The recent history of my seed sowing is not a traditional gardeners tip more a recollection of my own gardening method or lack thereof. These seed sowing stories are neither best practice nor a road to success.
Allium Seedhead ready to Harvest
Sources of my seeds
I don’t like waste so I collect a lot of seed from existing plants. Sweet peas, poppies, calendula, aquliegia and legumes feature regularly. I have had recent success with growing yellow tree peony lutea from seeds. I used to collect wild seeds when on holiday or where I thought I could get away with doing so.
I buy more seed than I need or ever convert into plants. Salad and vegetable seed is usually a considered purchase as a result of previous success or catalogue recommendations. I am an impulse buyer of other seeds often for experiments or to try new flowers. I buy gardening magazines that have free seed packets on the cover.
I obtain seed from societies such as the RHS, cyclamen or alpine seed schemes. I haven’t found anyone local with whom to swap seeds.
Old stock of previous seasons remnant seeds (kept in an airtight tin) last longer than expected particularly tomato and salad crops. I don’t worry about fertility, if they germinate it is a bonus.
I suppose my garden benefits most from self seeders although many are weeds or unwanted specimens.
Reasons For Seed Sowing
My prime seed sowing is for vegetables.
Flower sowing is usually to meet an aspiration for shock and awe from the results. Seldom achieved but fun to attempt.
Some I sow intending to obtain more cut flowers but only really successfully with sweet peas which I recommend as well worth the effort.
I silly reason for buying them is because they are cheap. A local garden center treats them as a loss leader and all year they are 50% of the packet price. I buy more than I need and sow wastefully. I did well this year on a variety pack of sunflowers.
If I want perennials or gap fillers like Lupins I will try seed even though it may work out more economical to buy plants.
I have been reading the Penguin Encyclopedia of Gardening which aims to provide ‘….an explanation of words used in a technical sense in a horticultural context in the UK and USA.’ Set out as an A to Z this resulting post, missing a thousand definitions, is unlikely to rank highly with search engines.
The separation of a leaf or fruit from it’s stem. Most notable as a deciduous tree sheds its leaves in autumn. Two layers of cells are formed to facilitate this process, an abscission layer and a corky tissue layer. The corky layer cuts off the food supply to the fruit or leaf and protects the the wound formed when the drop occurs.
A botanical term referring to a flower having floral parts that are capable of division into essentially symmetrical halves by only one vertical or longitudinal plane passing through the axis. Examples include Peas , Snapdragons and Orchids.
The biggest butterfly in my garden is undoubtedly me the gardener. Whilst working on the beds or landscape I can flit from task to task or pause and forget what I intended doing. Even with ‘to do’ lists at the starts of the day I complete very few and add on many supplementary things instead. The garden’s requirements take precedent as I flit about with spade or watering can but I also ‘butterfly’ in another key direction.
Over the years my preference for plant or species come in and out of fashion and I favour certain groups for a few seasons and then move on or more specifically move off. I think of these as my specialties but in truth I don’t specialise and never really learn or attain the best results before changing. It is more a case of the garden will be greener and my horticultural pleasure multiplied by variety and change.
Flitting about in this manner has led me to collect books on specific species in a vain attempt to excel. To this end I often join a specialist society for a period of time that currently includes; the National Auricular and Primula, Cactus, Cyclamen, as well as RHS and AGS (alpine garden society). Added to this are my memberships of local clubs and societies where my enthusiasm last for about 5 years before I move on.
Current and Past Specialties
Rhododendron and deciduous Azaleas
Patio and miniature Roses and Rambler varieties.
Carnations and Dianthus
Primroses and Polyanthus
Daisy Compositae family of 30,000+ species
Soft fruit and apple trees
Shorter lived interest in Heuchera, Ivyies, African violets, Cistus,
Repeated below is our post from 2009 when I first reported on the water loving skunk cabbage. In 2021 the RHS have decided that the proliferation of this plant is endangering native species and they should not be grown in the UK. The RHS say ‘after flowering seed heads should be cut off and burnt’ this should help the spread of the rouge amongst our aquatic plants in areas such as the Wye Valley and Lake District.
If you followed our tip to grow this plant I leave it to you what you may wish to do. I am not changing my mind as it is not yet a plant on the banned list under Schedule 9 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act
‘American Skunk Cabbage Lysichiton americanus is planted in groups along the streamside at the Valley Garden Harrogate. Over the years the plants have seeded themselves freely and now make a fantastic display covering the full length of the stream and beyond. The yellow flame-shaped flowers really called spathes, are 18 inches high and look magnificent reflected in the water in April and May. Then the flowers are followed by enormous paddle-shaped, leathery green leaves which remain until dieing back in autumn. Lysichiton camschatcensis has a hypnotic white spathe and lime green flowering head and a cross between the two species produces a cream spathe (I like to call a spathe a spathe). This spathe surrounds a cigar shaped stem called the spadix which bears many small, bisexual green flowers. …
I am moving away from plastic nets particularly the fine thin green version sold by some retailers. They break after one season, become brittle and inevitably end up in landfill or worse.
