Seed sowing starts


I have been a seedaholic for some years now though the last couple of years I was diverted by growing vegetable seedlings for the slugs and snails.  However, I am now back to my first love ornamentals and in particular perennials.

This year I placed my first order with the Alpine Garden Society which has one of, if not the best, seed distribution scheme in the world.  My seeds arrived just after Christmas and I spent some time last week researching sowing requirements for various alpines.  I found the Scottish Rock Garden Club website and forum really helpful.

The first batch of seeds were sown last weekend so that they could benefit from the cold weather that is forecast over the coming weeks.  A spell in the cold is often helps break the dormancy of seeds particularly those from alpine conditions. After reading numerous sites I chose to use a 50:50 mix  of John Innes No 3 and grit for my seed mix, this will provide the drainage needed as well as nutrients as many alpine seedlings aren’t germinated in the first year but left to grow on for a year or two.  The following were sown:

Allium karataviense
Androsace villosa
Aster amellus
Albuca humilis
Asyneuma limonifolium
Aethionema armenum
Allium acuminatum
Boykima jamesii
Chiastophyllum oppositifolium
Celmisia semicordata
Corydalis ccheilanthifolia
Delphinium requienii
Gentiana verna
Heloniopsis orientalis
Lewisia brachycalyx
Linaria genistifolia  dalmatica
Primula chungensis
Primula wilsonii anisodora

I also sowed two lots of cyclamen: Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Silver Cloud’ and Cyclamen africanum.  Following advice I soaked these for 24 hours in warm water which a dash of washing up liquid in to help  break the hard seed coating.  They went into the same seed mix

Crocus speciosus and Crocus goulimyi were sown in half filled pots topped up with another half pot of seed mix.  The reason for this is that crocus are sown deep because the bulb forms alongside the seed and this method prevents the seedling/bulb having to waste energy pulling itself down into the pot.  As this  is the advice I have read on several forums (it is also relevant to Narcissus seed which I hope to try next year) I decided it made sense to give it a go.  After all the seeds cost little so it is worthwhile having an experiment.

The final seeds sown were of Meconopsis napaulensis a beautiful pale yellow Meconopsis poppy which I feel in love with some months ago on reading an article. For these I sterilised the compost in the oven, much to the amusement of my son.  Again, doing some research on-line I found a very interesting web-site and decided to follow the advice on it.

So that is the first batch sown.  I have more from the AGS to sow but they  need slightly warmer temperatures so they will wait until March/April.  I am now waiting on my seeds from the Hardy Plant Society to see what I  have been allocated in their distribution scheme.  I have also just ordered some seeds from a seed collector in the USA, more alpine seeds but including a number of aquilegia and delphiniums which I am very fond of.  They should arrive in a couple of weeks.

It seems a lot but when I heard that people request 100s of packets from the AGS scheme I felt a lot better although I have to acknowledge that they are generally nurserymen!

I will do an update on the seeds progress as and when there is some news.

If I never see another Hypericum seed….


….I shall be a happy woman!

I have spent far too many hours in the evening over the last couple of weeks sorting seeds.  This sounds like a nice restful relaxing occupation, well that’s what I thought when I volunteered to help out with the Alpine Garden Society seed distribution scheme this year.

I joined the Society back in the summer mainly because I was told it has a wonderful seed distribution scheme, one of the best apparently.  Looking at last year’s seed list there are over six thousands varieties on offer with over four hundred collected in the wild and donations sent in from members all over the world.  For a plant and seedaholic like me it was too good to miss out on.  To date I have enjoyed being a member, the journal is very good and the talks at the local club excellent, I have already learnt loads.

Having been made very welcome I felt I should give something back, after all you only get out of life what you put into it so when there was a call for people to volunteer to help sort seeds I put my name forward.  About two and half weeks ago a box arrived, shoe box sized and inside were the seeds for me to sort.  There around 60 packets of donated seeds which were to be divided into around 1030 packets (top photo)

I have to say I was impressed with the organisation.  I was assigned plants starting with ‘H’ from Hesperantha to Hypericum.  Against each variety there was a target number of packets of seeds to pack and there were clear instructions on how much seed to put in each packet.  Each packet had to be numbered and packed back into the box in a certain way.  In my naivety I had thought this would be a nice relaxing job to do whilst watching television in the evening.  I have a terrible habit of chewing my fingers when watching television so I like to have something to do, normally sewing.  However, I hadn’t taken into account how fiddly it would be.   Some of the seeds were tiny – particularly Hypericum and Heuchera so a real pain to pick up and in order to get through the work in time especially as I was too tied last week due to the graduation ceremonies and my deadline for returning the box was the 21st I had to get a move on so I have only really listened to the television.

