Cerinthe has long been a favourite plant of mine…it’s a plant with it’s own vibe…it is a very reliable hardy annual which will happily self seed for you every year. Its leaves are wonderful things to behold…sort of fleshy and blue/green…ovoid…and often mottled with white specs. The flowers are tubular bells inside ‘shark blue’ bracts. There is nothing quite like Cerinthe. Some say it is uncouth and lacking in sophistication…people with this view need to recalibrate their machinery and perhaps get a check up from the neck up.
Our ancestors called Cerinthe, ‘Honeywort’ because the bees liked it so much…and as it happens the bees still like it. It has been so mild that some of the Cerinthe that self seeded in my patch this year has started flowering already…the early bees will be chuffed to bits.
*Find a sunny spot and prepare your soil to a fine tilth. A free draining site is best. Cerinthe will be OK in partial shade…but to my mind she does better when she is drenched in gallons of sunshine.
*Soak your seeds overnight in tepid water, this helps the seedling break out of the tough casing.
*I sow direct into the soil in September and again mid April. I also sow some in pots in the greenhouse….you can sow earlier undercover…mid March. (The earliest I start is the equinox on or around the 22nd March)
*Bury the seed to about three times its depth.
*I thin mine to about a foot apart, though I know many other gardeners thin to a foot and a half.
When using Cerinthe for cutting, try it with wild and wonderful Borage…or deep oranges such as Calendula ‘Indian Prince’. Something with a bit of height will spice things up…Dill ‘Mammoth’ is always a good one…or a spire of white Larkspur would be dandy too.
Have a swimmingly good time growing your Cerinthe…you will love it.
For tips on when to sow your flower seeds directly into the soil please click.
“When Can I sow My Flower Seeds Directly Into The Soil?” is something I get asked a great deal. You will find many different flower growers have different views on this…and there are plenty you can find and ask on Facebook and Twitter. Generally you will find experienced commercial growers will sow earlier than I myself would recommend, this is because they are trying to extend the season of their blooms as far as possible. Sowing early is more difficult…cold wet soil will not produce good germination results…and sharp frosts won’t do you any favours either.
‘Preparing Cut Flower Beds’ (Click for a guide)
In my opinion for the amateur grower who wants to produce flowers for themselves and their friends and family I would hold off direct sowing until well into April. Mid April is a good rule of thumb….a little earlier in the west country and a little later up in Scotland. The soil needs to be about 7 degrees….you can tell when it has reached this temperature because the native weeds will start to grow. If the natives aren’t growing then your flower seeds won’t either…they will sit in the cold soil and get the hump…and they will rot…or get eaten…not what you want.
Furthermore it is a mistake to think that seeds sown in mid March will flower a month before those sown in mid April…they won’t…they may flower a week or so earlier but generally the seeds sown in April will be healthier and will grow faster and stronger. I can’t make this point strongly enough as I know folk like to get going on their flower gardens as soon as possible but trust me….it’s a false economy’….as Great Granddad Wolfgang Von Higgleworst the famous cut flower grower and underwater balloonist used to say to me:
“Benjamin …. nie säen Ihre Blumensamen, bis Sie würden gerne auf der Erde sitzen, mit einem nackten Hintern”
(“Benjamin….never sow your flower seeds until you would happily sit on the earth with a bare bottom”)
Take your time…one very good system is to dig over your flower bed in March (if the soil is dry enough…never work wet soil, it trashes its structure) Let the ground settle…then SHALLOW hoe it a week or two later…then leave it again for a week and shallow hoe once more. This will make future weeding around tiny flower seedlings MUCH easier as you will have zapped the majority of the weeds that would have come out to play after you had sown your seeds.
Also…sow in straight lines…if you are unfamiliar with what your flower seedlings look like…this will help no end. Keep rows about a foot apart so you can easily run a hoe down between the rows.
Where possible use harvested rainwater to water your seedlings…they love it….water straight from the tap is very cold in comparison and has ‘stuff’ in it.
I sow my seeds in very shallow drills…nothing more than a scratch made with a stick or the corner of a rake…and then over the cover the seeds very lightly….keep the bed moist whilst your seeds are germinating….this is rarely a problem if you sow in April as we have wonderful warm showers of juicy spring rain.
The best flowers seeds to sow directly into the soil in mid April are hardy annuals….they can take a mild frost…if you sow them in late August/September they will become strong enough to take a sharp frost. For most of the UK the last frost date is mid May…much later than people imagine.
