Monthly Archives: June 2016

Growing hardy annuals from outdoor autumn sowing. Guest post from Rose McKerrell.

Growing hardy annuals from outdoor autumn sowing.

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.

Well weeded bed with Stirling bunny fencing.

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.

DSC_0196 (2)
(These hardy annuals are from the Higgledy allotment)

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.

Overall conclusions:

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.


June Sown Annuals.

annual flower seeds

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.


Reasons To Include A Biennials Patch In Your Cut Flower Garden.

Sweet William 'Auricula Eyed"
Sweet William ‘Auricula Eyed’

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.

Thx Katherine Wyvern for this pic...Katherine says "This is the second flush of flowers on mine (on the small side shoots) ... these started out as Alba and Excelsior and then crosspolinated so they are all a-jumble now"
Thx Katherine Wyvern for this pic…Katherine says “This is the second flush of flowers on mine (on the small side shoots) … these started out as Alba and Excelsior and then crosspolinated so they are all a-jumble now”

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.

Foxys and Hesperis.
Foxys and Hesperis.

*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)

Wallflower 'Fire king'.
Wallflower ‘Fire king’.

*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.

The dog from Del Monty...he say YES!
The dog from Del Monty…he say YES! #Furface

*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.

There is a very nice man online who sells a collection of Biennial flower seeds which he has 20% discount on….AND there is free shipping….what a kind and generous offer….

Have a great Sunday.

Kind regards

Benjamin Higgledy.


Punter’s Pics! 8th June 2016.

A big thank you to all who share their pics of their Higgledy Flower Patches on Twitter and Facebook…it’s much appreciated by me and the community as a whole.

@takako Twitter
@takako Twitter

Takako’s balcony garden in Tokyo. “Hello from cornflowers and my new red thong Japanese sandals for summer.” …you mean Flip Flops my dear! 😉 Lovin’ your cornflower skills.

@ChrisHowell Twitter.
@ChrisHowell Twitter.

Chris is the flower king of the midlands. Here we see him free stylin’ with Hesperis. (You can sow Hesperis in June and July by the way)

Biennials Collection

@JaneWinter115 Twitter

Jane says: “I am so pleased that you reminded us to plant seeds last autumn for a vibrant start to summer!” Thank YOU Jane…love this photo Eschscholzia ‘Orange KIng’ rocks…still time to make a late sowing too. ..and Purple Hesperis in the back there….proper ‘ansome.

@NaturalFavours Twitter
@NaturalFavours Twitter

“A happy riot of hesperis & ever reliable eschscholzia” Thanks to the good folk of Natural Favours for this one…Eschscholzia/Hesperis combo is clearly all the rage up country this season. 873 extra points. (Hope business is good for you this year.)

@SemarkJ Twitter
@SemarkJ Twitter

” looking good ! Now where did I put the beans ??” …who cares about the beans when you have this combo of ‘Ivory Castle & Orange King’…First class gold medal and 465 extra points. #TeachersPet 😉


“Foxgloves going great guns!” Indeed they are Hannah…but because of your cheeky honed horti skills….11 out of 10 for Foxy success.

@RoseMcKerrell Twitter
@RoseMcKerrell Twitter

Rose takes blinding photos….so looking forward to her pics this year. Rose says “the orange king are looking great as well lovely big blooms- all sown last autumn”. Good show…Autumn sowing can be hit and miss…but you seem to do rather well at the game.


“When you said your sweet peas had long straight stems I didn’t imagine them THIS long!! Amazing!” Thanks Penny…these are really long stems…longer than I seem to get from my own plants. #Winner

@Caniscanenes Twitter
@Caniscanenes Twitter

“Foxgloves and hesperis setting the “woodland” scene.” …and splendid it is too….cracking blend of plants all having a splendid time…and who can blame ’em.

Thanks again for sharing your photos…please keep them coming. I shall post up as many as I can.

Kind regards

Benjamin Higgledy


The Higgledy Nature Reserve.


The field adjacent to mine with views over the county.
The field adjacent to mine with views over the county.

I have rented a parcel of land on a smallholding here in Cornwall. The smallholding is no longer operating as the owner is busy helping to run a charity. My plan is to help the owner by keeping the land properly managed but allowing big chunks to stay nice and wild and woolly.

In the centre of the reserve I am putting in a smallish cutting patch with beds space amounting to about 75 square metres. Not so much that it will become a chore on top of running the Higgledy Garden seed empire, and managing a cutting patch at Port Eliot house.

The field boundaries are Cornish hedges...granite walls filled with earth...they are presently covered in Campion & Foxys.
The field boundaries are Cornish hedges…granite walls filled with earth…they are presently covered in Campion & Foxys.

The smallholding sits atop a hill with beautiful views over Cornwall and is a delightful place to hang out with Furface.

A single tracked 'hollow' leads up to the field.
A single tracked ‘hollow’ leads up to the field.

Once I’ve settled in I shall be adding more growing space for a small ‘Bee Meadow’ from which I shall harvest seeds for my ‘Bee Friendly’ seed collections….but I can’t see this being sown up until late August.

One of the field boundaries runs into a small piece of woodland. #BadgerTastic
One of the field boundaries runs into a small piece of woodland. #BadgerTastic

The cutting gardens within the reserve are effectively the new ‘Higgledy Garden’…so if you hear me wibbling on about what I’m growing in the ‘Higgledy Garden’ you will know where I’m talking about.

We're not short of Buttercups.
We’re not short of Buttercups.

All in all it’s all exciting stuff…for me at least….happy days! 😉

Kind regards

Benjamin Higgledy