So, how did the cutting beds and plant-raising go this year? A bit like the Curate’s egg – all right in parts. Having started some sweet peas off in October last year, other seed sowing began in earnest from February, and continued for several months. Most seeds began in the house and were moved immediately on germination into the greenhouse, having learned the previous year that they would grow weak and lanky otherwise. Germination generally was very good, the only failures being a green zinnia and some coleus, and seedlings were pricked out in good time, again something I had learned from the previous year.
The early sweet peas were planted out before the end of May, but it was clear that nothing else was mature enough to join them – and it was many weeks later, after hearing a similar report from a friend, before I realized that the seedlings were just failing to thrive and seemingly due to the compost. At this stage I bought an alternative compost, resowed tithonia, zinnia and tagetes and potted on the other almost stunted seedlings. The ammi and orlaya grown for a Which? Gardening trial were all sown in a different compost.
These later sowings thrived and have flowered well but so late in the season that they have not had the chance to do themselves justice. Of the other seedlings, Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’ and the two sunflowers, Topolino and Ruby Eclipse’, were the only ones that completely recovered and flowered well. Antirrhinum and cleome never reached flowering stage but I am hoping to retain the plants for next year, whilst cerinthe, Cosmos ‘Polidor’ , nigella, clary, marigold, briza, malva and Dahlia ‘Bishop’s Children’ were mere feeble apologies. And as for the amaranthus! Compare the feeble squirt on the left with one of the plants from seedlings passed on to a friend:
The new Sarah Raven dahlias were started off as instructed and planted out later in the bold borders with an existing Bishop of Llandaff – the latter perhaps had a dozen flowers, but the others spectacularly did nothing – all either slug nibbled or crowded out by crocosmia. Ironically, once of last year’s failed dahlias was planted (well, shoved) out in the back corner of the cutting beds rather than throw it out, and produced a healthy plant with several flowers and no sign of slug damage!
I avoided direct sowing anything except nasturtiums directly, mainly due to lack of any clear ground in the borders; these nasturtium also flowered feebly early on but had a good later flush. I had intended to plant out some of the other seedlings in the borders later but the weaklings weren’t really up to it so virtually all of them were planted in the cutting beds. The sweet peas which were planted into the bold borders and by the clematis colonnade did well though, a first for me. The earlier sowing was especially successful.
What have I learned from all this? I have certainly gained from the experience in becoming more aware of routines and timings and the potential pitfalls – and realized from other bloggers that autumn sowings (where appropriate) will give the benefit of flowers early in the season. At the end of August I sowed Sweet William ‘Black Prince’ and ‘Cottage Perfume, Centaurea ‘Black Ball’ and an unnamed white, white Papaver somniferum ‘Swansdown’, various ‘Cool Wave’ winter flowering pansies and summer pansies too, and some of these have been planted out already.This week I have belatedly sown Ammi visnaga and clary sage – sweet peas will follow soon after last season’s resounding success. The small greenhouse will therefore be a winter home to a number of healthy seedlings, including perennial teucrium and some unusual hellebores from Christine at Croft Garden.
I may not have picked huge amounts from the cutting beds this year, but I am optimistic for next year and am fully appropriating the other two beds by the greenhouse to extend their scope, the few vegetables they slept with being shunted to the new veg bed within the fruit cage. Some alliums and last year’s tulips will be planted in these two beds to start the season off, after a good digging over and addition of compost and leaf mold. This brings me to the final and very important lesson learned from my experiences this year : HEALTHY PLANTS NEED FOOD AND WATER!