If there is one thing that gets my horticultural juices flowing it is collecting seeds from the garden, and not just my garden! I find it irresistible. It has become a bit of a compulsion which might get me into trouble one day if someone spots me leaning over their wall or fence gently helping myself to a seed head or two. At this time of year I am inspecting my plants daily, checking to see what seed is ripe and ready to be collected.


The compulsion really got a grip after I joined the Cottage Garden Society and discovered their wonderful seed exchange. It got worse when I joined the Hardy Plant Society and found a similar but even larger seed exchange programme and worse still when I joined Plant Heritage. Need I go on! I think it is the little boy in me that is still amazed that a seed no bigger than a grain of sand can grow into a plant 2m tall, flower and set seed between March and August. Nicotiana mutabilis and Nicotiana sylvestris are two such examples.064

Propagation is my thing. I love it. Each year the seeds are collected, dried, cleaned and put in small paper envelopes. They are stored in ice cream tubs and go in the beer fridge because they store better at 4°C.  I can’t wait to get started, and by mid-February am itching to turn on the electric propagators. By mid spring I am overrun with seedlings and by early summer what I don’t need has either been sold at club meetings, plant sales or given away to neighbours, friends and family. By late summer I am sowing biennials and by early autumn can’t wait to begin sowing hardy annuals and perennials. It is a rhythm which is in tune with the life cycle of plants and the seasons, I am just doing what nature would do, but in my greenhouse and cold frames.005 (2)

It is still extraordinary that this tiny infant plant can become a strawberry but it did. When I sow sweet peas in late October and they germinate with no heat, no comfort of any kind other than the protection of a cold greenhouse, it reminds me of the ways of nature. That’s what peas do. They send down a root system in winter and foliage in spring, flowers and seeds in summer. We tend to think seeds need cosseting, they don’t. If we do what they expect to do at the right time, in the right conditions, they perform. Never mind what we think….they will do it when they want to….even if that takes months…..even if they need to be frozen first….the trick is to mimic what they do in nature.014

The sweet peas sown on 31 October last year and overwintered in a cold frame were so much stronger than the spring sown seeds. The root systems were better, the flowers were bigger and they lasted for longer.012

Give me a propagator, seeds, compost and vermiculite or grit and I am a happy bunny. Give me seeds that are ‘tricky’ and I am in my element. 009

The greenhouse and cold frame, slug and snail proofed, sheltered from excessive sun and rain, with a free-draining base of gravel and the aid of mushroom trays are all I need to produce hundreds of plants each year, almost for nothing. And the seeds I have too many of go to the seed exchanges and my local society seed swap to share the process with other like minded gardeners. What could be better!

Germinating Strawberries

When I finally got down to sowing the Toscana F1 strawberries from DT Brown, I read a few reviews and blog items and it seemed that germination was a bit tricky, particularly at this time of year, even in a propagator. However, I came across a “surefire” way of getting the pesky little seeds to germinate on an american homemade youtube video which looked promising so I decided to give it a try and……………….it worked!014

A week after placing the tiny seeds on damp kitchen paper sealed inside a ziplock plastic bag kept in a warm, light place, seven out of ten have germinated. I am not bothered about the others at the moment, experience has shown they can be erratic so they can stay in the bag a bit longer.

In the meantime, I have just carefully transferred the seedlings by toothpick into a pot of sieved seed compost. Fingers crossed!012


Turn up the heat – the response!

Had a lovely reply from DT Brown today, it went as follows:

Dear Mr Simpson,                                                                                                                 I’m down on my knees, how silly of us, 200 degrees!                                                         Was it the printer or was it just missed                                                                                   It could be the designer who had a slight lisp.                                                                       Your email has given us all a big laugh and therefore I  say on all our behalf               However it happened we really are sorry                                                                             And am sending a packet that will cost you no lolly.

Regards                                                                                                                              Deb Nicholls

It just goes to show that even in big business there is a place for humour and time to have a laugh!

Thanks Deb. You made my day!

Turn up the heat!

ToscanaJust received these seeds from DT Brown. Was about to sow them and suddenly noticed the germination temperature! Thought I would ask their advice so I sent them the following:

I bought some ‘Toscana’ strawberry seeds,                                                                            I thought I would try something quirky,                                                                                     I looked forward to a summer of delicious soft fruit,                                                           And went to the greenhouse all perky.