On the plus side it has made me really appreciate the work involved in these schemes, all voluntary.   When the seeds are sent in by donors they are sorted into alphabetical order, the variety assigned a number, an assessment made of how many packets the seeds will fill and then boxes sent out to people like me.  I have  had seeds from these sorts of schemes before and I have talked to many other gardeners who have done the same.  There are some schemes I won’t use again due to the amount of weed that germinated and I have heard a lot of complaints about poor germination rates.  I would say that I have  bought seeds from small seed companies and had exactly the same problems and I suspect there is a sense that as the seed distribution schemes are such good value for money that people  conveniently forget how much work is required by volunteers and what a good deal it really is.  We are after all a nation of moaners.

The next stage is for the seed list to be sent out to members and the orders made up and sent out.   I have also volunteered to help with making up the orders – there was mention of cake and it is only in Pershore about 20 minutes drive from home – so why not.  It will be fascinating the see the other end of the operation plus I have been promised some extra packets of seeds.

So if you get seeds from a seed distribution scheme don’t be so quick to judge.  Remember that it is entirely run by volunteers and dependent on people like us sending in seeds in the first place.  From the seeds I sorted I think the AGS seed scheme is good, they seemed very clean and uniform so I doubt there is much weed seed in there.

If we want to be able to continue to access unusual and interesting plants then these are the schemes we should be supporting.

The Greenhouse Year – July 2012


Not much has changed in the greenhouse over the last month.  The light levels and temperatures have been lower than normal and this has held things back.  I have been using the greenhouse to protect many of my succulents and alpines to prevent them getting too water damaged.  However with the temperatures due to return to what we would expect for this time of year I have moved them out so the greenhouse isn’t looking as crowded as usual.

I still have some trays of seedlings to prick out and pot up so that’s at the top of the to do list this weekend.  I did finally get my act together today and sow some late managetout, broccoli, chinese cabbage and brompton stocks.  With the various pests at the allotment meaning I have had to lift a lot of crops early I have some space to fill so am hoping to get some late crops in.

The Lemon Crystal cucumber is beginning to produce flowers which is very exciting as I have no idea what the fruits will taste like.  The rescued Aubergine keeps producing flowers but at least one fruit has fallen off.  I have never grown them before so no idea of what they need.

The tomatoes finally have flowers on them but the outside plants seem to be further ahead with small fruits already!  You can just see one of the remaining flowers from the Watsonia.  This is the first time they have flowered having grown them from seed about 3 or 4 years ago.

So that’s the greenhouse this month – who knows by next month there might even be a tomato or cucumber to report.

Greenhouse Year – May 2012

I have lost track of the date and I wonder only thinking this morning, whilst weeding at the allotment, that it must be nearly time to do the monthly greenhouse post.  I pondered on the date and realised that today is the 20th and therefore the date for monthly post.  So here we are.

Lots of small seedlings still mainly due to the cold temperatures and lack of sunshine to bring them on.  I have only this weekend started hardening off the courgettes and tender annuals whereas last year I think they were already out and growing on.  This weekend hasn’t been that much better although the temperatures are creeping up so I have spent quite a few hours pricking out and potting up.  Both the cold frames are full and the patio is beginning to get crowded.

It isn’t all seedlings in the greenhouse though.  One of the  scented leaved pelargoniums is smothered in flowers and it really packs a punch when you open the greenhouse door.  I also have three small passion-flower and they all have big fat flower buds which are on the point of opening.  These flowers are also heavily scented so I think it could get quite heady over the coming weeks.  But what I am most excited about is that there are definitely flower buds coming on my Watsonia, I grew them from seed about 3 years ago so having them flower will be a real achievement.

