The Higgledys have grown Cornflowers in their cut flower patches since before the invention of the pickled onion, and Cornflower ‘Black Ball’ has always been a personal favourite of mine. ‘Black Ball’ is of course neither black nor is it a ball but it is a flower…so it’s not all lies.
All cornflowers have a simplicity that is hard to beat. They have excellent vase life if harvested just as they are opening. And bees and other pollinators love them.
I have found that sprinkling the edible flower petals on to pale pasta with Parmesan shavings makes people think I am a renaissance man, (when in truth I am more your Lager and Bargain Hunt sort of a chap.)
Cornflowers can be sown in Spring or in late August/Very early September. Thin plants to a hand span.
Dried slowly in a dark (but not depressing) place with good ventilation will result in the flowers keeping their colour.
During my afternoon Martini break, as I sauntered around the garden prodding things with my cane, it came to my attention that I ought to harvest some Sweet Peas. As I am sure you are aware, Sweet Peas will keep on producing blooms for a hefty amount of weeks so long as you keep picking the flowers.
Sweet Pea ‘Jilly‘ is a long time darling of mine and I usually like to keep a jar of the delightful flowers on the harpsichord next to the Goshawk cage…it is an indubitable fact that Terrance has a more settled demeanor when in fragrance range of a pale Sweet Pea.
As I was cutting the ivory cherubs I spied some rather dashing white ‘Swan Lake’ blooms on a neighbouring plant…now ordinarily a chap wouldn’t be mixing stark whites with an antiquated cream palette and certainly not mid week but the Martini must have gone to my head…”Dash it! Who gives a stuff what they’ll say at the club! They’ll probably just think I’ve been listening to too much Jazz on the wireless.” …and with that I snipped half a dozen of dazzling blighters and ran into the cooling shade of Aunti Fizzy’s airship.
Last year I decided to have a proper go at growing autumn sown hardy annuals. One previous attempt failed miserably but that had really been little more than a “chuck it and chance it” attempt in a corner using some “leftovers.” So this time I prepared the patch just the same as for the spring sown ones ready to plant three rows of mixed annuals at the end of august.
The seeds were sown on the 28th August last year.
The risk with autumn sowing is that if you plant too early and the weather is warm and wet you may get early germination and the flowers may try to bloom before the autumn….
Leave it too late and may be too cold for germination- seeds rot and nothing grows.
The time of sowing therefore varies in different areas of the country and involves a fair amount of guess work re the weather! As Ben says- Autumn sowing can be a lot more Art than Science which is a nice way of saying it’s great when it works but if it doesn’t don’t blame yourself- at least you have a nice seed bed ready and waiting for the spring!!
Seeds to try:
Last year I tried: eschscholzia, nigella, borage, cerinthe, orlaya, cornflowers, corncockle, bupleureum, ammi, phacelia and godetia. I planted three rows in a bed just over a metre wide and mixed up the seeds before sowing to (hopefully) get the random effect.
Nb Other hardy annuals can be found at the Higgledy shop of wonders.
Germination was good from most species but a few didn’t get going at all.
Californian poppies (eschscholzia) were the undoubted stars of the show. Both varieties (orange King and Ivory Castle) did brilliantly- germinated early and formed good strong plants which survived the winter well. Had a couple of rabbit incursions but overall the plants thrived and I now have a good show of strong plants with nice big blooms on long stems. I am guessing that this is a reflection of the well established root systems.
The Cerinthe appeared early- but what with slug attack, weather damage etc were pretty stunted by the time they started flowering. They are picking up a bit now but the spring sown ones are going to overtake them. They survived the winter but never really got going. I’m not sure exactly what hindered them but its been a very miserable spring here so having survived the mild winter I think they were hoping for a lovely warm spell to bring them out in all their glory and it simply didn’t happen.
This was my first attempt at growing Orlaya so I can’t compare with spring sown but they have formed some really nice plants- and they are definitely going to feature in the future. They are more robust than Ammi and turned out to be a good alternative as the ammi were a no show from the autumn sowing- a shame because my previous experience of ammi in spring sow patches had been good.
The autumn sown Nigella has been amazing. Nigella hasn’t done well for me before when sown in the mixed spring plantings. I wonder if it doesn’t like being sown in mixtures. I suspect it has been outcompeted in the past. It certainly did best in the areas of the autumn patch where there was very little in the way of fierce competition. The plants overwintered really well and the flowers have been brilliant for cutting.
Nigella looks great mixed with biennials in vases and is very very pretty in the patch.
Nigella even turned up in a patch of self seeded Briza maxima (quaking grass)- I am still puzzling over where the Nigella came from…. Looks lovely though…..
