Posts Tagged ‘annual’

Cosmos time – yes, really!

June 14th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cosmos 'Xanthos' and 'Sea Shells'

Well, it’s been raining hasn’t it… The problem is that everything is now growing like mad and spilling out into the spaces I’d set aside to sow cosmos.

Yes, I know. Cosmos are half hardy annuals and they’re often sown under cover in April. But both shorter varieties like ‘Xanthos’ (above left) and taller ones such as ‘Sea Shells’ (above right) do really well sown outside in June, sown outside where they’re going to flower.

The seeds are long and slender and easy to handle, the soil is moist, so all you need to do is draw a drill (a shallow furrow) in the soil with the point of a stick – or even your finger. About half an inch deep is fine and then you can place the seeds an inch apart and then just knock the soil in from the edges to cover the seeds and pat it all down with your hand.

Put a label in at the end of the row and another label or a piece of stick in at the other end, to mark the row and ensure that you don’t sow something else in the same space! The seeds will soon be up, they’ll grow strongly and you can thin them out, in stages, till they’re 15-20cm apart.

The problem is all those floppy plants that the rain has beaten down – in spite of the fact that you supported them (or perhaps because you didn’t!).

Well, they can be rescued, propped up, and space for those cosmos revealed. If you’re fortunate enough to have some flat sprays of hazel twigs, these are ideal for gently raising shoots back into position. But the simple device of two short bamboo canes with a length of string run between can also lift leaning stems back close to vertical. And snipping off any wayward shoots won’t do the plants any harm.

So, wait for a break in the rain, heave those floppy plants out of the way and get some cosmos seed in.

Happy cornflower harmonies

October 12th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cornflower 'Classic Fantastic'

One of the easiest ways to ensure harmonious colour co-ordination in our borders is to choose plants whose flowers come in different shades of the same colour. Mahogany, gold, yellow and primrose, for example.

But it can take a lot of chasing round and picking varieties from different catalogue and nurseries to get the blend right. Fortunately, this spring sees the introduction of three rather cleverly formulated cornflower mixtures that do the choosing for you.

The Classic Series of cornflowers comes in three different colour formulations, all of which are made up of tallish plants reaching about 75cm in height, ideal both for borders and for cutting.

‘Classic Fantastic’ (above) comes in dark blue, mid blue, pale blue and a white with a blue eye. ‘Classic Magic’ comes in deep red shades, various pink tones and a white with a pink eye. In the ‘Classic Romantic’ blend the flowers are plummy purple, some almost black, dark purple with white tips to the petals, various purplish and lilac shades and white with a purple eye.

All three blends will look good sown in clumps between roses, especially between English Roses or long flowering shrub roses. Sow in a few short rows to create a patch to fill the space and thin the plants to about 15cm apart. Don’t thin too severely or you might end up with an unbalanced range of colours.

I’d be tempted to sow a few now, if you’ve got your borders all tidied, although I’d usually prefer to get the seed in by the end of September. Otherwise leave it till March. For cutting, a few rows of cornflowers can transform your veg garden. And the harmonious colouring is all there in the packet.

August seed bargain

August 24th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 2 Comments

California poppies (Eschscholzia) to sow in August

Heading to the garden centre over the Bank Holiday weekend? Well, here’s an idea.

For many gardeners, sowing seeds in August seems a bit odd: don’t you sow seeds in the spring? Yes, of course, but the end of August is a great time to sow California poppies and I’ll be doing just that. And the seeds are in the garden centre.

I live in an old cottage that’s right on the street, there’s no front garden. So I’m going to sow ‘Appleblossom Pink’ California poppies in the crack between the house wall and the pavement. I’m stealing the idea from a similar house nearby where for years orange California poppies made quite a show.

I’m going to sow the pink ones but you can also try mixtures if you refer. One good thing about ‘Appleblossom Pink’ is that it has very pretty silver foliage so it looks good even before it flowers – which should be early next spring, perhaps with a few winter flowers if the season is mild. Also, it’s naturally dwarf so as it leans away from the wall towards the light it’s less likely to fall over.

In the past I’ve sown California poppies in the gravel garden where, as they self sowed from year to year, eventually there was hardly a month when there were no flowers. They’re also good at the edges of gravel drives. The trick is to pull out any plant with flowers in colours you don’t like so that only the ones you really enjoy get to shed their seed for the following year.

So for a little over £2, you can pick up a packet of California poppy seed this weekend and get started with years of colour is any sunny place you have. Why wouldn’t you?

King of the sun

August 3rd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sunflower 'Sun King'

One of the great things about being able to visit the trial ground at Mr F is that it’s possible to see all the varieties of a single plant growing side by side. This year, it’s nasturtiums (more on them another time) and last year I paid special attention to the sunflowers. This one, ‘Sun King’, really stood out.

I used to grow a double flowered variety called ‘Teddy Bear’ but I found that it had become less and less consistent, especially in terms of its height: It’s supposed to be relatively short, about 60cm, but some were noticeably taller than the others and that sometimes made for a very odd looking group.

‘Sun King’ reaches 2m and they’re all consistent at about that height. The flowers are larger too – and don’t they look spectacular, packed with petals around that vivid green eye.

I raised them by sowing three seeds in 9cm pots, in April, and keeping the pots in the cold greenhouse. They were soon through – well, the ones the mice didn’t get were soon through – and by that time the greenhouse door and all the vents were open and so hardening off wasn’t really necessary.

I planted the whole potful of seedlings when they were about 10cm high, watered them in with liquid feed and away they went. When they were about 60cm tall I supported them with a 1.2m bamboo cane to each group of plants intending to add a stout dahlia stake later but that never happened. And they stood tall and upright through the hammering rain and the wild wind without the extra support.

I haven’t picked any yet, I should have sown a few more potfuls after the episode with the mice so there’d be plenty. But they’re branching well and just one head, in a heavy vase on the kitchen table, will be just the thing.

Easy and invaluable nasturtiums

May 11th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Nasturtium 'Empress of India'

Nasturtiums have developed an unfortunate reputation. They’re enjoyed, of course, but somehow they’re dismissed as, I don’t know, too easy perhaps…? Not ordinary, exactly, because they’re far from ordinary… The seeds are large, easy to handle so great for kids. Maybe it’s the fact that when grown in rich soil you get so much foliage that you can’t see the flowers – although, these days, that’s a bit of a myth. So were does that leave us?

It means that we should definitely grow them – but in the right way, in the right place, and using the right varieties. Start now.

I’ve just sown mine, yesterday. I’m growing quite a few different varieties so I’ve sown five pots of each variety, three seeds in each pot – and I expect almost all of them to come up.

I could sow them where they’re flower but I don’t want the mice to dig them up and, frankly, I’m not yet quite sure where they’re going to go! So they’ll sit on the spare room windowsill until they peep through, then I’ll stand the pots in a sheltered spot outside for two or three weeks.

But they must be kept frost free: nasturtium seedlings are very soft and fleshy: one waft of icy air and they’re mush.

When it comes to planting them we’re back to those hidden flowers. What happens is that in rich soil, or if you feed them, the leaves become broader and, more importantly, the leaf stalks become longer but the flowers stems don’t. This stretches the leaf stems beyond the flowers – which are hidden by the lush foliage.

So: choose bushy nasturtiums whose foliage tends to stay compact, choose somewhere sunny and choose just about any soil that’s not rich and fertile. And don’t plant out your seedlings until after the last chance of frost.