Some Hardy Annuals:
Ammi, Bupleurum. Borage, Calendula, Cerinthe, Cornflowers, Corncockle, Didiscus, Dill, Eschscholzia, Godetia, Gypsophila, Larkspur, Malope, Nigella, Phlox, Scabiosa.
Half hardy annuals can’t take any frost…so either sow them direct mid May or start them off in your greenhouse at the beginning of April…but they mustn’t be planted out until after the frosts…and they need hardening off before you do.
Some Half Hardy Annuals:
Bells of Ireland, Cleome, Nasturtium, Cobaea, Cosmos, Dahlia, Ipomoea, Nicotiana, Ricinus, Rudbeckia, Zinnia.
You can find profiles to these plants and in depth guides to growing them by clicking on: ‘Higgledy Flower Growing Guides’.
All of the above seeds are available in the Higgledy Seed Shop which is open late every night during spring.
Please come and join me on Twitter if you fancy joining in the friendly flowery banter…I will do my best to answer any questions…or if I don’t know the answer I am sure we can find someone who can.
Peace out brothers and sisters…spring is nearly upon us!
PS You can also find me loitering on Facebook.
Growing Dahlia from seed? Are you bonkers?
Surely Dahlia’s are grown from tubers that are painstakingly lifted each year – dried, trimmed, covered in copies of The Westmoreland Gazette (for reasons known only to frost), inspected to within an inch of their lives for rot…
Then planted in well manicured soil, staked and treated to the horticultural equivalent of top notch bistro fodder fortnightly for the three hungriest months of the year.
Jeepers – high maintenance or what?
Still, that’s what Nanna Olive did throughout my girlhood and that’s, for some people, what gardening is about - love, care and valuing plants plus the earth in which they grow.
Right yellow and red Dahlia ‘Cactus’ mooching with an unnamed pink sort, Amaranthus ‘Red’ and Helianthus maximiliani.
Dahlia’s from seed isn’t a new concept, they’ve been grown this way for annual bedding ever since Mr Higgledy was knee high to a egg slicer.
From a tiny seed sown undercover in Spring a large plant sallies forth, producing very cuttable flowers and then – as the first frosts hit - the foliage of this half hardy perennial conks out.
Below ground is quite a different story, the plant has been noshing on sunlight all Summer and storing energy in the form of tubers - you know, like spuds do. Clever little clogs.
In Dahlia’s native Mexico, these tubers sit nice and snug in the warm North American soil until conditions tell them each to grow into a new plant.
That is, unless the tubers are dug up, like potatoes or Jerusalem artichoke and scoffed.
Apparently Europeans had quite a penchant for dining on Dahlia tubers… until the Victorian obsession for ornamental fl’aars kicked in and vases were filled rather than saucepans. Understandable really.
Higgledy Garden favours two Dahlia cultivars - Cactus with her revolute (curled) petals and Coltness. The latter is classified in the single category and the former, cactus.
If we ever stock pompon or ball types I’ll eat my tuber.
Right (top-middle) Dahlia ‘Cactus’ tops the red trio with Dahlia ‘Coltness’ (mid-left & mid-right) and a zinnia/cosmos combo mingles happily.
For my cut flower patch Dahlia, along with Zinnia, fill the ‘things to cut close to Autumn for vase based shenanigans’ niche. Cactus can be quite prominent in the mix but massive fun – like a petally windmill in a crowd of unsung umbrellas.
We sow in three inch pots or modular trays between mid March and mid April.
Push the seeds under the surface of your compost, tickle, cover and water – gently.
Then, it’s the greenhouse, windowsill or biodome for germination.
Harden them off in mid May (take outside during the day, bring back in at night).
Plant out when chance of frost has bid farewell, 30cm apart.
Feed fortnightly - I use chicken manure or seaweed feed.
Some folks like to stake Dahlia – up to you and your wind.
They prefer a sunny spot and deadheading is a must to encourage bloomage.
When the season has faded you can eat your tuber stash, or stash your tubers for next year.
This is Karen, The Higgledy Researcher (@sanguisorba), reporting (with the aid of Featherface).
