Is there anything so full of promise as ordering and sowing seeds, but what to choose this year?
We three sisters will have different approaches. I will want to experiment with a pre-determined ecological outcome in mind, Elaine will go for the dreamily romantic (thank goodness you don’t grow roses from seed or we’d be here all day) and Caroline, well she still hasn’t got over her infantile obsession with nasturtiums.
For me it’s going to be all about plants that attract nocturnal wildlife this year. Bees get a lot of press but recent studies have shown that moths contribute just as much during the night shift. So I’m looking for plants that are naturally adapted to nocturnal insects.
1. Tobacco plants. To my mind, these have lost their way a bit in recent years, and I find that a lot of the new dwarf cultivars with their fancy names and gaudy colours lack the stately elegance and heady evening scent of the old-fashioned types. So I’m going for two of the original species this year, Nicotiana sylvestris, native of South American woodlands so happy in a bit of shade and Nicotiana affinis which I believe does much the same thing but in sunnier spots.
From minuscule seed both will produce tall leafy plants with pendulous white tubular flowers that pump out the scent come evening. What a thrill it would be to find that my plants attracted something as spectacular as the convolvulus hawk moth this summer.
2. Evening primrose. One of the stars of my gravel garden last summer was Oenothera stricta ‘Sulphurea’ which seemed to rest up during the day but come to life at dusk and dawn, so I’m going to add two more species this year. Val Bourne, a writer whose opinion I always trust, recommends Oenothera odorata ‘Apricot Delight’ and Oenothera versicolor ‘Sunset Boulevard’ both of which will bring some deeper colours to my little collection of evening flowerers.
There are plenty of other ways you can attract nocturnal wildlife into your garden and the South Downs National Park (which I’m lucky enough to work for) will be looking at some of the things you can do as part of their Dark Skies Festival, which runs from 12 -28 February (link at the end).
How terribly typical of Laura to be scientifically logical in her choice of what seeds to grow. Okay, so despite her weird approach, she has chosen some good ‘uns, particularly Nicotiana sylvestris which is something I grow every year. Such a lot of plant from each dust-fine seed, and such a wallop of scent every evening in my cottage garden! And if it also attracts some gigantic mutant night moth, well obvs, I will be doubly delighted.
3. Sweet-peas. I’m always hopelessly drawn to the simple annual flowers of summer when it comes to the new seed-catalogues. I have a regular list of must-haves, the first being sweet-peas. We were very pleased that Suttons Seeds liked my piece about autumn-sowing these scented beauties enough to put it on their website – link is at the bottom. Sweet-peas can just as easily be bought and sown in the spring, and the range of choice is fabulous.
4. Cosmos. I have to have Cosmos, of course, and here I buy two kinds – always the simple pure white ‘Purity’ and then one other; it might be ‘Dazzler’, an aptly-named deep pink, or ‘Xanthus’ in palest lemon, for instance. They are all easy, and they are simply LOADED with pollen to keep the bees and butterflies happy.
5. Ammi. Another plant I can’t do summer without is Ammi, the perfect plant for a soft and dreamy cow-parsley effect through the borders, but much better-behaved. It’s also very good from an autumn-sowing, by the way, which gives you earlier flowers. You can see it weaving through the borders with sweet-peas in our feature photo this week.
6. Orange flowers. What else? I must add some oranges – pots of bright zinnias were a highlight of last year. More orange from marigolds (Calendula) for colour in the garden and the salad bowl) and Californian poppies (Eschscholtzia). I grow the poppies in the warmest sunniest spot in the garden, and just add a few fresh seeds to their patch each year to join all the self-sown ones.
Don’t over-complicate things, that’s the secret. And I think that especially in Caroline’s case, we need to keep things as simple as possible, don’t we? Let’s all hope she doesn’t have aspirations to germinate seeds that require double vernalisation or soaking in asses’ milk………….
It’s OK, I know my limitations but before my sisters intimidate me with their lepidopterology, let me point out that my nasturtiums support a three week chomp-fest for cabbage white caterpillars every autumn!
7. Vegetables. I like catalogues that rate seeds as ‘easy’, ‘moderate’ or ‘difficult’ for obvious reasons. I only ever order the first category. So last year was a revelation when, following Elaine’s soon-to-be-a-book blogs, I had a go at growing vegetables for the first time. I thought I needed to be knowledgeable, own a polytunnel and be a man to grow veg. I know, I know, but this is the profile of most of the veg growers I’ve ever known.
I was stunned, it was a cinch!
To be fair I’d already mastered tomatoes (‘easy’ in the catalogues) and broad beans (stick in ground – walk away) but last year I summoned courage to have a go at courgettes (a breeze as it turns out) beetroot (even easier) and carrots (what’s all the fuss about?).
My veg virginity is behind me – I’m off and running with the D.T. Brown catalogue now!
8. Sunflowers/Rudbeckia. By the way, to Elaine’s annuals list I’d add sunflowers (achievable for most four-year olds) and daringly, even a late perennial – Rudbeckia. They arrive with a seemingly pre-packed determination to over-achieve. My kind of seeds!
Seed-sowing. A quick note about sowing the seeds we’ve mentioned today – you can start to sow them from now onwards, but it is usually better to wait until at least the start of March, to lessen the possibility of them getting cold and rotting off before they have germinated.
NB Louise doesn’t have to wait for seeds to come up to come up to enjoy her plant of the moment – it’s in flower right now! Click on the box below to learn all about it.
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