Posts Tagged ‘hardy annual’

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?

Sun survivor

August 10th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Amaranthus 'Velvet Curtains'Visiting the Mr F trial ground this week, it was clear that some plants had suffered badly in the heat while some had enjoyed it.

One that clearly loved the hot weather was Amaranthus ‘Velvet Curtains’, the RHS AGM winning hardy annual sown direct into the light and sandy soil of the trials field.

This dramatic relative of the familiar love-lies-bleeding is attractive from when the first richly coloured, reddish purple shoots emerge soon after sowing. The handsome foliage becomes more striking as it develops and I’ve seen it looking very dramatic emerging through a carpet of white alyssum. The white gypsophila that was also doing well in the heat would also make a taller and longer lasting partner.

Now, in August, the bold upright plumes of ‘Velvet Curtains’ are at their peak. I’ve grown them interplanted amongst orange dahlias and cannas to bring a softer look to the more structured dahlia and canna plants. If that’s the plan, raise the seedlings individually in pots from seed sown in a cold greenhouse, be sure not to let the plants dry out or suffer any shocks as this may spark them into flower prematurely.

‘Velvet Curtains’ is also splendid for drying, especially as the colour fades hardly at all. Cut the stems when the flowers are at their peak – about now! Strip off the lower leaves, tie the stems in bunches of half a dozen then hang them upside down in a cool and dry and well ventilated place. Drying in cool conditions (which is at last possible as everything cools down) helps preserve the richness of the colour.

Leave the plumes on the plants into the autumn and they will shed their seeds. This can be double-edged as you may end up with far more self sown seedlings than you need. The best compromise is to cut some for drying, cut back most of the rest to prevent self sowing and just leave a stem or two to shed seed. And if seedlings come up in inconvenient places next spring – well, you can always move them.

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.

Catch up with seed sowing

May 4th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Larkspur, cornflower and calendulas

Not been much of a spring, has it… But things have changed and this Bank Holiday weekend looks to be a great chance to catch up and get some seeds in.

The thing is, just because the packet says sow in March or April, it doesn’t mean you can’t sow in May. Soil temperature is key to seed germination and seed that has been sitting there in the chilly and wet soil may just not come up at all. Now that the soil is warming up, you have another chance.

So all those hardy annuals such as calendulas and larkspur and cornflowers and annual poppies and sunflowers that would usually be romping away by now – pop down to the garden centre and pick up some seed. And get them in soon.

I sowed some sunflowers outside and most have failed to come up – actually, I think the mice might be partly responsible: the longer the seeds sit there not germinating the more chance the mice will find them. So yesterday I checked the racks in the garden centre, bought some seed and it will be going in today.

Of course, if we can spark the seeds into prompt germination, so much the better. After I’ve made the drills but before sowing the seed, I always water along the drills, preferably with liquid feed in the water. That may be less necessary this weekend, after rain earlier this week, but it’s generally a good idea. I’ve even been known to fill the can with warm water from the tap – but I realise this may be going too far!

The important lesson is that it’s not too late. So take a look in your seed tin or pop down to the garden centre and get sowing.

Mr Fothergill's sunflowers in the garden centre