The Curate’s Egg


The two main cutting beds, with cosmos, tithonia and other oddments still flowering

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:

amaranthusIMG_3392The 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 aftertheball.2the 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.

IMG_3393IMG_3388I 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!


This entry was posted in cutting beds, Gardening, Gardens, greenhouse, seed sowing. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to The Curate’s Egg

  1. Chloris says:

    I have noticed the incredible difference in seedlings sown in different composts. Do you use peat free compost? We are not allowed to advertise products on WordPress are we? But it would be so useful to learn which composts other bloggers find produce the best results.

    • AnnetteM says:

      Hi Chloris – you could always try a survey – it wouldn’t be hosted directly on WordPress!

    • Cathy says:

      Hi Chloris – we are promoting different nurseries, seed/bulb companies and garden products all the time just by commenting on them and referring to composts is no differentie I don’t think a recommendation would count as advertising. I subscribe to Which? Gardening and use their Best Buys, one of which was a B&Q product which many readers have had issues with this year and they are investigating it further. My autumn sowings are in a J.AB 100% peat compost which was also a Best Buy.

  2. rickii says:

    I had very bad luck with the planting pellet systems this year, so for 2015 it’s back to clay pots with seed starting mix. I love the green zinnia ‘Envy’, but it resists all attempts to grow from seed (mine, anyway) and is never available from the nurseries. Your true confessions of successes and failures is heartening, if for no other reason than misery loves company. “Next Year’ is my mantra.

    • Cathy says:

      What is a ‘planting pellet’ scheme, Rickii? Pelleted seed, or something different? I had one plant from Z. Envy last year but I don’t think I shall try again with them. It’s good to share these experiences – heartening, as you say.

      • rickii says:

        It’s a plastic try that holds peat pellets. you moisten the pellets, plant the seeds in them, then cover with the clear plastic dome included in the system until the seeds germinate (if you’re lucky)

  3. AnnetteM says:

    It was a shock earlier in the year when you told us about the bad batch of compost. Pretty much too late by the time you discover it too. I plant nasturtiums directly in the ground and in one area (where I always used to grow them successfully) they barely grow, but in another they love it. I didn’t think they were fussy plants – does anyone know why they wouldn’t grow.

    • Cathy says:

      Nasturtiums reputedly like poor soil – would they still grow if the soil was rich? No idea, I am afraid. Which? Gardening showed pictures of seeds grown in Best and not Best Buy composts in an article earlier this year and it was this that made me realise just how much difference a poor compost could make – in the past I would probably have assumed it was me.

  4. AnnetteM says:

    Great title by the way – I had to look it up as I could’t remember it. It is worth reading Wikipedia – especially the antitheses:'s_egg

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Annette – I nearly put a reference in for those who had no idea what I was talking about, but decided that it was more fun for them to look it up themselves! 🙂

  5. Lots of us seem to have experienced problems with poor compost this year, it makes such a huge difference, but like you it took me a while to realise what was amiss. I harbour hopes of successful zinnia growing next year, plus tithonia, and will try late so wings of some hardy annuals as it is so mild, though I suspect lack of light will spell failure…

    • Cathy says:

      I wonder if I am too late with the seeds I have just sown this week, but I do have more seed if they don’t thrive in those lower light levels. I will definitely sow tithonia and more zinnias next year, aiming for some successional sowing. Need to remember to pinch out zinnias when they are planted out.

  6. It must be fun to have a greenhouse – so much control and widening of possibilities.

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Lucy – I learned a couple of years ago what happens when you start things off in the house and keep them there too long and have really utilised the greenhouse far more since then, where there will always be far more light.

  7. jenhumm116 says:

    Hi Cathy, thank you so much for this.
    I had been thinking of writing a similar post and I still might. I find it very interesting to hear of other people’s experiences – and also to share the details of their particular varieties – I just love, love, love your Ruby Eclipse sunflower!
    I think I learnt two fundamental lessons which crossed over this year – either,
    1. don’t plant so many seeds you can’t look after them all and/or
    2. healthy plants need food and water (now where did I hear that recently?)

    • Cathy says:

      🙂 Being conscious of natural resources the only watering I did in the dry summer was on seedlings and plants in the greenhouse, and all rainwater of course. As we have 6, no 7, water butts there was still water in many of them but I avoided watering anything in any of the beds, belatedly realising that if I put time and effort into growing things I need to give them as much chance of succeeding as possible. The same goes for feeding – did I feed anything in any of the beds? No. Hmmm…. ps I have collected seeds from Ruby Eclipse and if you would like some let me know

  8. Anna says:

    A most informative post Cathy. I wonder if the compost you bought from that diy superstore was V***e which did well in reviews the year before. Sometimes as well as compost being duff so can seeds. Isn’t it funny or maybe not but the plants that you give away always seem to do better. Will be interested to hear how you get on with your late sowings of ammi and clary sage.

    • Cathy says:

      It was indeed that V***e compost, Anna! Which? Gardening are looking into compost problems and will report again in the Jan/Feb issue.

      • Anna says:

        Will no doubt make for some enlightening reading Cathy. The trouble is that the composts seem to change every year which makes it so difficult for us paying customers!

  9. bittster says:

    I feel like I had a bad batch of potting soil this past winter. I watched seeds germinate and then never amount to anything. Very discouraging for me too.
    Good that you have the smart sense to learn from your mistakes. I frequently repeat the same ones again and again, even the simple ones such as forgetting to water and not thinning….
    Interesting title, I enjoyed looking in to it. Fascinating that a hundred year old phrase traces it’s roots back to a simple cartoon, and persists.

  10. Christina says:

    I don’t usually like flowers that are produced in colours way off their normal tones but I do like the sunflower, I liked it when you first showed it and still do. I think we have all learned a lot from our cuttings gardens this year, it just remains to see if we put into practice what we’ve learned.

  11. CathyT says:

    This conversation about the compost is fascinating (and interesting because I didn’t know you were not allowed product names on WordPress). Since I moved here I’ve really struggled to raise things from seed and it used to be my favourite method. I think I need to start paying more attention, as you have done Cathy. Clearly my days of luck are behind me! Interesting tip, also, about germinating seed indoors and getting the seedlings out the greenhouse as quickly as possible. All in all a very informative (and thought-provoking) post Cathy – thanks!

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks for your comments, Cathy. For many years I had only half-heartedly tinkered with seed sowing but began in earnest once I finished work and had more time. There are so many variables involved, some of which you have little control over, but I have learned, partly by experience and partly by sharing blogs in this way, to appreciate why things have or have not been successful. But yes, giving seedlings attention is probably the most important thing I have learned! Re product names – this is a fallacy, I believe, as we informally review things frequently on our blogs, and are not being paid to promote them. I did check this out but will double check too!

Something to say after reading this?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s