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!

Happy Accidents & Pleasing Combinations

The weather is cold and wet and so I’ve been indoors looking back over this year’s photos and deciding what needs to change in the coming year. One thing that struck me was the number of good plant combinations, some planned and some ‘happy accidents’.

Lychnis coronaria alba with Knapweed

Lychnis coronaria alba with Knapweed

I was pleased with the Lychnis amongst the birches and the staddlestone but had nothing to do with the Knapweed which chose just the right spot to add a touch of colour.

Purple Beech and Clematis

Purple Beech and Clematis

I have no idea of it’s name but this clematis was £1.99 from Morrisons and I decided to let it mingle with the young Beech hedge and the colours worked beautifully together. Being a viticella variety I should prune it right back to a pair of buds in February but I’m just going to let it do it’s own thing and see how it performs.

Echinacea with Ricinus communis

Echinacea with Ricinus communis

I wasn’t sure about this combination but the daisy flowerhead of the Echinacea mimics the large palmate leaves of the Ricinus and the colours compliment each other well.

Cosmos bipinnatus with Hesperis matronalis

Cosmos bipinnatus with Hesperis matronalis

The Hesperis matronalis was supposed to be the usual lilac colour but this one turned out to be pure white which acted as the perfect foil for the dark pink Cosmos.

Lychnis coronaria alba with Borage

Lychnis coronaria alba with Borage

Another accidental blue and white combination, the pure white Lychnis with the unique purple and blue of Borage.

Cosmos 'Seashells' with Bupleurum

Cosmos ‘Seashells’ with Bupleurum

These two were planted a metre apart but, as often happens, as the summer wore on they fell into each other creating an unusual but pleasing combination.

Bells of Ireland with Echium 'Blue Bedder'

Bells of Ireland with Echium ‘Blue Bedder’

The Echium grew exceptionally well and was covered in bees all summer. I wasn’t sure about the Bells of Ireland (Molluccella laevis) but the yellow/green bracts work with the blue and the touch of bright white from the Echium.

Echium 'Blue Bedder' with Zinnia 'Lime Green' and Bells of Ireland

Echium ‘Blue Bedder’ with Zinnia ‘Lime Green’ and Bells of Ireland

The addition of Zinnia ‘Lime Green’ and Nicotiana langsdorfii brought a ‘zing’ to the same combination.

Geranium pyrenaicum 'Bill Wallis'

Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’

This is one of those unplanned but pleasing combinations where two colours of the same variety appear side by side and look good together.

I am sure all these could be planned but I am just as pleased when it happens by accident!