This season I favour chicken wire either galvanised or coated mesh. I have strung a 6 foot length between two stout metal poles. The poles have been fed through the holes at the edge every 6 inches or so. Thus I have a wall of netting for my sweetpeas to climb up.
Rather than use netting on softfruit I intend using horticultural fleece as a temorary covering because I hve a surplus of fleece and it deteriorates if kept to long.
Wire mesh can be adapted as a coarse sieve used on my home made compost.
Whilst not true netting I use wire frames for bird feed holders. I have a couple for suit blocks and seed balls.
original post on garden products April 2011
‘Netting can be very useful in the garden and there is usually one or more types for each particular application.
Climbers like Sweet Peas need something to cling on to as they grow. You can cut off the tendrils and tie the stems to a cane but that is labour intensive. I prefer to use a very open green plastic net. It is about the cheapest you can buy and if you throw it away at the end of the year it will have done its job.
For runner beans and climbing beans I use stronger plastic net also with a wide open mesh and strong poles. Again it is still cheap as a form of netting.
For protecting soft fruit like strawberries or building a fruit cage you need knotted netting also called mesh knotted netting. This is strong enough to keep out the birds. The mesh varies from 7mm squares to 18mm diamonds. The smaller gauge keeps out moths and butterflies and the wider for pigeons and small birds.
For herons over your pond a wider mesh of 45mm will not spoil the appearance.
Insect mesh netting is finer and more akin to fleece. It can deter carrot fly, cabbage root fly and caterpillars whilst giving a modest amount of shade.
Wind break or shade nets are made from higher density polypropylene.
Pond nets for leaves and debris can also protect your goldfish. A fishing line strung across the edge of ponds may deter cats and other creatures.’
Seed sowing reaches its height in the middle of April. It is worth looking at the labour saving devices that were not available to our parents and grandparents.
Seed Tray Review
Old wooden seed trays with slats and high sides are still in use. They need care when cleaning before new crops are sown.
Plastic seed trays from rigid polypropylene with drainage holes can be used time and again and are easy to store and clean. There is generally a pattern of ridges to improve drainage.
I like to use the thin plastic segmented inserts inside a normal seed tray like those in the photograph.
They are cheap enough to be disposable but last a couple of seasons with care.
They vary in the number of cells, 3×5, 8×5 or 4×6 for example.
Each cell can be for individual seeds or used for several fine seeds. It makes pricking out and planting far easier.
The cells can also be used for growing on after pricking out. 15 or 24 good plants can be raised in one tray.
Do not put plastic inserts in a tray without drainage holes or the compost may get water logged.
Seed trays can be used to hold individual pots in one place. Up to 15 square 3″ pots can be put in one tray and they are a bit deeper than a standard tray.
Seed Tray Tips
Take care when watering to get all the area damp. Be careful with small cells and those near to the drying sun.
Label your seed sowing with the date and type of seed sown.
Sterilise your used seed trays in Jeys fluid or similar
To water from the bottom fill a larger container and stand the tray in the water until enough has been taken up.
Do not leave seedlings too long before pricking out. Long roots soon become stunted.
Carefully push out the cell contents from the bottom if using this product.
2021 Experience So Far
I vowed to sow fewer seed packets this year as pricking out then fills all the available warm space before the frost goes. Instead I have filled seed trays and 7cm pots with cuttings and bought in seedlings, so my space problem remains.
The square 7cm pots fit together in a seed tray for watering and carrying (but I always end up tipping some out by accident).
I did provide bottom heat for those seeds I have sown except lettuce. This has helped germination but regrettably not for tomatoes.
I stand some seed trays on wicking fabric to benefit from capillary action when watering from the bottom.
I have managed to get more seed trays in my greenhouse so all is not bad news despite the weather.
There is still time to use the seed trays for annuals and other seeds like wallflowers which await my attention.
Winter quarters on garage windowsill. Short of light but a warm sand based seed bed
Early protection in the bagging area.
Tulips do not mind the cold snap we have experienced during April but the greenhouse appreciated the bubble wrap
There is a great variety of tulips on show at the moment
Rhododendrons were decimated by the cold snap – still I hope for better next year – third time lucky after last years frost.