Speaking of Briza maxima- I loved this when I grew it for the first time last year. I grew some in a separate mixed area with poppies and other cornfield weeds and let it self seed- which is basically the same as autumn sowing! Loads germinated and it has been looking fantastic for several weeks already.
Corncockles on the other hand have germinated everywhere I sowed them. In fact I have to fess up here and admit that I thought they were cornflowers for much of the winter….. so much for seedling recognition. I confess I was a bit disappointed when I realised I had been nurturing a viper in my bosom. Poor corncockle is still reeling from the bad press it received last year following a tv programme which emphasised its toxicity! But now I am eating my words ( not the corncockle!) because they have been really good cut flowers- the blooms have had nice long stems- better than the late summer ones and the sheer number of flowers has been a lovely addition to the beds.
The stems and leaves have a lovely silvery sheen and so far they have withstood the really rather ghastly weather- standing up good and strong despite the wind and monsoon rainstorms.
Borage germinated and overwintered but has been a bit slow getting going- and may well be overtaken by the spring sown plants. Lovely deep colour though.
Bupleureum really doesn’t seem to like me- there are a couple of seedlings struggling through but they hardly count as autumn sown—I think they waited ‘til spring which just goes to show you should never give up- some seeds will overwinter ready for an early start….!
A couple of groups of candytuft plants are looking very pretty. Will definitely be planting this again in spring and autumn patches in the future.
The Californian poppies are well worth trying in an autumn sowing- these are Ivory Castle
Briza and corncockle seem fail safe. Nigella is a must have. Orlaya is also worth a try.
A row of autumn sown hardy annuals is a brilliant way to start the season in the cutting garden and provides some flowers to compliment the biennials.
I tend to grow more for the mixed meadow look and to take pictures but if I were growing just for cutting I think I would be tempted to sow the autumn hardies in individual groups….. that way any empty patches could be utilised earlier in the spring.
In my garden it looks as though Nigella is probably best sowed with a limited mix of other annuals- so I will definitely sow Nigella in autumn again.
Reasons to sow annuals in autumn
The insects will love you forever for providing early nectar rich flowers
you will have annuals in your cutting patch much earlier than from a spring sowing.
they form super strong plants with good root systems
Fretting over your seedlings/young plants will stop you getting bored and frustrated over the winter.Kind regards
Many thanks to Rose for taking the time to write this for us…and sending her wonderful photos….you are a STAR! Why not pop over to her Twitter feed to see more photos from her cutting patch.
I sowed these annuals at the end of the first week in June…they will have no problems flowering this season and are easier (Much) than starting annuals in late March or early April. I would be hesitant about sowing annuals now though (unless I had a polytunnel….which I don’t…I was probably naughty in a past life)….I am sowing biennials at this time of year.
Sweet William…Foxgloves…Hesperis (Sweet Rocket)….Lunaria (Honesty) and Wallflowers are all old school, quintessential cottage flowers. They seemed to have somewhat gone out of fashion in the last couple of decades but thanks to the new British Flowers movement they are once again in demand and all is well and bouncy in the Biennial-land.
Folk are put off because of the lack of instant gratification as they take nearly a year to flower…but this shouldn’t be an issue with a modicum of planning.
What do biennial flowers have to offer us flower growing types?
*Biennial flowers provide early flowers at a time when few other plants haven’t quite got with the program. Autumn sown annuals will be starting to get into gear about early June but Biennials are strutting their funky chicken from April/May (Depending on how far north or south your flower patch is). For commercial growers this is of course a Godsend but domestic growers who have a biennial flower patch can bathe in the glory of having flowers earlier than their neighbours, and can enjoy skipping around the village with a handband of Hesperis while singing songs about Jesus or squirrels.
*Biennials are among the most productive plants you can grow. These babies just keep on giving. Foxgloves less so…but…if you harvest the main stem fairly early you will be rewarded with several smaller stems growing from whence you cut the stem….these smaller stems are much easier to use in the vase too. A small patch of Sweet Williams will give your armfuls of flowers for weeks on end. (Go for ‘Alba‘ to be chic and sophisticated or ‘Auricula Eyed‘ to be cool and edgy and the type of chap that once had a skateboard)
*If you have never grown Biennial flowers before you will find them easy to get along with. I sow mine in June & July in pots and then plant out in a bed that has had spent annual flowers taken out in early September. If you have plenty of space you can of course direct sow them too. The usual practice of sowing in rows a foot apart works just fine. Foxys need to be sown on the surface however. Personally I would go with the pots method.
*Biennial flowers such as Sweet William , Hesperis and Wallflowers all have good scent.
*An early patch of Biennial flowers is a most welcome thing for our friends the bees.