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.