The biggest problem in the greenhouse at the moment is the number of slugs and spiders.  Last year we had a resident frog who obviously kept the spiders and slugs in check but he moved out when I cleaned out the greenhouse.  This is probably a good thing for the frog as I now have a cat who loves hunting and who would no doubt torment the frog but it’s not a good thing for my pest control.  I have to clear out the staging on one side to make room for the tomato plants so I will have to give the whole greenhouse another clean then.

I have today sown the last of my perennial seeds but I now need to start sowing the biennials – it never seems to end especially as I want to have lots of wallflowers, sweet-william, sweet rocket and honesty next year for the garden and for the allotment.

I finally have some dahlias coming up and some gladioli.  Last year all my dahlias, which weren’t cheap failed so this year I bought some very cheap ones from Wilkinsons as well as growing some from seed.  To date progress both from the bought tuber and the seeds is definitely better than last year, although to be fair that isn’t that difficult.

That’s my greenhouse in May.  I will do another post on the 20th June.  If you have a greenhouse and would like to join in with this monthly meme you are very welcome – just post a link to your post in the comments box.

Day 4 in Sproutapouch

I was quite surprised today to come home and discover that the tiny indications of growth I had witnessed this morning had gone hell for leather and had well and truly sprouted.  This is day 4 of Sproutapouch which I introduced in my last post.  I think it will be a few days yet before they are harvestable but I thought I would update on progress

Day 1 in Sproutapouch

I suspect I am suffering from a need to get outside and start gardening as I have started to be very interested in kits for growing salad leaves inside.  Now I don’t tend to eat salad all year round as I associate salads with warm weather but I do like a bit of greenery in my work lunch sandwiches and buy the odd bag of salad leaves. I also suspect that the chatter on twitter and some gardening blogs about salad leaves has penetrated my consciousness and made me start considering growing some leaves.  I blame Michelle over at VegPlotting who has issued a challenge for bloggers to try to grow salads for 52 weeks of the year.  At the moment many of them seem to be into sprouting beans/seeds but I have tried these before when they came in my veg box and I just can’t eat them.

Anyway I was wandering around Wilkinsons yesterday looking for a gardening fix when I came across these  packets to grow micro-leaves.  There are different flavours, so to speak, I choose one with lots of Rocket but you could also choose from Broccoli, Red Cabbage, Mustard or Cress.  Oh and I accidentally also bought a Red Gooseberry Bush and a Fig Tree – oops.

Anyway back to the Sproutapouch.  It contains a disc of Maxicoir Gold (so no peat which is good).  You place the disc, about the size of an ice hockey puck, into the supplied pouch and add a certain amount of water.  It was quite amazing how quickly the disc expanded and filled the bag.  You shuffle it around a bit to make sure it is all wet (not completed in the above photo) and having firmed the soil you sow your seeds.  Seal up the bag and place it on a light windowsill.  It even comes with a special hook so you can hang it on the window – though I don’t know why I would  want to do that.  Then you wait and within 6-10 days you will have a crop of microleaves to sprinkle on your sandwiches, soup etc.

Now whilst I’m not trying to be cynical I have to agree with Michelle’s latest post about microgreens and the kits that are available in the shops.  I can’t remember exactly how much mine cost but it was somewhere between £1 and £2, the same as a bag of salad leaves and I suspect the crop I get will not do anywhere near as many sandwiches as a bag of leaves.  The whole point of Michelle’s challenge is to save money by growing your own and not buying bags of salad.  As she rightly points out a packet of seeds, of a similar price to a bag of leaves, contains hundreds of seeds and you can sow them week after week you just need a little compost and a small container.

However, I do like to try these quirkier  approaches and for a couple of pounds it is an amusement on a grey day though to be honest I really do prefer to eat salad leaves that have grown in the open ground and have had the sun on them, they just taste wonderful.





Confessions of a seed addict

It appears that I have acquired a reputation amongst my blogging and twitter friends of being a seed addict – goodness knows why!

Well if I’m honest I do get particularly excited at the potential that comes with each small packet of seeds.  In this day and age with soaring costs and tightening budgets there aren’t many things you can buy for a couple of pounds with the potential to provide so much enjoyment.