Growing flowers for cutting is 5.3 times easier than growing veg. Flowers need much less care…can usually manage with much less water and survive in much poorer soils. The secret for beginners is to sow in straight lines…keep your rows about a foot apart. This way you will be sure about what is a weed and what is not. And don’t sow too soon…you won’t go far wrong if you leave off sowing until April…mid April for sowing outside. Here is a beginner’s guide: ‘Creating a cut flower garden’
Hi Dave…that is impossible to answer…many flowers (usually hardy annuals) will keep on producing flowers for you when you pick them…two flowers in fact for every one you pick…you can get buckets of flowers from one single square metre. With perennials you may only get one flush of flowers but usually two and of course you don’t need to sow the seeds every year. If you have a limited space then sow hardy annuals. I sell a collection that would be of great use to you…were you a real person. ‘Flowers For A Small Cut Flower Patch‘.
My dear lady I am sorry to inform you that most annual flowers take a minimum of twelve weeks to flower so you are out of luck…however there is a plethora of British flower growers out there who would be delighted to help you…I am sure you can pass them off as your own.
Hey Bunny…sorry to hear about Hubby…you are of course quite right, growing flowers trumps veg any day. Most of the flower seeds that I sell are easy to grow…I don’t want to sell folk seeds that fail. However amongst the easiest are Cosmos, Calendula, Scabiosa, Eschscholzia, Zinnia, Godetia and Sunflowers. Try my world famous ‘Higgledy Garden Complete Cut Flower Patch 2014′…20 packets for £19.50 including shipping….these will see you right. I am in Norwich occasionally…I could pop round with a bottle of Blue Nun and we could make an afternoon of it of you like?
If you are looking for more growing guides here is my ‘Guides For Growing The Top 60 Cut Flowers Of All Time’.
A generous handful of black scabious cultivars are available as seeds and plants, looking at the juicy bud below it’s easy to see why.
They are all cultivated varieties of the Southern European Scabiosa atropurpurea, who likes to spread herself over well drained fields, hang around sandy areas and loiter on wasteland - basically, she likes it rough. Annual Cut Flower Farmers take advantage of her easy nature and sensual complexion to fill vase upon vase of long lasting sumptuous stems. And she just keeps on giving, the more blooms you cut, the more she offers.
Scabiosa ‘Back in Black’ adds drama (da da daaa) and intrigue above, making the soirée more Bond than Marple. I warn you now, grow this powerful flower and expect to fight urges – frequenting casinos, mixing vodka Martinis, driving fast cars (you know, red ones)…
If you’re more Marple, stick with the safer Calendula, Dill and Centaurea – though you may crave mystery solving whilst knitting.
Glancing casually to your right, you’ll see a pitcher full of the epitome of annual cut flower growing. S. ‘Back in Black’ mingling with Tithonia, Rudbeckia, Cosmos, Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ and Feverfew. That is why I grow them. *happy sigh from making the right choice
Three years ago I grew Black Scabiosa – it’s late February as I type and she still lives, promisingly green. Billed as Annual Scabious by officials in the know, I’ve seen various other authorities label her as a short lived, half-hardy perennial. Heavens, I’ve even seen single plants for sale at £4.99 a pop and recommendations to propagate by cuttings. My ‘triennial’ sailed through those three mild winters and soggy seasons – no problem. In the Cut Flower Patch I sow Scabiosa ‘Back in Black’ from seed each year – because I like to clear the decks and from seed is easy, but the option to keep a few plants going for a few years is there.
Many folks compare the perennial Knautia macedonica (above top right) to Scabiosa (above mid left). For me, as a cut flower, there’s no comparison.
Scabious last longer in the vase, look good from bud to seed head and come in much nicer colours. But don’t tell Mr Higgledy I dissed Knautia – let it be our little secret?
So, Scabious is in the Dipsacaceae (teasel) family, which is easy to see from her decorative seedheads (right). When flowering she reaches nearly 100cm’s in height and has a wonky but pleasing habit. With well drained soil and full sun, she’ll want for naught but cutting of flaa’rs and deadheading. Pollinators go giddy for this pincushion flower.
Direct sowing, as opposed to underglass (or windowsill), gives stronger, bushier plants.
So sow (you so-and-so) in springacious April & May or late summeroonie August & September, the latter for strong plants the following year.
Thin to around 25cm.
If you want super straight stems (ish) then stake your Scabious or grow through supportive netting. I’m trying that this year, though I think it will spoil the aesthetics and the flowers might think themselves fish. Then they might form a school, educate themselves and take over the world *gulp.
Cutting stems and deadheading will ensure an ocean of flower deep into Autumn… and later, though they tend to start looking a touch bedraggled (like Mr Higgledy).
Karen, The Higgledy Researcher (@sanguisorba)
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