I treated myself to a Knaphill Azalea’Viscosa’ a white thjat will flower after our northern frosts.
During spring the space in your greenhouse is at a premium. We all have our own ways of using the opportunities and here are some of my ideas and Yorkshire experiences.
My glasshouse is the standard aluminium roof-span type. I aspire to a dutch type with sloping sides and bigger panes but they restrict tall plants near the glass. I’m too traditional to opt for an octagonal or dome shape and they rely on shelving for more space.
My past attempts with mini greenhouses and plastic constructions have been frustrating and are usually abandoned.
I have just got around to placing concrete flags under the staging – previously it was bare soil but seldom used for growing. Now I store dry goods that are regularly needed and small gizzmos and fixers. Now I don’t need to resort to the hut or garage every time I need something (time is as valuable as space).
The central path has long been flagged for 80% of the length so the growing area is ‘U’ shaped.
I use all internal central path for pots and trays on an interim basis. I also have some flags outside the door for moving plants out for short periods and hardening off.
I have a permanent wooden stage the length of one side and a temporary, portable aluminium stage that fit across the far end.
My aluminium frames have a central channel where a moveable support can be fixed for bubble wrap screening or light string support. I also string from the roof for tomatoes.
Wires or washing line is strung across some areas affixed to the frame to support growing plants. Pegs are used for several purposes.
Maximising Crops my way
My favourite flowering crops are auriculas and cyclamen that are ready to go outside before other plants need the space.
If I prick out too many plants into pots I need to ration myself as space becomes tight for a couple of weeks
I have had good results growing first earlies in potato sacks as long as I protect from hard frost and earth up by topping up the bag. They go outside when I need the space as the frost is virtually done.
Once seedlings are planted out I grow tumbler tomatoes in pots on the top of the bench and previously a courgette or two under the bench but they eventually gets in the way.
I grow tomatoes using a type of ring culture augmented by a hydroponic trough of nutrient and some wicking see below
Chrysanthemum follow tomatoes started off in front of the trough
Catch crops of lettuce and other salads get stuck in where I can.
Through winter I raise pots of early bulbs particularly hyacinths
Other Greenhouse Observations
The foundations are 99% perfect but I would strive for perfection if starting again. I would also build a ramp up to the threshold.
The only growth nearby is a plum tree on the north side but there is no overhang and the light is good.
I need to shade it with cool-glass paint as the sun gets stronger. A tip is to paint the shading on the inside, it is easier to reach and wash off. Outside the coolglass tends to adhere to mucky glass .
I never invested in blinds or shades. I also use scrim, muslin or horticultural fleece as a temporary covering if needed.
I use small flags to retain deeper soil where I want it. (see front right)
With time on my hands and nowhere to go there was plenty of time to mess around in the garden. Messing can be a negative when I fiddle too much and forget the basics. On seedlings I pricked out and cosset the weaklings rather than aiming for strong likely good doers.
I give away many plants and unwanted ceramic pots by leaving them on the garden wall for passers by. Surprisingly, gardening books were not as popular and I still have hundreds which I will no longer read.(that may be a clue why they were unclaimed).
I had some dwarf Hostas in good flower and the whole collection went one evening. I was a bit miffed as I would have liked to give each one to a different gardener. Then when clearing up I found a nice note from the grateful recipient and keen Hosta admirer.
Covid Year Winners
Early successes were the cheerful colours of primulas in pots and the garden flower beds. I saved the large pots full of plants through summer and have just started splitting them to reinvigorate the stock. Some varieties are flowering again right now (September). Regrettably there has been an infestation of vine weevil and the compost/soil is contaminated. They do not seem to have eaten into the roots yet so I may have caught it in time but I am vary of the hatching and spread next year.
Serendipity struck when I decided last year to plant some patio roses in long tom pots and other terracotta plant pots. They have been the stand out summer flowers and have been in continious bloom right through. Deadheading, feeding and watering have contributed but I rate them top of the 2020 season.
An unsung success has been the conifers which have provided cover for numerous birds and a visual range of colour, form and shape. The variety is more noticeable as I have looked more carefully at plants from several years ago when I planted dwarf conifers of many varieties. Some larger plants were turfed out to make space or as they were just wrong for the garden.
It is a new gardening year resolution to give the conifers some tlc with fewer competitors and a more natural habitat. I have named the main zone the conifery. Growth on the larger specimens has been substantial and I will practice pruning and topiary on these outliers in the back garden.
Part of the Conifery
Dahlias deserve an honourable mention and I tried hard with geraniums, violas and sweetpeas which provided bunches of cut flowers and now I await the chrysanthemum display.
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