvested my first batch of Cerinthe seeds today. The plants are just beginning to drop the first of their seeds which is as good a sign as any that we are getting toward the time we should be sowing our Autumn hardy annuals.
I tend to sow a batch of Cerinthe in Mid September…or just leave the existing plants to self seed and then thin them out in spring….then sow another batch in April.
Great Granny Augustinia Higgledy the famous Elizabethan bear knuckle boxer used to grow Cerinthe in her cottage garden in Hastings….in her notes she always refers to it as Honeyort…some say that the Honeywort that grows in the Higgledy Garden today comes from her excellent stock.
Augustinia states that she has had success growing Cerinthe in almost all soils other than very damp soil and that the plant does best in a sunny site. She would soak the seeds overnight before sowing them individually in pots….though if sowing in Autumn she would sow them directly into the soil.
In the spring, thin the plants to about a foot apart. Autumn sown plants will burn themselves out by mid summer…but flower much earlier than spring sown ones….for a long flowering period make two sowings.
Bees go quite silly over Cerinthe flowers…which may go some way to explain ‘Honeywort’.
I wouldn’t be without a Cerinthe patch…..they are easy to grow….very reliable….unusual….look great in a vase with other flowers…and great for wildlife.
Sowing up a bed in your flower patch this Autumn will give you big rewards in spring…naturally I have a rather dashing collection of 12 varieties to get you started…with 20% off and free shipping…note this collection does NOT contain Cerinthe.
Have fun one and all.