Posts Tagged ‘flowers from seed’

Rainbow columbines

June 21st, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Multicoloured Aquilegia

If you’re from my generation, you were probably taught Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. Younger readers may know Really Offensive Youtube Games Built Into Videos. It’s the colours of the rainbow, and why is this of interest here today? Because columbines (aquilegias) are one of the few plants whose flowers come in all the rainbow colours: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

OK, you’re right, we don’t often come across orange columbines, the green is more of a green-tinted white and the options down at the violet end are a little thin. But the compensation is that so many of the flowers are bicolours, the outer petals in one colour and the inner petals in another. There are also some unexpected intermediate shades including chocolate brown.

And why are we talking about this as the flowers are starting to go over? Because it’s seed sowing time. In fact we’re getting towards the end of the optimal sowing period for flowering late next spring and early next summer. So let’s get to it.

All aquilegias are grown from seed, but they can be divided into two types according to how we go about it: there are those with a lot of seeds in a packet, such as ‘McKana Giant Mixed’ with 150 or those with fewer seeds in a packet such as ‘Lime Sorbet’ with 25.

We can sow those with plenty of seeds in a row outside in the garden, thin them out and transplant them to their final flowering sites in the autumn. Those with fewer seeds are better sown in pots and pricked out individually into 7cm or 9cm pots for autumn planting.

Me? I raise them all in pots, partly because at this time of year there’s hardly a bare piece of soil in the garden in which to sow them and also because I probably only want three plants of one variety and it’s just easier. Either way, if you haven’t got your columbine seeds in – get a move on.

February Gardening Advice

February 1st, 2018 | News | 0 Comments

Hearts beat a little faster this month with the arrival of Valentine’s Day. Likewise, for gardeners, pulses begin to race with the prospect of spring on the horizon.

Whether you’re working on the allotment, or in the garden, the jobs list is beginning to increase as we start to prepare for the arrival of a new season. However, don’t be seduced into thinking you should immediately start sowing outside. Jack Frost is a cunning cad, and is always seeking the opportunity to break hearts. Whether it’s a severe frost, or a late flurry of snow, gardening plans can be quickly scuppered. Right now, in this unpredictable month, patience is the key.

So, why not take a moment to enjoy what February has to offer. Hellebores, crocuses, even an early daffodil, can be just what’s needed to get you in the mood for spring.

In the flower garden


Most snowdrops have now bloomed and will start to fade before returning to their green form. Now’s the time to lift, divide and re-plant. Over the years, they will naturally increase and spread. However, a gardener’s intervention can result in larger displays, without such a lengthy wait.

This process can also be applied to the perennial plants in your herbaceous borders. Quite often a sharp spade is the best way to divide them. Think about how you want your border to look this summer, and re-plant accordingly.


At the moment, borders aren’t looking at their best, but this is the time to get them ready for the growing season ahead. Remove all weeds and fallen debris, and cut away last season’s dead perennial foliage. Finally, mulch the area, ideally to the depth of six inches, as this will help suppress weeds. Be careful not to cover perennials, shrubs or protruding bulb shoots as this will prevent the sunlight and warmth reaching them, and could encourage rot.


Ornamental grasses in winter can add wonderful structure to a vacant gardening space. But as winter wanes, they will start to look a little ragged. Deciduous varieties will benefit from being cut back hard with a pair of shears. This may seem drastic, but don’t worry, they will thank you for it. Varieties such as Stipa, need nothing more than a good comb. By using your hands and a sensible pair of gloves to prevent cuts, simply drag your fingers through the clump, removing old growth.


Despite the cold month, if you’re lucky enough to own a heated greenhouse, polytunnel, or a well-lit, warm, windowsill, you could think about sowing hardy annual and perennial seeds. Whether it’s Cornflower, Cosmos, French marigolds or Echinacea, these can be sown now. Overfill a small pot or tray with either seed or multi-purpose compost. Tap the container gently, and brush the excess soil from the rim. Sow your seeds thinly over the surface, and then cover over with a thin layer of compost, or vermiculite. Once labelled, place your container in a couple of inches of water. It’s preferable to let the pot draw the water from the bottom, leaving the seeds undisturbed, as watering from above can easily scatter the seeds, disrupting their growing environment and hampering germination. Finally, place in a bright and warm spot.


Pansies can provide well-needed colour during the solemn winter months. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep them in check if you want them to continue providing colour. Deadheading is key. Remove any fading or diseased blooms, making the cut just above a lower pair of leaves. Do not let your plants go to seed, as they will stop producing blooms. If you’re growing them in pots or containers, ensure they don’t dry out, but don’t overwater. If you have them in the ground, keep an eye out for pests, such as slugs and snails.


This is the month to prune late flowering Clematis, Prune Group 3 (For definitions of each group, go to ). They flower from mid to late summer, and on newly grown stems. Therefore, you can cut back a lot of last year’s growth, down to a strong pair of buds, about 30 cm above the ground. Ensure you spread out the stems, tie them into a support frame, and mulch around the base of the plant. As soon as the temperature starts to rise, they will quickly put on growth.