But when I read the sowing instructions,                                                                                In despair I sank to my knees,                                                                                                 It said that in order to germinate,                                                                                           They need a temperature of 200 degrees!

Oh Mr Brown, I am now in a pickle,                                                                                          I don’t know what I should try,                                                                                               I’ve turned the knob as far as I can,                                                                                      But my propagator won’t go up that high!

Perhaps it’s a typo that nobody spotted,                                                                                 It can sometimes happen you know,                                                                                     Or maybe it’s true and these special seeds,                                                                           Need roasting to get them to grow!   

So please Mr Brown let me know what to do,                                                                      I’ve tried but I can’t raise that heat,                                                                                           If there’s something to try, apart from the oven,                                                                     Your wisdom would go down a treat!

Plucky Perennials

This is Lychnis chalcedonica ‘Dusky Salmon’, a lovely early long flowering perennial with strong upright stems and gorgeous pinky salmon cross shaped flowers hence it’s common name of Maltese Cross or Jerusalem Cross.

It produces masses of seed and I decided to sow some fresh in early October to see if it would germinate. As you can see, it did, all of it!

At the same time I sowed a few Galega officinalis ‘Alba’, another hardy perennial and a member of the vetch family. It too germinated easily straight from the seed pod.

How wonderful nature is! It never ceases to amaze me!

Big, Beautiful Boy!

This beautiful China Aster, Callistephus chinensis, deserved a posting of it’s own just because of it’s glorious deep purple colour. Definitely worth remembering and sharing. It was grown from a packet of seeds called ‘Big Boy Mix’ and certainly lives up to it’s name with strong, 90cm straight stems which make wonderful cut flowers. Oh, that colour!!

Phew-eniculum vulgare!

It seems from what I have read, that the smell of Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare (hence the pun!) is one of those you either love or hate. I therefore consider myself lucky at the moment because the acid yellow umbelliferous flowers have given way to thousands of seeds which are now ripening on the huge clump by the back gate and there is the most gorgeous smell of licorice / aniseed as we brush past it each morning to take the dogs for a walk.

The tall feathery foliage on thick branching stems makes a bold architectural statement in any garden. It loves a well drained poor soil in full sun and, unfortunately for some, seeds itself freely around the garden. I think the smell takes me back to my childhood eating Bassett’s Licorice Allsorts and aniseed balls!

Bidens aurea ‘Hannay’s Lemon Drop’

This variety of the popular north american Bidens aurea was introduced many years ago by Hannay’s Nursery in Bath and is one of the hardier forms which is why I decided to try it here in the chilly Cotswolds. The seed, which is barbed helping it to hitch a ride from grazing animals, came from last year’s Cottage Garden Seed Exchange and was easy to germinate into very sturdy little plants. However, during April, May and June they just sat there at about 30cm tall waiting for some warmth and sunshine.

I had read that this form of Bidens can run and become a bit of a thug if it likes your soil and aspect so I decided to plant it carefully in several very different parts of the garden. To my total surprise, it has done best with it’s feet in sticky clay and is now 120cm high and still growing. The flowers are a lovely lemon yellow tipped with white, similar in size and shape to Coreopsis to which it is closely related.


The dark green foliage and wiry green stems makes me wonder why this daisy species is an ‘aurea’ which usually means ‘golden’ or ‘yellow’ foliage. Perhaps it refers to the yellow flowers although this would be a departure from the usual nomenclature rules.

Received wisdom suggests this variety should be treated like a Penstemon, often hardy enough but take cuttings just in case. Also, don’t cut the old foliage down until April to give some protection over winter. I am going to collect my own seed and grow a few new plants each year given how easy they are to propagate.

The tall airy stems are strong and upright and do not require staking, a definite bonus in my windy front garden, and the flowers seem to last for ages attracting bees and other pollinating insects. Overall, a very garden-worthy plant for late summer colour which blends in well with reds, purples, yellows and whites and doesn’t mask the plants behind it. I have it planted in front of my Photinia hedge with white and dark purple Cosmos, Agastache and Nicotiana alata and alongside permanent shrubs of Euonymus japonicus and Amelanchier lamarckii. It just seems to work.