I find that I am constantly learning as I garden and understanding more and more how plants grow and what they need to grow well.  I understand  now that some seeds need cold to break seed dormancy; some need their seed coats broken, maybe by a light sanding; some need to be sown while fresh and some need light to germinate whilst others need darkness. Learning these lessons has improved my propagation skills and I no longer cautiously choose only the seed marked as ‘easy’ to try.

And for me that what it’s all about – trying and seeing what happens.  I do like a challenge.  So this year’s challenge is to try some more troublesome seeds such as strelitzia reginae.  These apparently need to be subjected to smoke in order to prompt germination and I have bought some from Fine Bush People in South Africa which comes complete with a smoke primer.  This is a slice of paper which is soaked with various things that simulate the chemical reaction the seed would experience if exposed to fire and smoke in the wild.  I love the seeds they are so cute with their orange fluffy heads.

Whilst I was wandering around Fine Bush’s website I decided to give their Healing Start Pack a go.  This contains seeds for aloe ferox, cotyledon orbiculata, geranium incanum, bulbine frutescens, leonotis leonurus.  What has impressed me so far with the seeds from Fine Bush is the information pack that comes with the seeds.  In the healing pack there is information about how to use each plant for medicinal reasons – something that really interests me.

And how did I end up on Fine Bush’s website.  It was all because I had some seeds for romneya coulteri and my research told me that they benefitted from smoke for germination.  It was surprisingly difficult to find smoke primers and in fact the only ones I found were from South Africa.  I don’t know if these will work for my romneya coulteri as they are from the US and therefore the smoke that would improve their germination rates derives from different plants to those growing in South Africa.  Never the mind we shall see what happens.  I intend to try half the seeds with the smoke primer and half without just to see how important it is.  The other downside of buying seeds from South Africa was that my credit card company thought my card had been stolen and put a freeze on it until I explained my seed addiction to them!

Sadly, despite my enthusiasm I have to wait a while for temperatures to warm up a bit before I start my sowing experiment.

Seeds & Cuttings A Plenty

There comes a point when you realise that there isn’t much more theory you can learn about something and the only way forward is to get hands on experience.  This realisation came to me yesterday when I attended an excellent propagation study day at Sally Gregson’s nursery in Somerset  organised by the WFGA

There were 9 of us on the study day  with varying amounts of knowledge regarding propagation but all keen and interested.  As with all the other WFGA events I have been to this year the women* who attend are all good fun, down to the earth people many of whom work in horticulture on a day-to-day basis.

We spent the morning learning about propagation from seed and I realised that actually I know quite a bit about this type of propagation but as Sally said we all learn something new every day we are involved in horticulture and that is what is so appealing.  For me it was two significant realisations.  Firstly seed from a named variety will not come true.  This seems perfectly obvious in hindsight and I knew that F1 hybrids don’t come true from seed but I hadn’t realised that named plants ie those with a name in between inverted commas don’t either.  They have to be propagated by clonal propagation.   The other realisation which I think was already half-formed in my head was that the natural  habitat of plants is very important to how you treat the seeds.  For example plants from the Mediterranean will not germinate in the heat of summer so there is no point sowing them in June/July in a hot greenhouse.  If you think about it when the plants scatter their seeds in the wild it is hot and dry and not ideal for germination so inhibitors exist in the seeds to prevent them germinating before the conditions are better.  I have copious notes about what seeds should be sown straight away, which need heat, which don’t etc.  I also have several envelopes of seeds collected from Sally’s garden (see photos).

In the afternoon we moved on to clonal propagation, which is when you propagate the plant through cuttings of some form.  The benefit of this type of propagation is that you are reproducing the parent plant exactly whereas the outcome from seeds can be quite variable.  I finally got to grips with the difference between softwood, semi-ripe and hardwood cuttings and it isn’t the mystery I thought it might be.  We  did most of our clonal propagation learning by walking around the garden and seeing what sort of cuttings would work on what, taking cuttings and then potting them up in the potting shed.  I bought some holly and pelargonium cuttings home.  I have taken cuttings before and had some success and I was surprised there wasn’t much else to it than I already sort of knew and the best way to learn is to experiment and see what works.