Similarly, you can prune shrubs that have just finished flowering such as Witch Hazel, and prune hard on shrubs such as Cornus, Buddleia and Salix. Also, prune Wisteria by cutting back to three buds.


Continue to keep bird-feeding stations supplied with food and fresh water. If the weather is too bad to work in, then this might be the time to retreat to the shed, and think about building a nest box. Garden birds will soon be looking for nests to hatch their chicks. So why not help bring birdlife into your garden, and install a nest box.

On the veg patch


Cut all autumn fruiting varieties down to an inch above the ground. Mulch around the raspberry stalks, ensuring you don’t cover them over. If you want a longer growing season, cut only half of your stock down to above the ground. The untouched canes will provide fruit earlier in the season.

This is the last opportunity to plant bare root varieties. Once summer varieties are planted and mulched, cut canes down to ten inches. Again, with autumn fruiting varieties, mulch and cut-down to an inch above the ground.


There’s still time to prune your fruit trees and soft fruit, such as gooseberries, as they’re still dormant. Beyond this, tree sap will be on the rise, so pruning too late might create a seeping wound, thus damaging the tree. Consider buying bare rootstock varieties, and rhubarb crowns, and plant out.


Up and down the land right now, windowsills are dominated by seeding potatoes sat on eggbox thrones, with their eyes looking skyward. However, if you haven’t bought your tubers yet, it’s still not too late. Get them chitting as soon as possible, and six weeks from now you could be sitting them in the warming soil of your allotment, or in growing bags.


If you have a cold frame or greenhouse, ideally with a heat source, then you might consider sowing into plugs the following; onions, beetroot, cabbage, leeks, spring onion, lettuce, radishes, and tomatoes. If you sow into large plugs, and thin your seedlings out accordingly, then your young plants can continue to grow on until you’re ready to plant out. This method will not only give you the time to prepare the plot, but give the soil an opportunity to warm up in the early spring weather. Bear in mind, it’s still a low winter sun, so light levels can make plants leggy.

If you’re hoping to sow seeds, such as carrot, straight into the ground, wait until at least the end of the month. Ideally, warm the allocated plot, by covering the soil for few weeks with either a cloche, or plastic sheeting. This extra warmth is precious when trying to germinate seeds, such as carrots and parsnips. Remember to stagger your sowing, otherwise months from now you may find yourself with a glut.


You can begin sowing early varieties indoors. As these legumes have a deep root system, ideally you want to sow them in root trainers as they don’t like their roots disturbed. Not only are you providing the best opportunity to grow strong plants, but when you plant out, the roots won’t suffer from stress.


If you still have parsnips growing, lift and store them. Beyond February, these tapered beauties will sprout. Place carefully into a box, cover with dry sand, and store somewhere cool and out of sunlight.


Check regularly for any damage or decay on any fruit or veg you having been storing over winter. Anything spoilt, remove at once and destroy. Ensure remaining produce is individually spaced to prevent further contamination, and to encourage a good airflow.



Any remaining bulb plants that have finished blooming can be taken outside, or kept in a greenhouse, to let the foliage dieback. However, continue to water and feed any Amaryllis bulbs, as this may encourage the flower to return late next autumn, or winter.

First year flowering perennials: prolific penstemons

November 17th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Penstemon 'Mixed Colours'

The penstemons raised from seed were so bright on the Mr Fothergill’s trial ground this summer that they caught my eye from the other side of the field. And this from a plant that’s usually grown from cuttings and bought as plants in pots.

They really dazzled but when you look at the price of the seeds and how easy they are to raise you wonder why they’re not grown from seed more often. Five hundred seeds for £2.29, half the price of a single plant in a garden centre, seems like a bargain to me. And, sown inside in March, they’ll flower prolifically in their first year.

The upright 75cm stems carry pairs of glossy leaves topped with large, flared flowers in a very wide range of colours and bicolours and once they start the flowers just keep coming. Best in a sunny spot in rich but well-drained soil, I’ve found that they respond especially well to regular dead heading and I’ve seen dead-headed plants still flowering well at the end of October in their first year after a July start.

Penstemon 'Scarlet Queen'‘Mixed Colours’ is the aptly descriptive name for the variety with the widest range of shades including a lovely pure white, some pretty pink and white bicolours and others with attractive lacing in the throat. If there’s one from the mix that you especially like, it’s easy to propagate it from cuttings in spring or summer. ‘Scarlet Queen’ (right) is the most striking single colour available, in bright red with a contrasting clean white throat.

‘Humming Bells’ is a much shorter blend so ideal for the front of the border or containers and, while the flowers are smaller than those of ‘Mixed Colours’, they’re tightly packed on 20cm stems.

Sowing? March is the ideal time. Give them some heat to start with then keep move the individual seedlings into cells in April and harden off in May before planting out. The plants are quite vigorous and can also be sown in the open ground in May but probably won’t flower till the following year.

But alert your friends: you’ll probably have more than enough young plants to give away.