Saturday, 19 February 2011

Seed sowing

I was a passionate gardener for ages before I got into seed sowing.  I bought plants, read gardening books, wandered round gardens and made notes but I felt that sowing seeds was for real gardeners, real experts, too tricky, too serious for me.  It wasn't helped by a few forays into sowing hardy annuals with those free seed packets you tend to get with magazines or thrown in when you are buying something else.  I know the spiel: sow directly where they are to flower, fine tilth, thin out and all that garbage.  In my experience seeds mostly fail to germinate and the glorious patch of colour of your imagination becomes a straggly weedy bit of the garden where one or two puny love in a mist fail to make an impact on the chickweed and the dandelions.

Having a greenhouse has made a difference.  Under the controlled conditions of seed trays and watering and benevolent warmth, seeds do germinate and I do notice and I do look after them.  I have discovered that growing things from seed is like looking after children.  You can't just whizz through once a week and disappear.  You have to look at them and notice how they are doing and tweak things gently every day.  When I discovered that I could take cuttings and have them grow it seemed even more weak and puny that I still felt that growing from seed was too tricky for me.  It was time to be a woman and face up to it.

You really can't grow veg without growing from seed (well you can I suppose: there are companies which will send you plug plants and good luck to them but it is so much cheaper to grow from seed) so when we moved here and started growing food in earnest I had to get down to it.  And from veg seed, which is so keen to grow you would have to chop at it with a machete or sit on it to stop it, it seemed a short step to trying to grow flowers too.  A couple of years ago I even bought some heated propagators.  But still there was a trepidation, a sense that it was all quite hard.  Even in the propagators things didn't always work.  Every time I had a failure I assumed I had done something wrong.  It has taken quite a long time and quite a bit of talking to other gardeners, virtually and otherwise, to realise that some seed just doesn't germinate.  It isn't me.  It is crap seed.  What a revelation.

For the last couple of years I have grown loads of sweet peas from seed.  I could hardly believe it in the first year when practically everything came up.  I grow three great walls of sweetpeas in the cutting garden, partly because I love the scent and partly because they are a sublime cut flower.  Last year when I was basically dissatisfied with the cutting garden, the sweetpeas were the one thing which was working.  Growing them myself has opened up the possibility of indulging my taste for older varieties and getting bothered about scent.  I don't want to get obsessive about sweetpeas because there are so many other things which I need to think about and I suspect my real obsession might prove to be something else entirely, something about bees and butterflies and a garden which fits its place.  This year however I have bought some root trainers and seeds from Sarah Raven which feels like an indulgence.  So today I sowed them.  It is way too early for many things up here.  Time and again I have sowed things, in that itch to get gardening again, and they have sulked and turned their backs on me.   It was too early.  It was too cold.   I hope these will thrive.

And now I have the itch again, good and proper.

28 comments:

  1. I have the itch to be planting too! It is so tempting, but we could still have real cold this winter and I must be patient. I am still enjoying sorting out the seed packets and dreaming of green shoots.....

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  2. Have done exactly the same today. Exactly.

    Root Trainers + sweet peas - tick! ..and your Sarah Raven Sweet Pea seeds too. Tick!

    We will compare notes I hope.

    I have also bought plug plants from Morrisons (£2 for x24 plants) and potted them on today onto a heated bench - petunia, lobelia and bizzie lizze (all cheap and cheerfuls). Tiniest of tiny plants but fantastic quality and this from a supermarket.

    Sowing onion and leek next.

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  3. Like you, I thought seed sowing was beyond me for a long time and only really got into it the last few years. Some things never germinate, but a lot do, and it fills the time until I can actually get outside and garden!

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  4. For twenty years we lived close to the river, and my garden was beautiful black river bottom soil. I sowed seed right where it was to grow, and everything grew like magic. Now, alas (as far as the garden is concerned) we are on the hillside amidst all the soil moved around centuries ago by ice age monsters, and I am back to starting seeds indoors.....I have spent the afternoon with Thompson and Morgan, being very picky about what I order at 3 or 4 seeds for $3.99! But I did want to try Cobaea Scendens again (cathedral bells) having only had one success with them out of four...

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  5. Thank you! It's very encouraging to realize that sometimes it's Not Your Fault if things don't spring up out of the ground just because you planted, watered, and hoped over them.

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  6. Much too early here for seed sowing. Maybe I should have a greenhouse/polly tunnel. I always buy Aubergine, Pepper, and Chilli plants... the rest I sow.

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  7. I'm going to try sweet peas again, but I had little luck with them last year. I long for a proper cutting garden but there just isn't enough sun on this property, except down by the chickens. I have a feeling I'll have to expand down to that area if I want a real cutting garden.

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  8. Oh, for a greenhouse! Even a wee one!