The overriding message I got from the study day was the idea of give it a go.  There is nothing to lose from trying a few cuttings than the cost of the pot and compost and a little time.  Some attendees expressed irritation when bought seeds didn’t come true to form but for me this is part of the entertainment of growing plants.  I suppose if I was to do this  as a living it would be more vexing when something didn’t come true and was unsaleable but I’m not there yet – but I will be one day but hopefully by then I will be more confident in propagation

*Whilst it is called Womens Farm and Garden Association men are welcome too and I have come across one so far attending a study day.

The photographs were all taken in Sally’s lovely garden.

Trouble in Succulent Theatre

As I have recently said I fell out of love with my garden at the start of this year but I am slowly but surely re-engaging with it.  Whenever I go out in the garden all I can see is what is wrong with it and it is quite overwhelming to the extent that I have been putting my head in the sand.  However, having been inspired with ideas to sort out the pond I am feeling re-energised and have started to get to grips with the garden.  Whenever something is overwhelming me I find the best approach is to break it down into manageable bits – whether its one day at a time, or one flower bed at a time.  So I have sorted out the compost heaps, replanted the top border but many of my other plans are dependent on us having some serious rain.  However, there are small ‘problems’ that I can try to sort or tidy up and one of them can be seen in the photo above.

All is not well in succulent theatre.  Many of my Sempervivums have decided to flower.  The flowers are quite stunning and have a wonderful texture – a bit like downy suede.  Don’t get me wrong I really like the flowers they add a new dimension to the display but the problem is that some of the Sempervivums only had one rosette of leaves before they flowered.  It appears that when the plant produces a flower spike it kills off the rosette of leaves that the flower spike appears from (see below).

So this means that once the flower is finished the plant will presumably be no more which is a real pity.  Some of the others have a few small rosettes around the flower spikes which I can save but for the one above I don’t know what the answer is.  Can I collect seed from the flower heads and if so how difficult are they to grow from seed?

The other thing I need to know is should I remove flower spikes as soon as I see sign of them appearing from young plants? Oh well at least none of my Sempervivums were expensive or special unlike some of my Echeveria.

To be honest the Sempervivums flowering isn’t really a problem more something I need to learn more about so I don’t lose more plants in the future.

A real plus in this area is on the fence behind the succulent theatre where my Clematis mandschurica is growing.  I grew this plant from seed two years ago and this is the first time it has flowered so I am really pleased.  It is such a pretty plant with lovely very delicate flowers – I am very pleased with having grown it from seed.

My new edible planter


I am on a steep learning curve were edibles are concerned.  I acquired an allotment in November and have been muddling my way along ever since.  I love those bags of salad leaves so I was keen to grow my own at the allotment.  However, I can only get to the plot on average three times a week and I would like to eat salad leaves everyday.  I haven’t found a good way yet of keeping the leaves I pick at the plot fresh at home for a couple of days.  Therefore, I came to the conclusion that the only option was to find a way of growing them at home.  I have been pondering getting a raised bed for the end of the patio to go in front of what is termed the succulent theatre!  My son and I have discussed him building me a wooden raised bed but we hadn’t got far.

However, when I was watching some of the coverage of the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show I saw the answer to my problem.  During some coverage of an edible garden called the Five A Day Garden I spotted some willow raised beds.  How nice, just what I needed and it would make a nice change to more wood in that part of the patio.  A little research and with some help from twitter friends who had been at the show and I discover that the Burgon and Ball were the suppliers for the showgarden and that I can buy the willow planters from their website in a range of sizes.  A salad/herb planter was duly ordered.

It arrived flat pack and was quick to put together.  You just join the four sides to each other with zip-ties (as above) and then there is a cloth bag which goes inside the frame.  This means that you can easily move the planter around and then when you want to put it away or change the compost you just lift the bag out.

I have filled my planter with a combination of peat free compost for vegetable growing and top soil. I added the top soil to give the compost more substance and also it had a better composition for sowing seeds into.

As you can see from the top picture I have cheated a little by buying some lettuce seedlings to get the planter going.  I have also sown some more salad leaves, some Pak Choi and some spinach.  I will report back and let you know how the crops do.