Senior sister Elaine kicks off:
OK, I ask myself, why do I do it – EVERY year? The seed catalogues plop through the letterbox every winter, and the Cottage Garden Society seed list, and the RHS seed list, and seed offers too good to miss. Sarah Raven and Thompson & Morgan are two catalogues to pore over endlessly – the first for the beauty of the presentation, the second for the amazing range. And so it starts.
It’s a bit like childbirth – your mind blanks out the stress and difficulty of it, as you dream of white delphinium spires or neat rows of cherry tomatoes.
By mid-April, you are up to your armpits in seedpods that have refused to germinate, trays of seedlings that need pricking-out, even more of them that need potting-on, and more baby delphiniums and cherry tomatoes than would be appropriate at Hampton Court Flower Show.
And as for sowing two seeds in each module and throwing away the weaker one ….I find it agonising. I either pot up the weaker one elsewhere (it’s gone to all the trouble of starting to grow for me in the first place), or put my trug behind me to throw it into, so I can’t see its sad demise.
The only solution to all this vast over-production is to give lots of plantlings away to friends, join in with a plant/seed swap like my local Cottage Garden Society have done, or sell them for charity when the garden opens for the NGS. Not such a bad outcome, after all.
The experiments are fun too – seed collected from an Abutilon vitifolium sown fresh, have developed into four sturdy tree-seedlings. Seeds collected from a friend’s Salvia sclarea Turkestanica are germinating nicely, though I swore I’d never grow it again – the smell of it is so awful …oh, but the luminous colour and sheer presence – purple sage on steroids.
Root-trainers are very useful for the long-rooted things like sweetpeas – haxnicks do good re-useable ones, and save having to use less classy and quickly disintegrating loo-roll tubes .
I’ll hand you over to middle sister Laura over in West Sussex who’s also growing plenty of plants for her garden-opening in June…..
Yes but as usual, dear sister, I have exercised a little more foresight than you and did most of my seed sowing last autumn.
Most seeds of hardy plants (annuals and perennials) have an inbuilt need for a period of cold and wet to break their dormancy – an evolutionary adaptation to ensure they germinate in spring when warmth and light levels are sufficient to give them a good start in life.
You can simulate this vernalisation process by shifting pots of seeds in and out the fridge but this can lead to domestic conflict when compost gets spilt in the butter so it is much easier to sow early and let the natural elements do the work for you. This can be as late as February providing that there is a cold back-end (a term my farmer husband uses) to the winter – so no problem this year.
Some seeds, such as peonies require a second vernalisation period and I waited a full three years for Paeonia rockii to appear through the ground, and another 4 years until it flowered for the first time. But the wait was worth it, this has to be the most exquisitely beautiful plant you can grow outdoors in our northern hemisphere.
My favourite seed suppliers are Chilterns, surely the most comprehensive list of all with such knowledgeable and drole descriptions of each plant that I read the catalogue from cover to cover, often several times, just for enjoyment (I’ve always been a bit strange….).The catalogue has a distinctive long, narrow format with, this year, a sexy purple front cover.
I also buy from Derry Watkin’s Special Plants catalogue as I trust her plant choices implicitly and after sulking for a couple of years when they drastically reduced the range of seeds they offered I have now returned to the RHS fold and bought 20 packets from their seed distribution scheme.
Since attending the most brilliant (actually life-changing) propagation course delivered by the supreme plants woman Marina Christopher I am now super organised with my seed sowing technique, making my own compost, using a specially shaped wooden tamper to press the compost level and ALWAYS covering the seeds, even the tiny ones, with grit. I use deep square pots to avoid a crisis if I don’t get round to pricking them out, they will sit quite happily putting their roots down and can actually be left for up to a year if necessary – trust me. It’s Caroline’s turn, sit tight…..
Here in Scotland the freezing North Sea onslaught has even cursed the greenhouse – my tomato seedlings have turned purple and remained at a petrified 2 inches for about a month. To be fair I’m no expert at vegetable growing but I’ve bought a secret weapon – six deep root planters from Forest Products. They needed a bit of extra strengthening but at under £80 each they look a perfect fit for my ambition to drink while I weed this summer.
Being five degrees latitude further north than my sisters I’m allowed to cheat right? While the girls were tamping compost and obsessing about root trainers, I got my cheque book out again. Among the deliveries three stunning Fire and Ice Hostas from Crocus– the Jonny Boden of plant suppliers – for my deepest, darkest shady bed.
Certainly one of them was disconcertingly tiny given the ambitious price tag, but I’m looking forward to my sisters admiring them when they come up for my wedding in August – and importantly the plants just appeared as toddlers – I didn’t have to give birth to them.
Seed germination: it’s a lot of faff but the reason we do it all again each year is that there is very little in life that compares with the satisfaction of doing the morning rounds of your little garden empire to find a smattering of tiny seedlings pushing their way up through your pots. The thrill never fades.
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