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  9. I've had the same experience as you sowing flower seed direct but as a very small child grew rows of Virginia Stck in my little plot next to the radishes. Rows work. I've not had problems sowing veg seed in a seed area - I hesitate to say 'bed' which implies a fine tilth...but one year I splashed out on plug brassicas in the autumn after moving house. Not one survived.
    My new discovery is cuttings and I'm driving my friends mad taking cuttings from everything. I started 2 years ago with roses which all grew. At the end of last summer I did loads of climbing roses, pinks, penstemons, fuschias, lilacs, any likely bloom I could lay my hands on. and most of them have survived the winter in flimsy plastic coldframes! oh for a greenhouse!

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  10. I'm starting to look at my garden and feel itchy too. Not that I'm anywhere near your league as a gardener, but it will be very satisfying to do some tidying up and readjusting and finish off the place where I want to create a seating area. Sweet peas might be a good idea for beautifully scented privacy there...

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  11. I absolutely love sweet peas - but they wouldn't stand a chance here. Sigh.

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  12. Just a beautiful piece of writing today. Don't want to make you self-conscious, but this post reminds me a lot of Gladys Tabor, a New England writer whose magazine columns from the 50s and 60s I enjoyed as a child. Thanks.

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  13. Very inspiring Liz...I worked in the garden today and did some fairily though clearing work. I can't wait to start planting and sowing. I am still feeling cold after it!

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  14. I've just spent hours digging in the garden - replacing a walled border trashed by next-door's workmen by humping soil from a mound 30m away... oh for some dainty seed planting instead! Every seedling is a little miracle isn't it?

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  15. As you know I am a seedaholic but even with a few years experience I have failures - hardly any of my sweet peas have germinated this year. It is possibly because the seeds were fresh - they were one of those packets of freebies and I do wonder if these packets are made up of seeds that arent the freshest

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  16. I am looking forward to gardening again but I am only a fair weather one I am afraid.
    Good luck with your seeds.

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  17. There really is nothing quite like that itch to sow seeds. I came to it later on, like you, and full of fear, but have grown to love it. I still get upset and feel useless when things fail, but nothing quite beats the site of new seedlings pushing their way up. Funnily enough I tend to have trouble with sweet peas, they are very erratic in germinating. Not enough soaking and/or old seed is my current guess. Good luck with yours, I hope they thrive and fill your garden with scent.

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  18. Nothing like sowing seeds to reconnect with the earth and the cycles of the year.

    As you know I have sowed far to many - far to early - but it makes me happy, nearly March now - so seed sowing will start in earnest!

    Happy to hear you have the seed sowing itch again
    K
    xx

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  19. One day I was listening to a gardening program, and the presenter described someone as a "chequebook gardener" -- and I realised that is exactly what I am. Real gardeners sow seeds, of course.

    Perhaps someday I will have all of the equipment to sow seeds . . . because you are so right about the packages that get sown straight into the ground! (not a success, sadly)

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  20. You've inspired me - that and the bill from my last visit to the garden centre.

    My new garden is huge by my standards and it's largely bare because it was covered (and I mean covered!) in ivy which I have had removed in three truck loads. Some things are coming through but I know we need loads more plants. And I like sweet peas too, so there's a start.

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  21. Good luck with the sweet peas! My November sown have taken a bashing, Januarys did not germinate so it's time for round three here. I am itching too :)

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  22. I'm growing sweet peas from Sarah Raven in a combination of root trainers and toilet roll middles too. I planted mine last year though so I know they're all safely up (phew) and have survived the frost and cold weather(phew). I can't wait until we're all posting pictures of our lovely blooms.

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  23. I've just received some baobab tree seeds... am going to try my hand at growing one bonsai style! Wish me luck...

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  24. DW - ah yes, I do know. I am always tempted to sow too soon. The great thing about a greenhouse is bringing the safe date earlier.

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  25. mountainear - that's wonderful! Same thing, same day. Hope it all germinates.
    Cyndy - it all takes us closer to spring!

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  26. This is my first year with a greenhouse (errected in October) http://archers-at-the-larches.blogspot.com/2011/02/gardening-and-chickens.html

    It is already groaning with seedlings..... I think need a solar tunnel next...Lottery win required.

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  27. You make me want to be a gardener, Elizabeth. My few attemtps to sow from seed were miserable failrues, not surpisingly considering how little I know and how neglected they were. I did try sweet peas here in France a few years ago, and was so sure that they would work out, what with this wonderful climate helping them along. No go.
    Sweet peas are my absolute favourite flower, for the reasons you mention, and for the fact that on my sixteenth birthday, my grandfather pulled up at my door door in his majestic Packard car, with a fat bouquet of sweet peas for me.
    Good luck in your greenhouse - I look forward to the progress reports.

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  28. My first ever success was with Cosmos seashell flowers - they grew strong, lasted well into November and proved extremely popular with the bees. I grow them every year now. Still have trouble with thinning seedlings (esp. carrots) as I have a slight twinge of guilt when I pull them out... call me a sentimental fool ;)

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