Posts Tagged ‘seed sowing’

Sweet peas can take the cold

January 3rd, 2020 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sweet peas 'Blue Shift', 'Spanish Dancer', 'Erewhon' and 'Gwendoline'

I’m always bashing on here about how important it is to sow sweet pea seeds in the autumn, to grow the strongest plants that will flower for the longest possible time. But you know what? It doesn’t always happen. Life gets in the way.

But if you have any sort of protection – a cold frame, some plastic cloches, even a low fleece tunnel you used to keep carrot fly off the carrots – anything that provides a little protection will help January sown sweet pea seeds germinate a little more quickly and grow a little more strongly.

And here’s something to think about. In 1909, at Cornell University in New York state, they sowed a sweet pea trial. They sowed the seed in succession in October and November, and some of it germinated before winter set in while some germinated in the following April.

But here’s the thing. New York state is cold in the winter, far far colder than here. We’re talking about temperatures getting down to -23C to -29C. And whether the seeds germinated before the winter or later, they flowered the following summer. This proves they can take the cold.

I’d suggest sowing in 12cm pots, six seeds in each, and standing them under the cloches or fleece. To be honest, slugs and mice will be more of a danger than cold so be sure to take precautions.

Varieties? Well, the new and exclusive varieties like ‘Mayflower 400’ and ‘Our Harry’ might well sell out so they should be high on the list to order and sow now. There’s also one you should never be without, ‘Gwendoline’ (bottom left), for its beautiful colouring and powerful fragrance.

I’d also remind you about three varieties in unusual colourings that I recommend. ‘Blue Shift’ (top left) changes colour from reddish mauve to true blue, ‘Spanish Dancer’ in cream (almost yellow) and rich and rosy reddish pink and finally ‘Erewhon’, a reverse bicolour with purplish blue lower petals and pink upper petals.

All are well scented and won’t disappoint. Just be sure to keep the slugs and snails off.

Whiskered wonder

September 6th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Viola 'Network Improved'

I’ve visited the Mr F trials field a couple of times now this season, the first time from under the umbrella and then last week on a scorching morning, and both occasions I was struck by this dainty little viola. It’s called ‘Network Improved’.

To be honest, the plants themselves did not look so very impressive, they’d been suffering in the heat. But the individual flowers are so delightful that I knew I had to recommend it.

And here’s the thing. The plants in the trial were grown from seed sown in plugs in spring and then planted out. So they’d had the heat of a record breaking summer to contend with. And they’re violas, after all, no wonder the plants were looking a bit sad.

But the individual flowers of ‘Network Improved’, with their old gold petals boldly whiskered in black, are just so pretty. Have to grow them somehow…

So what about sowing them now? And instead of putting the plants into a field, or a border, plant them in a patio container? They’d be lovely with dark blue grape hyacinths. And if you site the container near a path or in a porch, you’ll be able to admire the pattern in the flowers every time you pass.

Sow the seed as soon as possible in a plug tray with large cells, perhaps one that you’ve kept after receiving some Mr F plants, or try this plant raising kit. Sow two or three seeds per cell of fresh moist seed compost and cover lightly. Place the tray in a cosy place outside, or indoors on a bright windowsill. Never let them dry out. When they’ve reached planting size they can go in a container for a lovely spring treat.

Sow in August? Well yes…

August 9th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Cornflower (l-r) 'Classic Fantastic', 'Classic Romantic' & 'Classic Magic'

Am I mad? I’m looking at my cornflowers in full bloom and I’m going to suggest it’s time to sow seed for next year. OK, here’s the thing.

I sowed my cornflowers towards the end of March, this year, and they’re flowering well now. I should also mention that I got my ‘Black Ball’ seed from someone else, not Mr F, and half of them came up other colours. Not good. We know what the lesson is. Anyway.

Although my cornflowers are flowering nicely, the ones that did really really well are over. These are the self sown ones that sprung up last summer from seed that fell from last year’s spring sown varieties.

The plants they made were huge, multibranched, producing thousands of flowers. But they turned up in all sorts of places, including in my bark paths. I know, I could have moved the seedlings to better sites – as I’m about to with my self sown cerinthes – but I forgot.

So I’m going to sow cornflowers this month. And, thinking about posies for next summer, I’m going to sow the three varieties in the Classic Series. These are controlled colour blends in blue shades and white (‘Classic Fantastic’), in purple and lilac shades and white (‘Classic Magic’), and red and pink shades and white (‘Classic Romantic’). Colour themed posies in a packet.

Sow in rows in a sunny place this month. Draw out the drill with the point of a stick then soak the drill with water from the spout of the can. Then sow thinly. Thin the seedlings in stages to 20-25cm apart and they’ll start to flower in late spring next year. The plants will be big, so have some bamboo canes and string at the ready. And stand back and admire your achievement!

Snap to it for snapdragons

June 28th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Overwintered antirrhinum for cutting

I grew some tall antirrhinums last year. Many of them I cut for the house, and very pretty they were too. Some I left to do their thing in the garden and, I have to say, they were not dead-headed as diligently as I recommend here!

But the result was that seedlings started to pop up – not many, but enough to notice and enough to decide just to leave them to see what happened. And most of them survived the winter… and grew away in spring… and some were infected by rust disease and some not… and they began flowering in May.

So, I thought to myself, why not deliberately sow them in summer? And then I remembered what I’d said in my book on annuals from over thirty years ago, I recommended that antirrhinums be pulled up and prevented from overwintering as part of an approach to combating rust disease.

Yes, those antirrhinums of mine that overwintered were infected by rust, but not severely. One died, I think, and the rest grew out of it in spring.

The problem with sowing outside in the garden during July or August is finding a sunny place that’s not already occupied. If you have such a spot, sow thinly, thin to about 10-15cm, and transplant alternate seedlings elsewhere in the autumn.

But sowing in large cells is a better bet. You can use the plug trays that your mail order seedlings came in, wash them thoroughly and sow a few seeds in each. Keep them cool and moist, move them into a brighter place when they’ve emerged, thin the seedlings to one or two and plant when their roots start to fill the cells. Choose one of the taller varieties such as ‘Tootsie’ with flowers in pure white and rich pink or medium height varieties such as ‘Night And Day’. I think it’s well worth a try.

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.